the really modern library 10.08.2007, 1:48 AM
posted by ben vershbow
This is a request for comments. We're in the very early stages of devising, in partnership with Peter Brantley and the Digital Library Federation, what could become a major initiative around the question of mass digitization. It's called "The Really Modern Library."
Over the course of this month, starting Thursday in Los Angeles, we're holding a series of three invited brainstorm sessions (the second in London, the third in New York) with an eclectic assortment of creative thinkers from the arts, publishing, media, design, academic and library worlds to better wrap our minds around the problems and sketch out some concrete ideas for intervention. Below I've reproduced some text we've been sending around describing the basic idea for the project, followed by a rough agenda for our first meeting. The latter consists mainly of questions, most of which, if not all, could probably use some fine tuning. Please feel encouraged to post responses, both to the individual questions and to the project concept as a whole. Also please add your own queries, observations or advice.
The Really Modern Library (basically)
The goal of this project is to shed light on the big questions about future accessibility and usability of analog culture in a digital, networked world.
We are in the midst of a historic "upload," a frenetic rush to transfer the vast wealth of analog culture to the digital domain. Mass digitization of print, images, sound and film/video proceeds apace through the efforts of actors public and private, and yet it is still barely understood how the media of the past ought to be preserved, presented and interconnected for the future. How might we bring the records of our culture with us in ways that respect the originals but also take advantage of new media technologies to enhance and reinvent them?
Our aim with the Really Modern Library project is not to build a physical or even a virtual library, but to stimulate new thinking about mass digitization and, through the generation of inspiring new designs, interfaces and conceptual models, to spur innovation in publishing, media, libraries, academia and the arts.
The meeting in October will have two purposes. The first is to deepen and extend our understanding of the goals of the project and how they might best be achieved. The second is to begin outlining plans for a major international design competition calling for proposals, sketches, and prototypes for a hypothetical "really modern library." This competition will seek entries ranging from the highly particular (for e.g., designs for digital editions of analog works, or new tools and interfaces for handling pre-digital media) to the broadly conceptual (ideas of how to visualize, browse and make use of large networked collections).
This project is animated by a strong belief that it is the network, more than the simple conversion of atoms to bits, that constitutes the real paradigm shift inherent in digital communication. Therefore, a central question of the Really Modern Library project and competition will be: how does the digital network change our relationship with analog objects? What does it mean for readers/researchers/learners to be in direct communication in and around pieces of media? What should be the *social* architecture of a really modern library?
The call for entries will go out to as broad a community as possible, including designers, artists, programmers, hackers, librarians, archivists, activists, educators, students and creative amateurs. Our present intent is to raise a large sum of money to administer the competition and to have a pool for prizes that is sufficiently large and meaningful that it can compel significant attention from the sort of minds we want working on these problems.
Although we have tended to divide the Really Modern Library Project into two stages - the first addressing the question of how we might best take analog culture with us into the digitally networked future and the second, how the digitally networked library of the future might best be conceived and organized - these questions are joined at the hip and not easily or productively isolated from each other.
Realistically, any substantive answer to the question of how to re-present artifacts of analog culture in the digital network immediately raises issues ranging from new forms of browsing (in a social network) to new forms of reading (in a social network) which have everything to do with the broader infrastructure of the library itself.
We're going to divide the day roughly in half, spending the morning confronting the broader conceptual issues and the afternoon discussing what kind of concrete intervention might make sense.
Questions to think about in preparation for the morning discussion:
* if it's assumed that form and content are inextricably linked, what happens when we take a book and render it on a dynamic electronic screen rather than bound paper? same question for movies which move from the large theatrical presentation to the intimacy of the personal screen. interestingly the "old" analog forms aren't as singular as they might seem. books are read silently alone or out loud in public; music is played live and listened to on recordings. a recording of a Beethoven symphony on ten 78rpm discs presents quite a different experience than listening to it on an iPod with random access. from this perspective how do we define the essence of a work which needs to be respected and protected in the act of re-presentation?
