As it stands

March 17, 2008

Happy New Year! …and Martin Luther King’s Birthday! …and Valentine’s Day! …and St. Patrick’s Day! …

Amazingly, after all this time, only 9 unfinished blog posts await revision, additions, content, refinement, wholly redacting, or sending to pasture.

I’m currently swamped with/overwhelmed by memory — possessed; a lifelong pre-occupation of mine without a doubt, even a topic, it could be said, for which I’ve nurtured and collected data, statistics, hearsay, libel, fantabulation and theorization about since as long I can remember.

Which, if you’re wondering, is roughly and reliably since age 11.

My father, before my birth, back when he smoked.

I’ve no idea how often it is I wonder abstractly about what is myself that is absent from my neural vault’s mutable archive of summonable memories. Usually, these thoughts lead me to wonder about everyone else, the monumental sea of consciousnesses which are other than me — or how it must feel to be a tree, what kind of awareness I, a tree, would have about myself and others like me.

I am drifting, sometimes calmly, sometimes nauseatingly, sometimes with a reassuring purpose. I am traveling the globe in my research — through reading about the science and chemistry of memory, the politics of archives, cultural tensions over a peoples’ heritage , the international negotiation over cultural and societal memories; and through actual travel. I will soon be in Leiden and Den Haag, briefly Florida and even Paris, researching the International Committee of the Blue Shield.

(Did you know that this years’ 16th International Congress on Archives will be held in Kuala Lumpur?)

So I cast a line out and this is what I caught. Buster Keaton poetically cradled by Radiohead (and some admirable editing, I should add). Helped me focus, and I hope you like it as much as I do. If all goes well, you’ll be hearing from me while I travel. It’ll keep me tethered, as it were.


Third time’s a charm

December 9, 2007

The merciless march of time continually surprises me, not due so much to its stealth — rather, due to its ability to blindside me as I watch its approach, wide-eyed, tharn and fearful to move and draw its full attention.

Cog Clock by Balakov

I am nearly done with my first year as a graduate student, and this too is an occasion for no small amount of surprise. I applied for school, was accepted, signed up and attended my first class all in under a month’s time. Talk about breathless…

The thing is, everything I am studying is just so intense and absorbing, and I have hardly a complaint when it comes to sustaining my interest in it all. I can pretty much study anything I want, since libraries and archives encompass every area of human thought there is. Especially archives, as one is dealing very often with primary, irreplaceable personal and institutional documents, the field of study is as large as life itself.

I am currently working on three papers, all due in the coming week and a half. I thought it would be fun to tell you about them…

The first one, for my Internet Publishing class, is concerned with online academic journals and the imminent effect of print-on-demand, networked books and eBooks on access to information as well as prospects for the survival of digital publications. Along the way I’ve read fascinating articles by Tim O’Reilly, John Dupuis (in a guest post to PersonaNonData), and from the 2006 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) online evaluation data.

One of the more intriguing sites I will be referencing in the paper is co-authored by Lewis Lapham’s Quarterly and the Institute for the Future of the Book, intellectually a sort of follow up to an earlier post on Robotic Librarian about networked books. It’s a digital version of the Iraq Study Group Report that offers a promising new model for publishing which I hope will become a standard formulaic publishing touchstone. The base text of the Iraq report is supplemented by annotations by a “quorum of informed sources (historians, generals, politicians both foreign and domestic) [who] add marginal notes and brief commentaries at any point in the text seeming to require further clarification or forthright translation into plain English.”

Their design is extremely simple and intuitive to use, and I can easily see the format reorganized to accommodate several oceans worth of digitally published materials, both interactive and static, yet informationally challenging and sophisticated. In a recent interview I read with Caroline Vanderlip, CEO of SharedBook, she alludes to a study wherein “Hewlett Packard recently estimated that 53 trillion digital pages will be printed in 2010.” Even if the Hewlett Packard estimate is wrong by half, it’s apparent that our fundamental relationship to information is undergoing a monumental degree of transformation, something that will forever alter people’s core notions of right to access, levels of privacy and confidentiality, interactivity, and timely provision of materials.

Interactivity is a property of technology, participation is a property of cultures

My second paper is about Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, one of the most fascinating concordances of cultural significance in the Industrial Age. This is the paper I alluded to shortly before I jumped the track on my blog posts, which I originally thought to write about Black May in Thailand. For a host of extremely sensible reasons, it was much more practical to work on something I could research in local archives, and there is no shortage of local material or of interested, knowledgeable archivists who were willing to provide me with help in understanding the Exposition. (First and foremost, many thanks are due to Newberry, and to the Chicago Historical Society)

Certainly Eric Larson’s The Devil in the White City was also invaluable, largely by helping me to simplify the abstract time-line that existed in fragments in my mind, untethered to any but the most fleeting islands of context. As I am not a native Chicagoan, and not a natural historian, it’s hard for me to easily grasp historical context. It’s a fight every time (unless it’s about the advent of mechanization, which for some reason has interested me since I was 12 or so, no kidding…). Luckily the Exposition tells such a compelling story, and I did not want for a body of available narratives. I’ve found that there are at least 200 books in English about it, and more in German, French, Japanese and French besides. Once I am done with my paper, I am going to condense it into a post or two, there’s just so much to tell…

Grounds of the Columbian Exposition

The first Ferris Wheel (built with over 1 million pounds of steel), the introduction of Cracker Jacks & Cream of Wheat, very likely the origin of 20th century freak shows, and arguably even of Disney Land… Check out this online tour in the meantime, until I have time to cobble together my histories.

