Libraries and Innovation

The idea of a library often brings to mind a classic old building filled with stacks of books and librarians bustling to and fro with arms full of papers.  Even today, the idea of a librarian is mostly entwined with books.  However, today’s libraries have become providers of far more than this.  Many libraries have embraced technology and the changes it brings.  Many more are facing the struggle to catch up with these changes.

In this environment of ever-changing tools, views, and needs, the American Library Association (ALA) has produced a set of Core Competencies that requires librarians to be technically knowledgeable.  The competencies state that a librarian should be able to make use of innovative new technologies, but nowhere does it mention that librarians themselves should be innovative.  This is a very interesting stance.

If librarians exist in a world that is constantly on the lookout for the newest, biggest thing, should they wait to simply use the creations of others, or should they begin creating on their own?  A quick browse through the requirements of the job market would suggest that libraries are looking for people who not only know technology, but who are able to use it creatively.  Terms like “leaders in changing times” and “innovative environment” crop up in many job descriptions.

Do the core competencies truly prepare new librarians to face the challenges of creating the next generation of libraries?  In the past, formal education was able to focus on the ins and outs of library science.  Solid skill sets, understanding of collections, and strict organization could be the foci of the curriculum, with smaller emphasis on other areas of study.

Today’s library science programs need to include courses that touch on sociology, psychology, legal issues, political science, computer science, and even design.  Thinking beyond the traditional library is encouraged.  Is merely thinking enough?  Many librarians are gathering ideas on innovative new ways to approach their institutions and patrons.  An article search for innovation in libraries will turn up thousands of articles on everything from technology to management.  There are many examples of libraries attempting new technologies, web designs, and discussions to bring about innovative changes.

In many libraries, though, it seems that change is thought of only as a tool for survival.  While it may be true that libraries often need to change to survive, should this be the goal of innovation?  How often is the adoption of a new tool or service based on the sentiment “we have to keep up with the curve or become obsolete?”  Just keeping up with the curve isn’t enough.  Librarians need to start creating a curve.  Wouldn’t it be nice to use a system designed for librarians by librarians instead of by outside vendors?

Many people may say this is an impractical idea.  It would cost too much or require too much effort.  Aren’t libraries already spending more time hiring technical staff of their own and diversifying their workforce?  It may be impractical now, but if the larger libraries can hire staff to maintain websites and build systems, could they not also share their own creations?

Libraries have already gone from closed stacks, card catalogs, physical collections, and individualized institutions to open stacks, online and shared catalogs, digital collections, and collaborative institutions.  Is it that much more of a stretch to think that libraries could also become creators of their own tools?  Perhaps the future of libraries rests in their abilities to not only use innovative technology, but create innovative new systems of their own.

– J. Cox
— Inspired by a presentation given by Mary Stansbury to the Special Library Association on 10/21/10.

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Oral Histories and the World Wide Web

In the past 50 years, oral histories have gone through many changes. Two factors played significant roles in the beginning of their evolution. The first and most pragmatic factor was the availability of the first portable tape recorders in 1963 (Sharpless, 2008). This enabled oral historians to go out into the world instead of being tethered to the recorders in their offices. The second factor was that the social historians in America began to study the lives of the under-represented masses. Libraries and archives, however, did not have such histories in their collections; so social historians and activist archivists, armed with portable tape recorders, went out into the world to record oral histories “from the bottom up” (Baum, 2007).

Since those early years of the portable tape recorder, oral histories have come a long way, all the way to the internet. In this new venue, audio recordings of oral histories be can supplemented with transcriptions, background information about the narrator and the interviewer along with relevant materials such as photographs, music, maps, and other primary documents. Archivists refer to this material as the provenance of an oral history because they refer “to the what, when, where, how, and why of its creation” (Fogerty, 2007). Provenance establishes a frame of reference that aids the user of the oral history in understanding the interview’s full significance. This fuller presentation of oral histories is much richer than the simple transcriptions of mid-century tape recorded interviews.

Despite these improvements, many concerns have been raised regarding oral histories and the internet. While one of the tenets of SAA’s Code of Ethics, access, is supported by the World Wide Web, the Web also raises concerns regarding four other tenets: privacy, authenticity/integrity, security/protection, and legality.