* twenty years ago we added audio commentary tracks to movies and textual commentary to music. given the spectacular advances in computing power, what are the most compelling enhancements we might imagine. (in preparation for this, you may find it useful to look at a series of exchanges that took place on the if:book blog regarding an "ideal presentation of Ulysses" (here and here).
* what are the affordances of locating a work in the shared social space of a digital network. what is the value of putting readers, viewers, and listeners of specific works in touch with each other. what can we imagine about the range of interactions that are possible and worthwhile. be expansive here, extrapolating as far out as possible from current technical possibilities.
* it seems to us that visualization tools will be crucial in the digital future both for opening up analog works in new ways and for browsing and making sense of massive media archives. if everything is theoretically connected to everything else, how do we make those connections visible in a way that illuminates rather than overwhelms? and how do we visualize the additional and sometimes transformative connections that people make individually and communally around works? how do we visualize the conversation that emerges?
* in the digital environment, all media break down into ones and zeros. all media can be experienced on a single device: a computer. what are the implications of this? what are the challenges in keeping historical differences between media forms in perspective as digitization melts everything together?
* what happens when computers can start reading all the records of human civilization? in other words, when all analog media are digitized, what kind of advanced data crunching can we do and what sorts of things might it reveal?
* most analog works were intended to be experienced with all of one's attention, but the way we read/watch/listen/look is changing. even when engaging with non-networked media -? a paper book, a print newspaper, a compact disc, a DVD, a collection of photos -? we increasingly find ourselves Googling alongside. Al Pacino paces outside the bank in 'dog day afternoon' firing up the crowded street with "Attica! Attica!" I flip to Wikipedia and do quick read on the Attica prison riots. reading "song of myself" in "leaves of grass," i find my way to the online Whitman archive, which allows me to compare every iteration of Whitman's evolutionary work. or reading "ulysses" i open up Google Earth and retrace Bloom's steps by satellite. while leafing through a book of caravaggio's paintings, a quick google video search leads me to a related episode in simon schama's "power of art" documentary series and a series of online essays. as radiohead's new album plays, i browse fan sites and blogs for backstory, b-sides and touring info. the immediacy and proximity of such supplementary resources changes our relationship to the primary ones. the ratio of text to context is shifting. how should this influence the structure and design of future digital editions?
* if we do decide to mount a competition (we're still far from decided on whether this is the right approach), how exactly should it work? first off, what are we judging? what are we hoping to reward? what is the structure of this contest? what are the motivators? a big concern is that the top-down model -? panel of prestigious judges, serious prize money etc. -? feels very old-fashioned and ignores the way in which much of the recent innovation in digital media has taken place: an emergent, grassroots ferment... open source culture, web2.0, or what have you. how can we combine the heft and focused energy of the former with the looseness and dynamism of the latter? is there a way to achieve some sort of top-down orchestration of emergent creativity? is "competition" maybe the wrong word? and how do we create a meaningful public forum that can raise consciousness of these issues more generally? an accompanying website? some other kind of publication? public events? a conference?
* where are the leverage points are for an intervention in this area? what are the key consituencies, national vs. international?
* for reasons both practical and political, we've considered restricting this contest to the public domain. practical in that the public domain provides an unencumbered test bed of creative content for contributors to work with (no copyright hassles). political in that we wish to draw attention to the threat posed to the public domain by commercially driven digitization projects ( i.e. the recent spate of deals between Google and libraries, the National Archives' deal with Footnote.com and Amazon, the Smithsonian with Showtime etc.). emphasizing the public domain could also exert pressure on the media industries, who to date have been more concerned with preserving old architectures of revenue than with adapting creatively to the digital age. making the public domain more attractive, more dynamic and more *usable* than the private domain could serve as a wake-up call to the big media incumbents, and more importantly, to contemporary artists and scholars whose work is being shackled by overly restrictive formats and antiquated business models. we'd also consider workable areas of the private domain such as the Creative Commons -? works that are progressively licensed so as to allow creative reuse. we're not necessarily wedded to this idea. what do you think?
bowerbird on October 8, 2007 2:55 AM:
make everything available to people,
and the future will sort itself out.
so where's the meeting on thursday?
