Nurturing My Inner Historian
One of the things I love about being part of an academic community is the opportunity to attend various colloquia. As you may recall, most of my academic background is in ancient history, so I was thrilled to be able to catch a couple of the lectures in this year’s Robel Lecture Series, “(Mis)interpretations East West: Representations of China, Japan and the West.” While my own specialization was in the 5th century BCE Greek interaction with the Ancient Near East, I had the good fortune of being required to study other regions and times as well. So, I chose China through the Qing Dynasty, Japan through the late 19th century, and Russia roughly 1820 through 1970.
I cannot convey all the subtleties of these fine scholars in just form, but I came away with a greater appreciation of the relationship between self-identity and the definition of “the other” as a decidedly multi-cultural phenomenon. Our representations of “the other”—the foreigner, whatever that may mean in a given context—reveal much about us and are just that: representations, facsimiles, approximations, used for some purpose. Whether the tension is between Chinese natives and foreign missionaries, eastern and western memes, or modern individuality and traditional culture, demonizing occurs in all directions in history and in our lives.
So how does this relate to libraries in the twenty-first century? I can’t help but wonder if we often think of students and faculty as “the other”—people unschooled in the finer library arts, unaccustomed to the ways of information, those unfortunate souls who have not been acculturated into the library ethos. And more to the point, how then do we treat them? Or plan services around them? If, as has frequently been the case in the histories outlined in this symposium, we seek limited, prescribed, or no contact, do we not fall prey to Kipling’s ironic “never the twain shall meet”? How do we represent the libraries to the campus? How do we talk of the campus amongst ourselves? How does the concept of “the other” play out in our daily work with each other from different library departments or units?
Although it is difficult to get to know “the other,” Mark Unno, one of the visiting scholars at the symposium, reminded us that we need to be epistemologically aware, to be about building bridges, not just theories. That contact is our hope, and that contact is transformative.
Congratulations to Jeremy Tillis
Jeremy has been promoted to a Computer Support Technician II. We are grateful for the excellent support that Jeremy has provided and look forward to working with him in this expanded capacity. Next time you see him, give a pat on the back.
Extended Warranty on Motherboards
As some of you may know, we have experienced an unusual amount of motherboard (the innards of a computer) failures in a certain Dell computer model. Dell had been replacing the motherboards as they fail, but some of these systems will be going off warranty soon. As this failure is a known problem, Dell agreed to extend the motherboard warranty on the remaining computers of this model until 5 years or January 31, 2008 whichever comes first. Thanks to Todd for working this out.
Try First, Adjust Later
Somehow it seems a bit risky to suggest that less may be more when it comes to planning…at least in technological terms. We want to be efficient, save money, maximize utility, get the most bang-for-the-buck: all worthy goals to be sure. But what if in developing or implementing some new technology we could not know what we needed to know or how to plan for it unless or until we had some experience and feedback? Unless we risked failure in order to discover what works and what doesn’t? Ever design something, and nobody used it? Some times when we build it, they don’t come!
Libraries in general have a long history of creating important resources and services to connect people with information, knowledge, experience, and culture. Over the past century, libraries have reinvented themselves many times to meet the needs of contemporary users. And until fairly recently, libraries in many cases have been lead organizations in providing access to resources and services to the communities they serve.
We now face a particularly vexing challenge: We are being asked to keep pace with competitors who have access to much greater resources than we have. The Amazons and Googles of the world have hundreds of millions of dollars to throw at a variety of problems that we may not even know exist. And here we are at the University of Alabama Libraries with slightly more modest means at our disposal. What’s a good librarian to do!
One of the most significant resources that we can possess to the same degree as the largest of other organizations is the attitude implied in the heading for this section. If we let go of the need to get a project right the first time out the door and allow ourselves the opportunity to tap into the demonstrated needs of our constituents, we will have access to a resource much more valuable than mere money. (You think I should be on late night TV, right?)
Risky, you say. You bet your sweet bum it is, but much less risky than continuing to design things in a vacuum or according to what people say they want, never delivering until the outcome is perfect…which it never will be. Always a day (or decade) late and many features short. I’m talking revolutionary thinking and approach. Consider: Norman, D. A. (1990). The Design of Everyday Things, and stay tuned for more.
Highlights of Current Activity
- Upgrading CONTENTdm.
- Experimenting with receipt printers.
- Planning for Gorgas Learning Commons.
- Planning for production level streaming music reserves.
- Planning for Eugene Smith digital library grant project.