My third paper is the most intimidating of them all, and the most far-reaching. I am likely going to stretch it out into an independent study for my final Spring semester; in fact, if all goes well, I will turn it into both an address to professional archivists in June as well as a manuscript for a non-fiction book.

I am writing about unwanted histories, and the ways in which individuals and societies react toward their destruction/burial/ exposure/alteration. I am starting my story with the age of the armarius, the monks who were responsible for the preservation and provision of books from the 8th century onward. At times the armarius was called upon to destroy a given work which was officially proscribed by the church — a conscientious book keeper might scrape the offending author’s name from a vellum sheet and substitute an accepted name, or perhaps would find it easier to bind the pages with several other works and just not record the condemned works’ existence; both were documented practices. I hope to end the paper with Executive Order 13233, Bush’s attempt to prevent the accession and provision of Presidential papers that were previously protected as public property under the Presidential Records Act. Honestly, though, every President whose records fell under the aegis of the PRA (meaning everyone since 1978) tried to circumvent its scope and effect, Bush was merely the most successful in doing so. Here’s hoping that HR 1255 eventually passes through with flying colors…

The Basics by phatcontroller

In the meantime, please do wish me luck. I have yet to write about 25 or 30 pages, and to prepare my three presentations. Seriously, how can it possibly be December already?

The Dreaming

September 14, 2007

Vaucanson’s Duck visits the water garden, Chateau Impney

The weeks since the end of the summer session seem hazy and strange, as though my memory is floating adrift upon some unnamed sea. It’s absurd, really, just how much has happened in the space of a few months.

Visitors passed through Chicago & onward, toward numerous destinations unknown, arriving from Brooklyn, New Jersey, India, North Carolina, and Bahrain. I visited Seattle. Twice. Then the semester ended and a day later I left for England, with a 13 hour day trip to Amsterdam thrown in to season the mix. I arrived home, slept for a day and started school again; finally, exhausted and deranged by stimulation, I traveled to North Carolina to take part in a wedding a mere four days later. My every exhalation must still be touched by several climates and continents, so quickly did it all pass on by.

England was wonderful to see again, with more opportunity to visit the countryside than I’ve had before. Coventry, Warwick, Oxford, Worcester, Hemel Hampstead, London… Up above is a photo taken at the Chateau Impney Hotel in Droitwich Spa where, due to the kindness of my grandparents-in-law (and their 50 year friendship with the owner of the hotel), I was able to spend a night in extravagant splendor, with a carved stone balcony overlooking the lush landscape, milk cows and golden-hued horses. The Chateau has a wonderfully gothic history, built as an Englishman’s gift to his homesick French wife who, depression unalloyed by this well-intended simulacrum, flung herself from Impney’s highest point, to her death.

There is much to tell, and I will be posting several pictures from my travels over the coming weeks. I am also hoping to review the two books I read while on holiday, David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten and Don DeLillo’s The Names.

However, it is wonderful to be back, to finally return to the haven that is Robotic Librarian. And in case you missed it, every bibliophile and library lover ought to check out Curious Expedition’s Librophiliac Love Letter, a sumptuous visual feast that even Borges would’ve enjoyed. Here is sample photo of a Cathedral Library in Kalocsa, Hungary:


These libraries make me lament the loss of the original Chicago library building (now the Cultural Center near Millennium Park) to today’s awkward & strangely proportioned Harold Washington –all libraries should, in their own way, large or small, inspire awe if not solemnity.

Until tomorrow, then.

The Toys are Winding Down

August 13, 2007

This is the final week of my graduate library science summer session, with two more semesters to go, and the gleaming silver key in Robotic Librarian’s back is begging to be rewound. In these times of concentration, in the spaces between posts, picture if you will a dedicated wooden automata, encircled by increasingly unmanageable sheafs of stapled papers and flat-bound books, slavishly copying out the contents of his mind.

Writing Automata borrowed from Wired Blogs, Jan 29 2007

image from Wired Blogs post
by John Brownlee, Maillardet’s Automaton

Also, I need to thank everyone for their kindness and compassion after my mugging. So many of my classmates, my family and friends, my readers, and the professor whose class I missed have all made this ordeal a little easier. I arrived home today to find a beautiful, potted spathiphyllum at my door & a note of well-wishes from an anonymous friend. I can’t remember the last time anyone sent me flowers…and a peace lily at that!

Araceae - Spathiphyllum commutatum: From: Annales musei botanici Lugduno-Batavi by Friedrich Anton Wilhelm Miquel.

I can’t help but think of the Japanese peace lily in Hot Fuzz, which just makes me smile every time.

Wish me luck amidst this last encyclical maelstrom of work before the close of the summer term. My wish for you is simply peace.

Crunch Time

August 1, 2007


I need sleep. That will be me if I don’t get some soon. I have just finished up a grueling midterm, and a rather fun business research guide, and there is no end to the workload in sight. In fact, there are signs that it’ll get more intense. I cannot wait for my summer classes to be done, for they are lovely but exhausting.

In the meantime, if you’re interested you should check out the pathfinder that Paul Go, James Elliott and I put together for the fictional Shady Acres Public Library, it’s the little blog that could. The day after we launched it with all the content, it got about 35 or so original hits, and someone even clicked through to Robotic Librarian! Are there that many people looking for information on researching businesses and corporations? And with so many fantastic contenders out there, why did they choose our modest little hamlet of Shady Groves? Well, hopefully our careful culling and collocating did the trick, and if someone out there is given help in their time of need, then Shady Acres will have done its job.

See you tomorrow night for Thursday’s quiz.