Along with wanting to protect the interviewees’ privacy, there is a “danger of misuse and manipulation of sound recordings and transcripts, and the ‘unmonitored access’ of the Internet which could result in the loss of archival control over the interviews” (Ritchie, 1999, p. 13). There are legal concerns as well. Deeds of gift, consents and copyrights for the majority of existing oral history collections do not address publication via the World Wide Web.

Indeed, “[t]he spread of digital technology is forcing archives to rethink their role and function, and to confront difficult questions of security, protection and accessibility” (Eynon, 1999, p. 24). Is this true for libraries as well? Are there items/collections that once available on the internet raise the same types of concerns?

K. Yockey

Works Cited
Baum, W. (2007). The Other Uses of Oral History. The Oral History Review, 34 (1), 13-24.

Eynon, B. (1999). Oral History and the New Century. The Oral History Review, 26 (2), 16-27.

Fogerty, J. E. (2007). Oral History and Archives: Documenting Context. In T. L. Charlton, L. E. Myers, & R. Sharpless (Eds.), History of oral history: foundations and methodology (pp. 197-226). Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press.

Ritchie, D. A. (1999). http://www.oralhistory.infinity. Oral History Review, 26 (2), 9-16.

Sharpless, R. (2008). The History of Oral History. In T. L. Charlton, L. E. Myers, & R. Sharpless (Eds.), Thinking About Oral History (pp. 7-30). AltaMira Press.

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NAGPRA and not Sharing

In our program the necessity for access and intellectual freedom and the role that technology has played in promoting this has been discussed many times over.  I wanted to look at a view of this increasing role in technology from another point of view, one that does not correlate with that idea that access is particularly good.  In 1990 the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was passed.  NAGPRA came about to put an end to the collection of Native American artifacts and remains and return those that a particular tribe wished to be returned.  This caused quite a stir in the museum community, which was forced to relinquish collections that may have been in existence for one hundred years.

The notions present in the ALA and SAA about the rights to access are completely moot when considering objects that fall under NAGPRA.  Sometimes objects are not returned but are placed in trust with a museum or archive by the tribe.  In many cases no one but the tribe members and maybe a representative of the institution is allowed to view objects.  For example, in DU’s anthropology department there are two “NAGPRA rooms” that remain locked and inaccessible.  Sometimes digital documentation of these objects is not an option.  If the tribe’s wishes are that things not be digitally documented, they cannot be.

Though digitization of objects for study and access has become very important, it is also important to consider that not everything is available to this technology.   Some objects and collections must remain only in tangible forms.  I find it a sobering thought to think that not all information about there is possibly accessible.  What technology has done in circumstances like NAGPRA is not to provide infinite access, but has allowed the community to share this knowledge.  Native Americans are able to express their views in the same electronic forums and universal multimedia as everyone else, which has helped in a greater understanding of  why something like NAGPRA is so important.

NAGPRA Homepage

Lucie B.

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Access Restrictions

I would like to discuss a topic that many librarians do not fully understand. Last spring in Martin Garner’s Professional Principles and Ethics class, it was mentioned that archivists willingly deny access to materials. The archivists in the room nodded their heads fully grasping the idea while most of the librarians gasped in horror. Okay, horror maybe a too strong of a word; perhaps astonishment is a better term. Certainly, access to archival collections is paramount. No one will deny that. The primary reason materials are placed into archives is to allow generations of researchers access to them and as archivists it is our professional responsibility to support and foster unfettered access to materials. The Society of American Archivists’ Code of Ethics articulates this viewpoint. “Archivists strive to promote open and equitable access to their services and the records in their care without discrimination or preferential treatment, and in accordance with legal requirements, cultural sensitivities, and institutional policies (Society of American Archivists, 2005). The Code goes on, however, to note that “[a]rchivists may place restrictions on access for the protection of privacy or confidentiality of information in the records” (Society of American Archivists, 2005).

Indeed, American archivists have been placing access restrictions on collections for years, many years in fact. The historic manuscript tradition in America was founded with the Massachusetts Historical Society by Jeremy Belknap in 1791 (Geselbracht, 1986). Since that time, access restrictions have been an issue because of the type of materials held: personal papers. The first documented debate regarding access restrictions was heard at the 1914 Conference of Historical Societies. The historians wanted free access to materials; the archivists, however, wanted to protect the privacy of donors (Geselbracht, 1986).

