Tag Archives: libraries

Back of the Book History

I just picked up a bound volume of League of Nations documents that our library kindly procured for me via ILL and as the student worker was checking the book out, he and I noticed that the entire history of the book was there on the inside back cover (see images below). This is something we will (mostly) lose through the various scanning projects underway,which don’t always capture images like those below.

The book itself was published in the late 1930s. The first bit of useful data tells us that it was bound in North Manchester, Indiana in August 1967. The Heckman Bindery was acquired some years ago by the HF Group, so it still has a sort of existence. Interestingly, HF Group will be happy to convert your analog products to digital files.

The next bit of physical data we get on the history of this book is evidence that it was not so popular during the days when librarians stamped due dates in the backs of books. As you can see, this one was checked out exactly once during the days of the due date stamp. I don’t know when the AU Library (owner of the book) went to an IBM punch card system, to switch to that system they did, as the next image demonstrates, but I’m sure if I bothered to call the library, someone could tell me.

This artifact of computers long gone tells us nothing historical, other than that librarians worried about those punch cards being mistreated. The patron is informed that “A charge will be made if this card is mutilated or lost.”

Finally, we get the current cataloging system’s artifact, the ubiquitous bar code. Without access to the screen that appears for the librarian when the bar code is scanned, the patron can learn nothing at all from this bar code.

In addition to being a walk down memory lane for me, these various artifacts of library information systems of yore (and the present) made me wonder about the shifting access to information about the book. We never could know who checked out a book and for how long, but the old back of the book due date stamp system at least gave us some indication of how popular the book was, even if it only told us that one person checked it out over and over and over. At least we could know that it was being checked out. Now all circulation information is available only to the librarian who can see the screen when the bar code is scanned.

Which also makes me wonder how difficult it would be for libraries to make circulation data (not who, but how often and for how long) about books available. It’s quite possible that such data are already available. I just haven’t asked for it. We talk a lot about how often an ebook was downloaded, but in those conversations we almost never discuss how often a book was checked out. Such data might just enrich our conversations about the public reception of a work of scholarship.

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Librarians and PDA

When I was in high school PDA meant “public displays of affection” and the term was used more to taunt couples who spent too much time making out, as in “Whoa, too much PDA!” Then the personal digital assistant came along and PDA took on a whole new meaning, as in “Whoa, nice PDA!” Now, as a result of this week’s edition of Digital Campus, I learn that PDA means something altogether different yet again — now it stands for “patron driven acquisition” as in “Whoa, we better buy that book right away! Patrons want it!”

In addition to setting me straight on pop culture (and library culture) acronyms, hosting Digital Campus this week gave me a chance to learn a lot from Jennifer Howard of The Chronicle of Higher Education about Robert Darnton’s proposal that we create a “national digital library” and that, to my immense satisfaction, the Wikimedia Foundation has caught up with Episode #1 of Digital Campus in which I discussed assigning my students to write Wikipedia entries. Oh, and Dan had a chance to fill listeners in on the latest developments on the Omeka front: Omeka.net.

Want to know more than these teases? Then go to the Digital Campus website and give the podcast a listen.

Balkanization of the Web?

What happens to libraries when more and more books are digitized and then moved off site? What happens when libraries convert shelf space to “learning commons” space? And what happens when a major media company decides to limit its content to searches run by one search engine (not Google)? The answers (or at least speculation about) all of these questions are available from the latest episode of Digital Campus:Twitter.

Yet Another Attempt at Digital Books

I’ve been thinking about digital books a lot lately. Perhaps it’s because I was on a panel at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies that was devoted to the future of Slavic library collections archives in the digital age. I’m also on the editorial board of a print-on-demand press (newacademia.com) that couldn’t exist if it weren’t for digital technology.

If you’ve listened to the Digital Campus podcast you know that I’m no fan of eBook readers. I suppose that if I’m going to read a “book” on a box, I’d rather have the .pdf file right on my laptop so I can have direct access to the text when, and if, I decide to use it in my research and writing. If the text sat on a separate box, using it in another way would be more cumbersome than seems worth it.

So I’ve been very interested, of course, in the Google Books project and have downloaded many versions of out of print and out of copyright books. And, I’ve been almost as interested in the various services that allow you order bound copies of those books like PublicDomainReprints.org and OnDemandBooks.com and their Espresso Book Machine. These latter services, of course, provide just the opposite of a digital book — an analog book from a digital file. And my main complaint about the Google Books project is that it isn’t really a digital archive or library in the sense that one can tag content or manipulate it in any of the ways we are becoming familiar with in the Web 2.0 world. But, at least for now, Google is offering these book files for free.

I suppose that’s why I’m surprised to find that in the face of the growth of the free economy on the Internet, new projects keep springing up that are built on the old model of selling books — in this case .pdf file versions of books — at something like full price.  DiBiDo is a project of the German firm Questa.Soft GmbH and is, according to their website, an outgrowth of their Central and East European Online Library. For years I’ve flirted with asking our Library to subscribe tot he CEEOL service, because it would give me access to many of the important journals in my field that are published in Europe and, despite the relatively steep subscription rate, would be less expensive than asking the Library to subscribe to these journals.

But there is no way I’m going to be buying any books from DiBiDo. If I wanted to pay essentially full price for an academic book, I’d just purchase it via one of the major online sales portals like Amazon.com or via the used market online. But 25 Euros for a .pdf file? I don’t think so. They claim that most of their books are out of print and if that’s true, then I’d simply obtain them via interlibrary loan, use them, and return them. I’d love to have the .pdf file stored on my computer. But I suppose I’m a cheap date, because 25 Euros is just too much for a digital file.

My own view is that this approach to digital publishing is doomed and that before much longer we’re going to see the iTunes model take hold. And, I suspect, that the first company to offer is $1.00 digital book files will be none other than our good friends at Google.