Check Out the Upcoming 7th Annual “Bridging the Spectrum Symposium”

No matter what sector of librarianship you happen to be in, you’re sure to gain valuable knowledge and useful insights at this year’s annual “Bridging the Spectrum” Symposium! The Symposium is coming up on Friday, February 20, so register now for:

  • Keynote speaker Superintendent of Documents Mary Alice Baish’s update on the changes underway at the recently renamed Government Publications Office, and the future of government information.
  • Panelists and speakers sharing experiences and insights from across the spectrum of librarianship, from School Library Media to Law Librarianship and more.
  • Lunch and poster sessions that provide opportunities to catch up with old friends and make unexpected new connections.

As the National Capital region’s only regional symposium featuring diverse contributions from your local colleagues, and at an incredibly affordable $25, this is a “don’t miss” event!

For more information, visit the Symposium’s homepage. To register now, please visit the event registration portal.

CUA Library and Information Science students are eligible to have their registration fee supported by AGLISS!  Simply register for the Symposium, using this form, by Friday, February the 6th, and you will be registered for free, courtesy of AGLISS.

Once you’ve requested the registration fee waiver, AGLISS will verify your current enrollment as a CUA LIS student and send you a confirmation message.

Geeking Out

Written by Justine Rothbart


geek out

  1. To enthuse about a specific topic, not realizing that most people listening will fail to understand it.
  2. To do geeky things; to act geeky; to speak of geeky things. [wiktionary]


How many times has this happened to you? You might be talking about something totally cool, and then suddenly realize that others are not as excited. They might be nodding their heads along thinking, “Wow, I’m glad she’s excited” or maybe “When is she going to stop talking?”

If you know me, you might have listened to me totally geek out about something. It might have been about archives, historic preservation, cats…ok, I’ll stop there. Anyways, there’s always something that gets people excited. And isn’t it surprising when it’s not the same thing you’re interested in?

This Saturday I saw the wide range of things people could geek out about. Thousands of book lovers gathered at the Washington, D.C Convention Center for the 14th annual Library of Congress National Book Festival. I listened to Sandra Day O’Connor and her brother talk about wild horses in the west, Eric Cline talk about archaeology and the year civilization collapsed, and Elizabeth Mitchell talk about the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty. While I was totally excited to learn about the diary of the Statue of Liberty’s sculptor, others were having just as good of a time learning about graphic novels or poetry in other sessions.

It’s sometimes refreshing to get out of your comfort zone. You might, like me, gravitate to the things you know you’ll be interested in. But if you try something new, you might step into another world that you didn’t even know existed. And who knows, you might even enjoy it.

This happened to me on Saturday while I was waiting in line with my friend to meet David Sibley. As my friend described him, David Sibley is the “rock star of the bird world.” While I like birds, I am not a bird enthusiast. I was there for my friend. I never knew how much someone could like birds until we met the other people in line. Suddenly I was on the other side of geeking out. I was the one just smiling and nodding along. Although I wasn’t as excited as they were, it gave me a greater appreciation for bird watching. I was happy to see people so passionate about one subject.

I was glad I stood in that line to see that other world, that new perspective. I don’t think I’ll be buying a pair of binoculars anytime soon. But now when I see a bird, I’ll stop and take a few more seconds to think back to David Sibley and the bird enthusiasts we met in line at the National Book Festival.



Check out my blog post from last year’s National Book Festival: Cupcakes are out. Archives are in. 


Theft of Centuries-Old Texts from the Girolamini Library

Reading like something from a Borges text, the New York Times has reported on a the theft of thousands of volumes from the Girolamini Library in Naples by the former director, Marino Massimo De Caro. In fact, De Caro quoted Borges’s Ficciones during his trial in what history may prove to be the very first defense by way of deconstruction, but that’s for another blog post.

The larger issue is the loss of cultural (and global) heritage that we see in this theft. The stolen texts include copies of Galileo, Machiavelli, Descartes, and much, much more. And, as the article observes, many of the volumes have been sold off to dealers from around the world, likely to never be returned to their institutional home. One need only read about the thefts that occurred at the hands of Daniel Spiegelman and Forbes Smiley to understand the far reaching impact of such events. As Jean Ashton says of Susan Gilligan’s input into the Spiegelman case, “seven-hundred-year-old manuscripts and early maps [are] not the same as fur coats or cash; they [are] cultural materials representing our shared heritage.” In these thefts, we see not just material theft, the loss of some high-value object. We see the loss and, sadly, destruction of history, of heritage, of the very material instantiation of our shared culture.