The debate has abated and restrictions have remained a mainstay in the manuscript tradition. In the past, archivists often agreed to donor’s odd restriction requests so that the materials would be donated to their institution. Today these restrictions seem ludicrous. Examples of such restrictions can be found at the Huntington Library. One of their collections is closed to all who are of British descent while another is sealed to Jews, Roman Catholics and the donor’s nephew (Hodson S. S., 2004). Generally access restrictions in the history manuscript tradition can be categorized into one of two types: closed access for a set number of years or access selectively granted by the donor or his agent. On occasion donor agreements will combine the two (Geselbracht, 1986).

Without the possibility of restrictions, owners of archival materials may simply destroy them. As Stephen Joyce, the grandson of James Joyce, did; he ended up burning numerous family papers for the sake of privacy. This is an incalculable loss which could have been avoided if only Joyce had placed the papers in a repository with access restrictions of his or his children’s lifetime. If he had, the papers would have been preserved for future researchers to use, while shielding him and others from embarrassment and/or disgrace (Hodson S. S., 2004).

So informationettes, have I been convincing or are some of you still viscerally against access restrictions? Since this assignment requires us to discuss information technology and social changes that influence our topic, I’d like to raise another question for you.
In the past archives were lone silos of information, housed in basements with little connection to mainstream society. Sure, if they were academic archives, their holdings may have been in their school’s catalogue but their reach was limited to that catalogue. Now if an archive has a World Wide Web presence, their reach is limitless. Along with the pervasiveness of the internet, it seems that nothing is private anymore. My question to you informationettes is this: do you believe that more donors will demand restrictions for their materials or do you believe that since privacy matters less these days, donors will not do so? What groups of people may want more or less privacy? Any other thoughts?

K. Yockey

Works Cited
American Library Association Council. (1995, June 26). American Library Association Code of Ethics. Retrieved May 21, 2010, from American Library Association:
Geselbracht, R. H. (1986). The orgins of restrictions on access to personal papers at the Library of Congress and the National Archives. American Archivist , 49 (2), 142-162.
Hodson, S. S. (2004). In secret kept,in secret sealed: Privacy in the papers of authors and celebrities. The American Archvist , 67, 194-211.
Society of American Archivists. (2005, Feburary 5). Code of Ethics for Archivists. Retrieved May 16, 2010, from Society of American Archivists:

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How to Disappear

I would like to bring to the table an ethical situation concerning one’s right to privacy and confidentiality with their librarian, and what is right and good for the community.

I was recently working the reference desk at my public library, and was approached by a middle aged man.  “Yeah, I was wondering if you guys had any books about how to speak Brazil.”

“Oh, would you like some books or CDs on learning Portuguese?” I responded.

“No, I want to learn how to speak Brazil,” he said abrasively.

“Oh, well sir, they actually speak Portuguese in Brazil. Here let me show you to the section where we have some learning materials on the Portuguese language.”

So I showed him over to the section, and let him select the materials that he wanted. Shortly thereafter, he returned to the reference desk.

“So, I was also wondering if you had any books on how to disappear. Not like the magician’s kind of way of disappearing. But like if I wanted to disappear where no one could ever find me.”

Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what was going on in this situation, and here is where the ethical situation arises.  This man could have committed a crime that he is trying to run from, and the authorities could be looking for him. This man could quite possibly be a risk to the community. But then again, these are all “could” statements. I, as his librarian, am obligated to reserve his right to privacy, and help him find whatever materials he requests…right? So I did what I thought was best, and was loyal to my profession, and found him the most suitable books for his request on “how to disappear.” I was actually astounded that there were books on this topic, but low and behold, the man received what he came to the library for.

We as librarians are going to face an array of difficult ethical situations throughout our careers, but with policies such as ALA in place, at least we have some sense of guidance in doing what we think is right.


