Sunday, October 31, 2010

Circular Texts, both Digital and Tangible

If you remember my post on readers and new media from a couple weeks ago, I mentioned this article on an author (Jurgen Neffe) who took advantage of the e-reader format to create circular texts, or ones without a beginning or end. A quick internet search on the author revealed this article entitled "The disembodied book," which is a pretty thorough discussion of the author's views on the future of the book and authorship, and the future of reading. He is optimistic about the possibility of more authors being recognized and readers interacting with texts in new ways, although he frames this within the downfall of the print book. I'm one of those folks that feels like we don't have to choose: I have a Kindle e-reader but still read paper texts as well. However, he doesn't associate the reduction of print books to their complete elimination, which is an argument I feel has been made far too many times (insert frantic 'print is dying! We will never read printed books again!' comments here).
The book is not going anywhere, and I think Jurgen has a valid point by reminding us of that, but also reminding us that game changing technologies do indeed have far-reaching effects. People will read more e-books, and multimedia books will allow people to interact with texts in far more ways than before (you can even publish your own multimedia books). My friends who are bookstore owners can attest to the fact that their shops are struggling (which is why I will use this moment to remind you to buy your books from locally owned bookshops--they really are so much better than the big sellers both in terms of unique selection and service), but I just can't imagine that their shops are all going to disappear under a tidal wave of digital books. People still like print books, but also see the opportunities extant in the digital format (I, for example, plan on self-publishing my library research to the Kindle store, for e-readers, and to Lulu, for tangible books).
With this books/no books argument swirling in my head, I decided to take my assignment from my calligraphy instructor for last week (which was to create and calligraph a book) and play around with Jurgen's notions of a circular text in book format. I found a blog with a number of circular poems, although most of them weren't suitable to my book because I didn't feel they were 'circular' enough for my needs. The idea behind such a poem is, like a circular book, that you can begin from anywhere within the poem because it lacks a clear beginning and end.
For this first book I used 'Where are the Extravagant Spectacles of Yesterday?' because I could not resist the name, but also because it seems very circular. I folded some thick watercolor paper for pages, using only one folio (or piece of paper, for non-binders) per signature (set of page(s), usually a book with have multiple signatures bound together). Using three jewelry findings (in this case little silver loops), I created a series of chain stitched pamphlet bindings, and move them through the loops as I progressed. I'm pleased my little experiment worked, and resulted in a book that can lay flat, but that can stand up and turn into a 'circular text' by distributing the pages around the loops in such a way that it's actually a bit hard to figure out where the book starts and ends.

I'm making another circular book for class this week, using the poem 'Upon the Winds of Time' from that same site. I'll post photos after it's finished!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Some Exciting History-Themed Resources

While the purpose of this blog is primarily to focus on librarianship, the joys of being an LIS student, and my own research, I feel like there is so much of an overlap between my own work and other fields that sometimes I want to be a little more interdisciplinary! Lately, I've been shown a lot of really exciting online resources that might technically fall under 'history resources,' but that creative minds could apply to an LIS classroom (and of course, to history classes as well.) So, for both students and instructors, I present a brief list to you:
BBC Dimensions
I really like this site, and I've spent more time on it than I care to admit after being informed of its existence via Twitter. Basically, the site takes the dimensions of any number of things (natural disasters, historic cities, industrial areas, etc) and allows you to superimpose an outline of the event/place over your own postal code. It's a great way to help conceptualize the actual size, and is a great jumping off point for talking about how everyone thought about the size of the event/place in question prior to seeing the map.
Getting back to library history more specifically, I humbly present the Library History Buff Blog. I'm sure I've talked about this blog before, but it's worth mentioning here because of the scope of Larry Nix's work. I love this blog because he talks about such a wide range of library history-related topics, from pieces of ephemera (see the World War I ALA bookmark) to people, events, and organizations that have shaped library history in one way or another. This blog will be of particular interest to those who study postal history as well, as Nix finds inspiration from letters and other postal artifacts.
Larry Nix also created a helpful website that showcases artifacts related to the ALA in World War I. I love the postcards he's found, and they help put imagery to the different ALA War Service activities I've looked at!
This is a link to a class website for a course taught by Dr. Karen Roggenkamp. There are plenty of links that discuss late 19th/early 20th century history, and these can help to introduce students to a topic without overwhelming them.
Harvard's Reading page is a very helpful resource I've used a number of times, because it provides a good deal of information on the history of readers and reading. There are so many interesting studies done on reading (those by Janice Radway and Christine Pawley, for example), and this site is a great place for students to gain an introduction to the study of reading history and use it as a jumping off point for discussing why the study of reading habits is important (i.e. is how we read a text a vital component to how we understand it?)