As librarians, archivists, and historians, we have a responsibility to our collections, our institutions, and our patrons to ensure that these events do not happen. We must protect our cultural heritage in order to ensure the preservation of our shared history and the continued accessibility of materials objects by researchers, students, and the public. While these are great ideals for which we can strive, how are we to go about taking action on these matters? The Library of Congress text To Preserve and Protect: The Strategic Stewardship of Cultural Resources provides many useful guidelines on how to protect collections from theft, environmental disaster, and institutional disarray. However, this book is not a cure-all for collection damage and theft. We must actively engage all parts of our organizations — from directors and executives to volunteers and janitorial workers — in order to promote the shared mission of active preservation and stewardship of our collections.

So, what can we do about it?

As I’m sure many have seen, this story is floating around the news-o-sphere which indicates that American adults lag behind countries like Japan, Finland, the Netherlands, Australia and Sweden in terms of literacy, math skills, and computer skills. A truly sad record of the state of education in this country, this should be a call to action for all educators (administrators, classroom teachers, and such). But what role should librarians play in solving this issue? Clearly, depending on your institutional type and individual role, issues of literacy and math might not be within your purview. But certainly technological skill sets are a part of every library, regardless of focus. So, maybe these are some ways in which we can help promote American education:

  • Recognize that information technologies are an unavoidable element of learning and professional performance (and try to convince others of same)
  • Promote life-long learning through face-to-face training tutorials, free online asynchronous training resources for everything from basic math to advanced computing
  • Build relationships with social welfare organizations in order to adequately assess the need of under-served segments of society and work collaboratively to provide the needed services, training, materials, etc.
  • Advocate for education reform and for the increased presence of librarians in classrooms K-12. Not only can librarians promote information literacy (a huge part of continued technical and informational proficiency), but they can also help to identify information needs and locate much-needed resources for teachers and students that do not have the time or motivation to seek it out themselves
  • Advocate for the increased presence of librarians in all professional capacities. Embedded librarians in professional organizations can help to identify gaps in professional competencies and can provide access to helpful resources that will educate individuals on needed skills, benefiting both the individual and the business for which he/she works

Of course, these are just speculations. Regardless, the findings of the above mentioned story should be a call to action for every professional. Considering our role as librarians, we are positioned to provide help in many different capacities. What form it will ultimately take is unforeseeable, but we can bring our knowledge and skills to the issue to hopefully benefit our patrons, our institutions, and our country.


A good video about the college education in America.

Tech-Enabled Spaces and New Approachs to Library Environments

The role of libraries in the academic community is changing. While certain services and goals remain unchanged, such as maintaining a collection — physical or otherwise — of up-to-date information resources and providing reference/research services to patrons, the changing nature of information access and use that is spurred on by the lightning-pace of computer and technological development has inspired libraries to reconsider the  ways in which they facilitate and promote tech-based innovation. The physical environment of the library, amid all the changing dimensions of service and access, has emerged as a prime environment for facilitating tech-based innovation.

The Gelman Library at George Washington University here in DC has made some amazing changes to their library environment and serves as a prime example of how libraries can adapt to meet the tech-oriented needs of their users. One of the first things that you notice upon entering the Gelman is the space-agey furniture that fills the common areas. Bench seats that join up at odd angles, broken up by wooden armrests complete wpicture012ith USB and 110-volt jacks? Angular bar-high counters? While they may off-put the viewer initially, Debbie Bezanson, the Associate University Librarian for Research and Library Services, informed me that the benches were selected because they allowed for public seating that did not create an intimidating environment in which you must encounter strangers (think ‘by yourself together’). And the counters allow for spontaneous collaboration with a low threshold of use. And, of course, the centrality of computers to information usage is enabled by the access to electricity at every turn.

Collaboration is a key feature of much of the institutional developments at the Gelman. Their new “dog-bone” picture018computer desks allow for both individual use (half walls, computers that don’t entirely face each other) and group use (shared work surfaces, extra chairs that can be brought to the desks). Additionally, private meeting rooms picture019can be reserved that feature meeting tables and large, wall-mounted monitors that can be easily hooked up to user computers. From these developments, we can see how libraries are changing to meet new user demands. Libraries are no longer repositories of books that can be accessed for quiet consideration; they are learning environments in which collaborative group work is allowed to flourish through discussion and shared access to technology.