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The Usefulness of Turning Gelatin into Bytes

For the past eight months or so I have been in charge of a collection of glass plate photography in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s image archives.  The time has been taken up with re-housing, cataloging, and scanning of the images into a database.  Though I cannot imagine who in their right mind would do research on Charles Blickensderfer of Denver, Colorado, I find the implications behind the entire process fascinating.

Archives represent a paradox to the ethical codes of the archiving world.  These institutions have been stuck somewhere between library and museum as places to preserve and house, but also as information treasure-troves.  The Society of American Archivists (SAA) code of ethics echoes the ALA’s in the importance of service and equal access.  These ideals sometimes do not, or cannot be upheld.  Some collections are far too fragile or sensitive to individuals’ privay to allow access to them.  In many Native American archives, access to materials and objects are restricted to members of the specific tribe.  Another reason for restricted access has nothing to do with what the materials are, but the shear numbers of objects that may be in a collection.  There is, however, an increasing interest what what such institutions have to offer.  They can no longer rely on places such as museums and universities for fundings.  Archives have an obligation to get there stuff out there.

Though the Blickensderfer collection of plates is not very informative, it is accessible to anyone.  Every slide has a number and an image put into a database for easy access.  The database also plays a role in organizing the images on the computer for future projects, e.g. an online catalog of the archive’s collection.   This sort of technology allows the fragile plates to be viewed and used outside of the museum.  The implications of this extend to any other collection in the archive, or any archive.  Many of these projects have be developed.

I have posted a few links of examples:

The online archive of Einstein’s manuscripts:

The Palomar Digital Sky Survey image archive:

The Rocky Mountain Online Archive:

Posted by: Lucie Brothers

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Bookstores, Libraries, and the ALA in a Consumer Culture

Having come from a bookstore my knowledge of the library has been primarily that of a user. So, at this juncture I can speak of the goals of the American Library Association (ALA) and how they impact the work of a librarian only in theory. Because I worked in a bookstore I do have experience serving the public in an information industry. Through my work, and also my time as a student in community college and university, I have acquired an understanding of the importance of information access that the library provides to its community. This issue is, in fact, why I decided to become a librarian.

The ALA’s goal to “…enhance learning and ensure access to information for all” is my core motivation for going into this field. As a clerk in a bookstore I often encountered people who were looking for information but had very little idea where to begin their search. Helping people locate books, periodicals, or even sections in the store, was the most gratifying part of my job. This was especially true when I was working with customers who had language barriers or gaps in his or her education that made locating resources more difficult. I would do whatever I could within the limitations of the bookstore to help, but often I found I had to direct them to the public library. Many times after giving this advice the customer would look at me with the surprise of a light switching on suddenly in a dark room and say, “oh, that’s a good idea.”

The fact that a customer at a bookstore looking for research material for their 5th grade child’s science project or a reference book from which they only needed the information located on pages 358-63, wouldn’t think to go to a library is a reflection, I think, of our consumer society. So, what can be done about this? And is the ALA thinking of ways to remind the population that libraries still exist and are far more than mere relics with shelves of dusty books, card catalogs, and microfiche?

Looking on the ALA site I did not find much pertaining to advertising or marketing plans. It could be that I was not searching in the right places. None the less, I feel that there should be an easy link to the ALA’s marketing strategies. I know it costs money to advertise and money is something libraries have very little of, however, I think it would be money well spent. With the economy as it is now, it is the perfect time for libraries to strike out with advertising campaigns. People need and want free services. If the ALA funded a campaign something along the lines of the dairy industry’s tag line, “Got Milk,” or the cattle industry’s quotable, “Beef, it’s whats for dinner,” I believe that the light would go on in the darkened memories of once upon a time library users and be an invitation to those who have never been exposed to the library and its services. If the ALA collectively created an “Ask Your Librarian” website that was as innovative and user friendly as the that of the dairy and beef industries, we might have more enthusiastic patrons. As of now when I type in that phrase I am offered links to the Public Library in Forsyth, North Carolina and the Central Rappahannock Regional Library. Not bad sites, but not necessarily sites that make you want to hang around and take a closer look. We can fix that. We can make the library appear as the exciting place that it is.

Though we may have some work to do on a national level, there are communities who are taking library advertising upon themselves. Check out this adorable YouTube commercial made by students at Southside High School in Alabama:

Blog entry created by J.A. Lee

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