There are so many more history resources out there, but I've tried to stick with ones that are both recent and, to my mind at least, have something unique to offer. I've also tried to focus on resources that are more interdisciplinary, rather than those that would only be applicable in, say, an ancient history survey course. If you know of any more great resources, put them in the comments! The longer the list, the better!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Map of Censorship in Iowa Libraries during 1918

I know I've mentioned this before, but there is a wonderful Google map that shows all the book bans and challenges in the U.S. over the last 3 years.  When I ran across this map a while back, it gave me the idea to do a similar thing with the Herbert Metcalf letters that inspired my WWI Iowa libraries project. (Metcalf was the man to whom librarians around the state sent letters indicating that they had removed items from their shelves in response to his request).
I made the map and used it for a class presentation, and just recently dug it back up while I was poking around Google. For those who are interested in Iowa or World War I history, this might be of interest to you. You can find my map at this link.
There are a couple things I should point out about this map:
A cursory examination suggests that censorship activities were clustered in the Eastern half of the state. While I have no evidence to the contrary, this is not an assumption I can get behind 100 percent. Part of the reason is that we may not have all the letters written to Metcalf: some might have been destroyed or misplaced, as often happens with office paperwork.
Also, I do know for a fact that the Metcalf letters do not represent all the censorship activity taking place in Iowa that year: For example, Cedar Rapids' library removed books, but there is no letter in the Metcalf paperwork from anyone on their staff. On the contrary, there is a letter from Burlington Public Library, but no record of their removing materials anywhere in the library's records. So, while it does seem that a lot of this censorship took place in Eastern Iowa, we will never know for sure unless someone goes through the records of every Iowa public library.
Another thing to point out for those using this as a tool to study World War I-era history is that it is only for one year: and to be precise, only for the first few months of that year (1918). 1918 was the year when it seems censorship efforts really kicked into high gear (although censorship was taking place earlier than this--see Wayne Wiegand's book, An Active Instrument for Propaganda, for a national look). I point this out to avoid misleading people into thinking it covers the entire wartime period. It occurs to me that it might be helpful to go back into the map and add dates to each entry that match the dates on the letters, and hopefully I will have time to do that soon.
Lastly, these letters raise (and in some cases answer) questions about what libraries did with these books after they removed them. Most simply indicate that books were 'removed from shelves' or 'removed from circulation,' but if you look at Forest City and Villisca, you'll notice that their librarians both burnt the items they felt were 'pro-German.' Most libraries, however, do not indicate what they did with books once they were removed. The meeting minutes from Davenport Public Library indicate that theirs were held by the library board, so it is possible other libraries retained their books in storage. Also, look at Des Moines Public Library--the librarian removed a lot of items! For those who are curious, that is the same Forrest Spaulding who later drafted the Library Bill of Rights. I should point out that I don't think these libraries were intentionally throwing their patrons under the bus to get behind the war effort: I suspect they removed books because the staff and library boards felt it was in the best interest of the patrons. While I would love to know, I have yet to find out any information about whether the removed books were restored to the shelves after the war.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Moving Between Genres: The Challenges and Rewards of Interdisciplinary Blogging

In my last post, I talked a bit about my other blog, and the final project of which it is a part. Since I am building steam on writing for that blog, I wanted to write this post about what I have learned so far blogging both as a historian and as a LIS student. I would love to hear what experience other writers have in working between disciplines, so please add your thoughts to the comments!

