Passing of time / Physical world

I’ve been feeling like time is flying by, and the internet exacerbates that. But it wasn’t until I read Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s Self-Portrait Abroad that I was able to understand exactly how extensive the feeling is, how physical:

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen a place I’d frequented in the past disappear in this way, the transformation of a location I’d known….I realized that time had passed since I’d left Kyoto.

Until then, the feeling of being carried along by time had always been attenuated by the fact that I wrote–until then, in a way, writing had been a means of resisting the current that bore me along, a way of inscribing myself in time, of setting landmarks in the immateriality of its flow, incisions, scratches. (84)

FTW! and getting beyond us.

You teach kids how to succeed when they successfully foil the educational system. –Arlo Guthrie via Robert Greco

A well-ordered humanism does not begin with itself, but puts things back in their place. It puts the world before life, life before man, and the respect of others before love of self. –Claude Levi-Strauss via Robert Greco

These quotes summed up my feelings about our information resources and the web at large. They are full of quirks, tricks and snares, and my best reference work and teaching involves helping the people I work with to be able to game information to their advantage. Any database is an enemy that obstructs real understanding of how things relate to one another. Reference is not the art of designing better systems or databases, full of their special biases and publishers agreements, layered by proprietary search algorithms. It is the art of helping people transcend them. To ask for better systems is to ask for a better way for libraries to co-opt individual thought into our own systems of organization, to flatten the originality of the query to better fit our technology. Reference needs to be that well-ordered humanism that does not put itself before those it serves.

Data dreams and what it means to be a good librarian.

Personalization is the holy grail of education technology, but it can’t be achieved without mechanisms for rich data about each student’s learning. And that data must be persistently stored and appropriately accessible. Matthew neatly turns the traditional metaphor of a “digital locker” on its head by replacing it with the “data backpack” — a container that goes everywhere the student goes.

It sounds nice, being able to keep track of kids so they don’t fall through the cracks. But quickly it is revealed that this O’Reilly Radar blog post is based off of  a white paper written by Lauren B. Resnik and Larry Berger, supported by the Wireless Corporation. It was just acquired by News Corp. If the amount of editorial discretion that News Corp.  tends to exercise goes into educational software used by 3 million students, it is time to be weary of the result. Still, the real question worth raising is this: why is data the holy grail of personalization? This the fallacy of Facebook. When your friendships become wholly data-driven, you lose something along the way.

All of this resonated when I read a blog post Michael Stephens wrote about his Office Hours column  in Library Journal:

I’ve received some good feedback, including this from Nann Blaine Hilyard, director of the Zion-Benton Public Library in Zion, IL:

Michael’s closing paragraph recalls something that Lawrence Clark Powell wrote:   “A good librarian is not a social scientist, a documentalist, a retrievalist, or an automaton. A good librarian is a librarian: a person with good health and warm heart, trained by study and seasoned by experience to catalyze books and people.”

I was one of the lucky ones and received a world-class education, not because of technology, but because of the people who taught me. In libraries as in education, the increased use of technology does not replace the presence of thoughtful, considerate, and well trained librarians. People make personalization, data does not.

E-Book Pagination and what it means to be transliterate.


It’s nice when two things come together in unexpeced ways. First, Lane Wilkenson on Transliteracy and Incommensurability:

Transliteracy, by definition, is no party to the either/or approach to the digital future. In fact, incommensurability is anathema to the transliteracy project because transliteracy is predicated on the ability to maneuver between competing “paradigms” of literacy. From books to tweets, transliteracy as pedagogical practice seeks to encourage a literacy that crosses through several domains; rather than treat digital literacy as the successor to the analog, transliteracy sees digital literacy as a complement.

Second, Bob Stein at if:book with a defense of pagination:

Pagination works for long text, not because it has a real-world analogy to printed books or whatever, but because it maximises your interface: you read the entire screenful of text, then with a single command, you request an entirely new screenful of text. There’s very little wastage of attention or effort. You can safely blink as you turn.

All said and done, Bob illustrates Lane’s point. Instead of being stuck on one domain, the idea of transliteracy is not only the ability to read across them, but to apply lessons learned from one domain to the other.

Technology wants to become art: beautiful and “useless”?

Technology does not want to remain utilitarian. It wants to become art, to be beautiful and ‘useless’….Witness sailboats, open convertible cars, fountain pens, and fireplaces. -Kevin Kelly, What Technology Wants, p.324

I’ve seen beautiful sailboats, but I don’t know how many people call them art, although Julien Berthier might disagree. Still, art is not useless, and putting it in quotes is patronizing. Regardless of utility, if technology “wants” to be beautiful, it might not choose art as a great example. Art can be purpose-driven, and possibly even ugly.

New positivity from the fashion world.

I’m not the snazziest dresser. I wear a uniform. It’s a button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, slacks, and dress shoes. I break barriers by wearing a sweater vest. It’s stunning. But I believe librarians should follow fashion, and not just by reading Vogue. Really, follow it. Look for the obscure corners of the fashion world that challenge you. Fashion is at the intersection of art and commerce. It is looking for ways forward while constantly recycling (honoring?) the past. It is aware of the greatness of small things and the smallness of great things. It is woven so tightly into our daily lives it is hard to notice. But we always do.

To start an irregular series of posts, I wanted to fire off a quote by Olivier Zahm from a March 2010 interview at

To me, the Internet is just an extension of reality. It can’t replace reality. A show is a ceremony. It’s a religious ceremony with the people that really believe. You don’t go to a Comme des Garçons show if you don’t really believe in Comme des Garçons. If you don’t believe in it, you go to a baseball match, right? So it’s a ceremony. You need a ceremony, you need a master of ceremonies, and you need a few people to witness the ceremony. It’s not a dark, obscure, dangerous ceremony. But then, the Internet is just a way to expand it and open the ceremony to a lot of people who want to enter.

Libraries ought to be able to replace the word “show” with “libraries”. To make it in the 21st century, libraries have to get people to believe in the library. How do you do that? The library has to provide a special place that provides some kind of meaning. Otherwise, we just become a cheaper to which you must drive. We can do this, right?