Tim on October 8, 2007 1:19 PM:
This project sounds fascinating. One thought I've had is that digital text still lacks its iTunes or its Joost -- a dead-easy, graphically sophisticated web-connected client application that overcomes the problems and baggage of the web browser, PDF reader, or word processor. I posted more thoughts here.
Roy Tennant on October 8, 2007 5:39 PM:
I was very happy to see this question included: "how does the digital network change our relationship with analog objects?" So often at forums like this the only object of interest is the digital, but print books are still valuable objects and there are some very interesting questions around how access to digital surrogates can change (and certainly not just diminish as some posit) our relationship to the print. The British talk about "hybrid" libraries rather than "digital" libraries, since we must manage both print and digital resources. What does this mean for our users, and how can we offer services for both print and digital in intuitive, rational, and effective ways? For my money, that is the real question libraries need to answer to be truly Modern.
Rick on October 8, 2007 10:48 PM:
Yes, make everything available to everyone. Make sure that it is granular and structured, however. The future, as well as someone in the future, finds it easier to sort when things are granular and structured....
We get so caught up in how to present everything (our catalogs, for instance), that we forget that many, many people can grab data and structure it. They just need to get to that data without having to scrape it from their screens because thats the only way our OPACs will give it to them.
Our goal should be granularity and structure, and let the presentation be as varied as the needs of our patrons.
Gary Frost on October 9, 2007 2:20 AM:
I agree, there is some emerging territory for considering relations of screen surrogates and print collections. My approach is to distinguish between the access services and the mastering services and understand that that relationship may be too costly to maintain if allocated predominately to screen based delivery. A draft of my thoughts on the issues (without the footnotes) is at my website and titled something like "the changing status of print".
This particular discussion now sidesteps catalogs of exclusive attributes of particular delivery media and looks at scenarios for long term interfunctionality of library media. As for sideswipes, massive digital initiatives generally sideswipe faculty perspectives. This Institute agenda should not sideswipe librarian perspectives. Incidently, there was a similar seminar in 1998 sponsored by the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Information Institute and the Long Now Foundation. It was published as "Time & Bits, Managing Digital Continuity".
David Guion on October 9, 2007 8:49 AM:
This is a very bold, ambitious idea. I will be very interested to see how it turns out. There are a couple of things that occur to me in reading it over that I hope everyone will keep in mind. This comment, for example: "what happens when computers can start reading all the records of human civilization? in other words, when all analog media are digitized, what kind of advanced data crunching can we do and what sorts of things might it reveal?"
"All records of human civilization" encompasses thousands of years of manuscript documents as well as all the print. How many lifetimes will it take to digitize all of it? Is there any thought of starting in on, say, a particular archive that is rich in Medieval records?
That brings up the second thing that occurs to me. The bibliographic universe keeps getting bigger and more complicated. Anthony Panizzi pointed out how complicated things were even in the 1840s when he tried to set up a catalog for the British Museum. His catalog failed because the technology of his time was not capable of fulfilling his vision, but the principles he enunciated form the cornerstone of modern librarianship.
As the principles of librarianship have been refined over the generations since then, we still do not have technology that has succeeded in delivering really good authority control. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be so much a limitation of what technology can deliver, but a failure of imagination on the part of people who are working with the technology. Too many of them seem to have lost sight of the problems that Panizzi enunciated and the solutions that he pointed to. The world of information has certainly not gotten any less complicated since then. We cannot turn our back on more than a century and a half of thinking about how to organize knowledge simply because we have a fancy new tool.
don bailey on October 10, 2007 1:54 AM:
The call for papers is inspiring. However, I believe it also is an early example of a new use for the term analog. In math, analog means the opposite of log. Logs are exponents of the analog numbers, expressed as numbers themselves rather than exponents. In computer science, analog is the opposite of digital. Digital electronics are those that operate with ones and zeros rather than (analog) sin waves of radio frequency. In the call for papers, we have analog meaning real or hard copy or concrete as apposed to representations of these on a monitor or electronic player. This comes, I believe, from the problem of not having a better word for "non-digital" to represent these books, CDs, LP records, and tapes. I hope we can eventually come up with a word other than analog for them, as it causes some alarm in my brain when I hear it used this way. Perhaps we could say "physical" or "concrete" or "tangible". I admit these words are imperfect as well. Thus we are at an impasse of language and thought owing to want of a suitable word.