The new age of tech-enabled libraries is not just about collaboration; it is also about picture015access to a variety of software. By promoting access and usage of new software, libraries enable users to access and analyze data in novel ways that were previously prohibited due to cost or accessibility. The new software lab features a collection of Mac Pros with such software as Adobe Creative Suite, Camtasia, Audacity, MatLab, MS Office Suite, SAS, SPSS, and more. Additionally, the lab provides training and help for all of these applications via the tutorial and training site.


It’s 3D. I promise.

Lastly, by embracing brand new technologies, the library can become a hot bed of cutting-edge academic research. The Gelman’s data visualization center provides an audio visual center — complete with surround sound — that features a fascinating twist: a three-dimensional projector and document scanner. While 3D may be regarded as gimmicky (hooray $20 tickets for ‘Avatar 3D’!), it presents new ground for visualization of digital surrogates. Think of what can be done with schematics and molecular models that can be viewed in true 3D. What about digitized manuscripts? An entirely new haptic dimension opens up so that images are no longer static, flat representations.

While the core goals of a library — in their most abstract sense — remain unchanged by new waves of technology, the ways in which the library as a space is used must adapt to the evolving world of information use and user need. The Gelman Library is a great case study of ways that the library environment can change to meet growing needs.

Interesting articles on 3D visualization of manuscripts:

More than Meets the Eye: Going 3D with an Early Medieval Manuscript; Bill Endres, University of Kentucky

The Center for Hellenic Studies; Digital Images of Iliad Manuscripts from the Marciana Library

Just what is an alternative research library?

Written by Joseph Koivisto


Established in 2004, the Prelinger Library In San Francisco, CA bills itself as an “independent research library […] open to anyone for research, reading, inspiration, and reuse.” It is a small institution that is sponsored by private donations and the Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco and whose small collection — six rows of stacks — is centered on 19th and 20th Century historical ephemera, periodicals, and maps.

pelingerThe Prelinger was recently brought to my attention by a fellow blogger who pointed me to this post about Megan Prelinger, one of the original founders. And this got me thinking: what is an alternative research library and how is it different and/or better than a conventional institutionally-affiliated research library?

The very first difference that springs to mind is the question of access. The Prelinger prides itself on being accessible to all interested parties. Additionally, much of their assets are available in digitized format via the Internet Archives. While many research libraries prohibit access to their physical collection and digital repository, an alternative research library setting does not have to abide by such restrictive policies.

Another difference is that of collection policy. A non-affiliated research institution is free to make unilateral decisions on their curatorial approach and acquisition policy. In this way, the Prelinger can create a body of research material that is both highly customized to the institutional mission and of the greatest use to the identified patron community. Additionally, questions of budgetary allocation are not beholden to larger departmental and institutional requirements. Conventional research libraries must operate under many influences on collection policies and budgetary use that can negatively impact library goals.

Then there is the issue of organizational standards. Prelinger has arranged the library’s collection in a non-standard conceptual manner that is based on her own grouping methodology, a unique approach that promotes shelf-reading and serendipitous finding. While this approach does seem in line with a romantic idea of the library as a place of chance encounters and unexpected connections, it goes against the conventional wisdom of ease-of-use that is facilitated by standardized organization and numbering (I’m not sure if the Prelinger even uses a numbering system, instead depending on a geospatial scheme). Alternative research libraries may be free to make their own policies on organization approach, but are these decision always made for the benefit of the patron?

Lastly, what about conservation? Granted, the Prelinger is a small collection and the staff can most likely manage their collection usage with ease. But, as you can see from this instructional pamphlet, patrons are expected to retrieve books, periodicals, and archival storage boxes themselves, raising concerns about shelf-wear and inappropriate handling. Without a large institutional budget for conservation and refurbishing, the Prelinger could, in time, encounter a large issue of crumbling resources.

The Prelinger is certainly a unique specimen of the library environment; it throws an inquisitive light onto many of the long-held assumptions about what constitutes a research environment. Truly, the Prelinger does exhibit many patron-centric policies that are only possible due to their independent nature. However, some of their practices fall within that realm of “different, not better” and should be viewed with a critical eye. As the discourse on research libraries, organizational standards, and patron services continues, we can look towards the Prelinger as a point of reference for what should and (possibly) shouldn’t be done.