The first difference I've noticed is my tone when writing. On this blog, I have developed my own 'voice' as it were, and feel like I can write somewhat more casually. The other blog doesn't use a very formal tone for the actual blog posts, but I feel like I need to write more in the way I would write for a peer-reviewed journal when writing the sections on historical background.I also use many more citations in the other blog, because it is based primarily on historical research.
On this blog, I do draw from other sources, but I don't find myself using parenthetical citations and a bibliography, because I am doing as much sharing of my own thoughts as I am pulling from other sources. That difference in approach is also reflected in the content: on this blog I feel much more comfortable sitting down and writing a post about some aspect of my professional life that I find interesting or particularly relevant, whereas when I post on the other blog I feel like I need to sit down and plan out what I will post about and how that fits into the scope of a larger project. Basically its the difference between creating a space for more formal research versus a place to share new ideas and offer my opinion on a subject.
The biggest challenges for me with this type of writing come from trying to switch not only between voices, but between ways of approaching a post. The Markham blog requires that at least some of my posts be approached as tightly-formed arguments on an aspect of a historical document (his cookery manual, in this instance). This blog requires me to write clearly for an audience across multiple disciplines, and discuss the world as it exists now. The greatest reward is that these two styles complement each other very well: by forcing myself to write academically on one blog, I can ensure that I am forming coherent arguments on this one. By writing in a way that (I hope) is interesting and accessible on this blog, I prevent my other writing from becoming too dry.
Because the blogs are updated frequently and are a more dynamic entity than an article, I feel this difference much more acutely than when I am writing papers on several different subjects. It probably helps that peer reviewed journals tend to adhere to some similar expectations in terms of building and defending an argument, and even in the scholarly language used in the paper.
I'm sure I will notice many more differences between the way I write for different projects as I go on, but one advantage I feel like I am giving myself here is exposure to a wider variety of writing styles--by both blogging and writing for more traditional publications across a number of disciplines, I am (slowly) familiarizing myself with the tenets of 'good writing' for these fields, a skill which I hope will be useful as I continue to work in a field as interdisciplinary as LIS.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Multiple Projects, Multiple Blogs

While some readers are aware of my other blog (and accompanying project), I have not given it the discussion on this blog that it deserves! The blog can be found at this link, and is a part of a larger project called "Modernizing Markham." Gervase Markham was a 17th century English writer, who published books about cookery, horse care, orchards, and sport. I ran across his book, The English Housewife, in the University of Iowa's Szathmary Collection--an awesome collection of cookbooks, manuscripts, and even kitchen appliance manuals. I wrote a paper about it for a class, but I wanted to do more. I decided to focus on Markham for my Center for the Book final project.
Basically, I am taking recipes from the book and using modern equipment and ingredients to recreate them. I am going through his 'banquetting stuffs' menu, so that I'll have a historically-accurate meal by the end of it. On the blog, I talk about the experience of recreating the recipes, but I also place those recipes in their historical context by talking about culinary history and book history. The project is still in its early stages, but there are two posts for recipes up already (one worked great, the other failed miserably but made a great pie filling). In the Spring, I plan to make a calligraphed, pamphlet-bound book with the modern recipes and with my own illustrations. This book will be combined with the contextual information from the blog and with some extracts from Markham's text, and sold as a print-on-demand book. All the information is available for free on the blog, of course, but that is a good option for people who like tangible recipe books. I'm also hoping to prepare some of the food for my friends at the Center for the Book, depending on how much time I have!
I'm really excited about this project because it lets me combine my interests in a really fun way--I get to cook (which I love!), but I also get to pair my interests in history and book arts with my interests in new media and digital humanities. Talking about the historical aspects of the project on a blog allows me to share my ideas with a larger number of people (and hopefully get some good comments and discussion going too!) It's a great way to make these recipes relevant again as well, 400 years after they were written.
Feel free to ask me any questions about the project, and if you have a Twitter account, stay updated on my progress by following @ModernMarkham (or following my own username, @BookishJulia). You can also subscribe to both my blogs on Kindle.