Tom Peters on October 10, 2007 12:09 PM:
How about offering online access to at least one of the three brainstorming sessions, so that creative minds in the hinterlands (i.e., not LA, London, NY) can participate in these conversations? I'd be happy to help set it up.
Gino Marcangelo on October 10, 2007 1:59 PM:
Where in London is this being held and when? Will it be possible to attend?
Luis Herrera on October 10, 2007 4:07 PM:
It is very interesting to me to have come across this initiative to conceive libraries as a hole concept similar to "gravity" within physics. This is "libraries" within information. In an attempt to gather together and synthesize both analog and digital libraries I was looking into both worlds as if standing with one foot on each continually spreading apart divide. This is how I see it from Argentina, anyway.
But in the search for a unifying idea as a framework to consider both worlds and see into a future professional librarian/systems librarian/bla bla, I learned that it may be possible to get into the work done by Edward Fox as he and his team suggested a model known as 5 S model for digital libraries. There was also the work of Chaim Zims (Israel) who while trying to build his Knowledge Map of Information Science, came up with a structured view quite similar to Fox's.
Both (Fox and Zims) appear to have identified and in the case of Fox et. al. proposed formal tools to study and better understand the complexity of the idea of integrating both worlds.
I would expect you all, who may have access to more up-to-date information on this subject to comment on the possible relevance of my comment here. I would appreciate it very much. Thank you
Gary Frost on October 10, 2007 9:28 PM:
What if a really modern library could not only accommodate both tangible and on-line resources, but merge these via authentic synthesis? The catalog of such a library would be very easy to create since, to begin with, it would have no entries.
To populate this library nodes of activity, rather than bibliographic entities, would be accessioned. These could range from release of Nixon tapes, to APIS Advanced Papyrological Information System to backward interaction of Google Book Search with millions of books. The library would collect and track case histories of authentic synthesis of tangible and on-line, screen resources.
Building such a library would accomplish three things. It would create a new bibliometric assigning records types to interactivities of formats; defining conceptual works as neither object or screen mediated. It would map transitions of humanist scholarship and define post-digital cultural change. And it would be doable from a zero base, much like a wiki with spontaneous propagation.
bowerbird on October 11, 2007 3:32 AM:
> How about offering online access to
> at least one of the three brainstorming sessions,
> so that creative minds in the hinterlands
> (i.e., not LA, London, NY) can
> participate in these conversations?
or even creative minds here _in_ los angeles
who were not "invited" to the session... ;+)
but i guess that would be contrary to
the point of a dis-invitation, right?
it's very easy to _talk_ about an open process
-- and it gets plenty of mileage these days --
but it's a lot harder to actually walk the walk...
experts don't wanna bother with "non-experts".
and really, why should they? little to gain
and, on the other hand, quite a bit to lose...
JM Salaun on October 11, 2007 7:25 AM:
In France, we are several to call these changes "redocumentarization". Some papers have been published under a collective signature, Roger T. Pédauque, which represent a very large number of scholars from different expertises. The topic is larger than yours, but very related, I think.
Unfortunately only one text (the first) was translated in English :
Document: Form, Sign and Medium, As Reformulated for Electronic Documents
There is also a Spanish version :
The three original french main texts are there :
There is also a paper book :
James W. Marcum on October 11, 2007 8:53 AM:
I'm glad to see 1) you are moving beyond "mass digitization" -- which is still working largely with the "information transfer" model rather than social knowledge construction, and toward interactivity and the visual/multi-media ecology of our time. And 2) That the analog item warrants attention. We must focus on those functions of the book (primarily reading, with consideration for preservation) where it has clear advantage and keep those vital. The other functions, for which the codex has been overused, such as compendiums of articles and data, should be cleared away. An unread book taking up space on a shelf for decades is a hole in the air that collects dust, gets moldy, costs money better used elsewhere. 3) While the important book is a powerful technology and social phenomenon, the format can no longer represent human knowledge (consider the human genome project or google maps) as it did for 500 years. Bottom line: we must encourage reading--a different project from building collections--AND move on.
Gary Frost on October 12, 2007 12:04 AM:
James terse exposition provides breathing space everywhere. Perhaps the Institute can further emphasize use of library tactics including their discipline and format neutrality, their technology scope, their reading and discovery skills instruction and their concern for arrangement and continuity of conceptual works.
Maybe there is the strange possibility that the Institute is a kind of library already, compiling approaches to the book.
Adam Hodgkin on October 12, 2007 9:31 AM:
There is an interesting set of questions around what we might call the 'network library operating system' that needs to be built in the next decade.
Tim O'Reilly has a suggestive post today/yesterday about the need for social network interoperability
And there are very similar issues in the way in which the multifarious digital library programs, ebook licensing systems and closed/toll access publishing projects are evolving. These are areas where there are very new challenges and also interesting technical opportunities.
A somewhat related issue comes into play when the question of digital fair use is considered. Digital libarians need to evolve a set of best practice guidelines as to fair use and fair dealing. Again the best solutions will surely demand interesting software/social innovations. 2 more themes that merit discussion at this early stage.
So, I would say you will be unwisely narrowing the discussion if you focus exclusively on the 'public domain' initiatives. A lot of the meat and real urgency in the area is to do with the way private and public need to interoperate. And will continue to do so.
Dr. Mohamed Taher on October 21, 2007 12:08 PM:
This is a great venture. I have just added an extract about this in my blog on International and Comparative Librarianship @ Books need to be freed!
Would appreciate if you reciprocate.
ruediger on November 4, 2007 5:19 PM:
The Really Modern Library will be not a clean, digitally integrated place, but a rather messy environement - which is not so bad after all. For details see here
Sarah Warren on November 10, 2007 6:59 PM:
In response to Don Bailey's comment on Oct.10th about the use of the word, analog, to describe tangible, physical data; I agree 100% that "analog" is not the correct word and I have always personally preferred the term "hard copy" to describe concrete data.
Stepan Chizhov on November 15, 2007 2:23 AM:
When we talk about books and about moving the content to some digital media we should forget that useful information is contained not only in letters and words but in the binding also. We shouldn't repeat mistakes of scientists of XIX and the beginning of XX centuries who in the pursuit for text destroyed lots of historical, cultural and technical data by disbinding the manuscripts.
Ofcourse in digitalisation process no one will throw in trash parts of books but we should also think how to provide access not only to letters but to the information about the old media.
Stepan Chizhov on November 16, 2007 1:29 AM:
Playing around the word "analog" is a useless thing. You can dig in history of any language and find that lots of words came from one root or one meaning to something opposite or completely different. I meet the use of word "analog" in offered context for years now - at least in russian language.
kate on December 22, 2007 11:15 AM:
I wonder what the flip side of the digital coin is: What can the digitally networked world teach us about how best to structure the physical library in the future? The digital universe provides a blueprint for a search/discovery methodology and a logic for the organization of knowledge that may very well have a corollary in the analog world. I think of the Prelinger library in San Francisco where "maps, government documents, books, periodicals, and ephemera are all shelved together within commonly-held subject headings" not unlike the digital sphere where complex multifaceted connections are encouraged through a rich system of multi-layered linking. Megan Prelinger says that the shelving scheme at the Prelinger library is intended to "promote [an] integral approach to research and browsing, and opens wide the possibility of discovery" and that this allows for the library to be truly "browsing-based" rather than exclusively "query-based." If we are going to be responsible stewards of analog culture as it migrates into the digital world we must continue to nurture the analog archive. We should take care to capitalize on its very physicality by creating dynamic physical collections that are conversant with the cultural and intellectual logic of the digital world.