Friday, October 8, 2010

What New Media Means for Me as a Reader

I am about to make the most obvious statement ever: there is a lot of cool stuff happening on the internet.
Not a groundbreaking observation by any means, but I am ceaselessly amazed by the sheer number of new ways to participate in the world as a reader of texts. I mean this both in the literal sense (e-texts versus paper texts), and also in how we interpret those texts (and how technology influences that).

Take, for example, this article on 'circular reading.' This author has found a way to exploit the e-reader technology in a way that gives us stories with a circular narrative (no beginning or end). As readers of these stories, how does this sort of narrative change our interpretation of the text, and how does it change our interaction with that text? There are many books that challenge us to think of narrative form differently than a 'beginning-to-end' reading experience (I was fond of the 'choose your own adventure' book when I was a kid), and this book takes that to a new level by using a technology that isn't bounded by a structure with a clear beginning and end.
The e-reader is especially interesting to me after I purchased a Kindle (which arrived in the mail today!) and began exploring the different texts I could fill it up with. There is a dizzying array of public domain material available for free in the Kindle Store, and right now that's what I'm experimenting with. I've downloaded one free comic book, and a number of books (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) so I can get a sense for how the different texts 'read' on this device. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could read the comic fine (it just shows each page as a 'page' on the Kindle, like you would expect), but as a comics reader I wonder what happens when you take comics that include elements of color or 'splash pages' (where the narrative and imagery spans two pages). I haven't found answers to these questions yet, but I might just download Watchmen on there to see how it changes my reading experience (and my understanding of the text).
I'm also curious about subscription services. I love having a 3G device that will automatically update my blogs and allow me to read them while on layovers at bus stops (which is when I get to read at work--can't do it while driving!) or while at the doctor's office without hauling my MacBook Pro along for the ride. I looked at some newspaper subscriptions, although I just can't commit: I'm someone that reads snippets throughout the day from various sources and listens to NPR, so sitting down 'with the paper' isn't a model I'll probably adopt. Blogs, however, are a different story. I have a 'to read' list that's probably about 100 posts long at any given point, so I'll take all the help I can get!
The Kindle is interesting because you pay for a blog subscription at a price that is comparable to that of newspapers, which shows our increasing acceptance of the blog as a source for reputable information (or at least, with the potential to be such a source). Tonight, I've listed this blog on the Kindle Store, and it should be available for purchase in about 48 hours (I'll share a link when it is). I'll also be listing my other blog that I'm using for my Center for the Book final project (more on that later--but suffice to say there's some exciting stuff in the works!)
This model of publishing is similar to someplace like it's free to sign up and to upload your material to be published, and you get a decent hunk of the royalties when it is. With the Kindle subscription, I was surprised by the fact that I wasn't given the option to choose the price (although it's possible that I will be able to do so after it's 'approved). I want to make my blog accessible to as many people as possible, so I would like to list it for free! While the jury's still out on this, I definitely think that taking that agency away from the author has some very interesting implications. For example, how does it compare to traditional publishing models' valuing of work? What does it say for access--if is choosing the price of my blog, what will that do to people who want to access the work but can't? This is less of an issue for people who own Kindles (I assume that most people who buy them are prepared to spend 99 cents on a blog subscription), but it does raise questions for me about e-publishing at large.

Well, it's the next day, and both blogs have been published for the Kindle. You can find this blog here, and my other blog here. I'm excited to have them on the Kindle because I want to be able to share them with as many people as possible. As I suspected, I didn't get to choose the price: they're each $1.99. I am actually not super happy about that price, because I wanted to give them away for free (or at least for less than $1). However, I am happy to have another way to share my work with others, and I would love to hear from Kindle users about their experiences reading my blog(s) in that format!