Library Futures, pt. 2

February 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

“Anyone who thinks they can predict what libraries will be doing more than five years from now is mistaken,” one of our librarians has said in more than one planning meeting.

Accordingly, Brian Sullivan’s bold predictions about academic libraries, “Academic Library Autopsy Report, 2050,” in the January 2, 2011 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, no doubt received a lot of attention both inside and outside of libraries.

Forty years out actually begs the question: aren’t we getting close already to an entirely different kind of library and library services?

Patricia Tully, University Librarian at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, responded to Sullivan in a letter to the Chronicle, January 23, “The Library’s End? A Long Way Off.”

(You can always tell how stirred up the response writer is when his or her text is longer than the text in question.)

Ms. Tully is persuasive.  She notes that we’ll have “book collections in the cloud….seamless search experience for users….consultation services to students and faculty….[libraries will be] headquarters of academic support services….users will inevitably have questions no matter how well structured the content….”

She rejects Mr. Sullivan’s indictment of librarians successfully ensuring their own irrelevance and demise: “We are not making our profession obsolete.”

Ironically, a perfect example of how a new breed of academic librarians is coming forward can be seen in the job description of another Brian Sullivan, who is Online Learning Librarian at Loyola University New Orleans.  Check out his “Primary Responsibilities.” A recent MLS graduate, this young man looks like the future of academic librarianship to me.

             —- Contributed by Sims Kline


Library Futures, pt. 1

January 31, 2011 § Leave a comment

The pattern is familiar.  A librarian writes a “provocative” article in a journal—-for which most subscribers are not rank-and-file librarians—-creates a “buzz” for a few weeks, and the response is, if not viral, visceral.

Latest example:  Brian Sullivan’s opinion piece, “Academic Library Autopsy Report, 2050,” published in the January 2, 2011 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education

Though perhaps unintended by Mr. Sullivan, the timing was exquisitely stealth.  On January 2, a Sunday, most workers from the groves of academe were enjoying the holidays and trying not to think too deeply about the academy.

Sullivan’s library future:  “…books collections obsolete….library instruction no longer necessary….information literacy fully integrated into the curriculum….libraries and librarians subsumed by information technology departments….reference services disappeared….economics trumped quality….”

A bleak landscape, to be sure, along with this indictment: “…the life of the academic library could have been spared if the last generation of librarians had spent more time plotting a realistic path to the future….”  Librarians, declares Sullivan, are guilty of “audacious denial” and will themselves have caused the library’s “deterioration and demise.”

Responses to this autopsy report were quick to surface and ranged from begrudging agreement with Sullivan’s thesis to ad hominem critique: “The author…should retire now.”

Since the Chronicle of Higher Education is required reading by college and university presidents, provosts, chief academic officers, finance vice-presidents, deans, and foundation officers, here’s hoping there is no institutional support or budget fallout as a post-mortem to the article. 

It’s an intriguing concept, indeed a surpising persona:  the librarian as agent provocateur.

            —–  Contributed by Sims Kline


Future Words Now

January 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

acrimoney n. a voluntary fine levied against politicians who demonize, stereotype, or otherwise disrespect individuals or groups or their own country; must be paid out of the personal account of the offending politician, not from funds raised by supporters.

zogbite, n. [pejorative] used to describe instances of content-free poll-inspired ostensibly focused political sloganeering.

An alumna of the University hand-delivered to me during the Christmas holidays a remarkable gift: The Future Dictionary of America (McSweeney’s Books, 2004).  If you want to get a lexical head start on the next few decades—and experience a dictionary with an attitude—this book’s for you.  Janus-style, the book will definitely take you back in time, as well.

The student, now preparing for her doctoral comprehensive exams in international studies, knows my interest in words and my irritation with politicians.  This dictionary is for me the perfect gift.

A multimedia learning experience, the dictionary comes with a CD modestly titled “Future Soundtrack for America.”  Also, a feast of tongue-in-cheek illustrations awaits the reader in the center of the book.   Looking at the CD song titles and artists, I’ve decided the audio compilation is a litmus test for whether you’re hip, retro, or just hopelessly out of touch with popular culture.

The attitude of the dictionary is summarized in the Introduction:  “This dictionary was conceived as a way for a great number of American writers and artists to voice their displeasure with their current political leadership [the book came out just before the 2004 election…think Dubya….] and to collectively imagine a brighter future.”

Subtitle: “A Book to Benefit Progressive Causes in the 2004 Elections, Featuring over 170 of America’s Best Writers and Artists.”

According to the editors “…all proceeds from the sales of this dictionary go directly to groups devoting to expressing their outrage over the Bush Administration’s assault on free speech, overtime, drinking water, truth, the rule of law, humility, the separation of Church and State, a woman’s right to choose, clean air….”

Though nowhere stated, the general editor of the dictionary apparently is Dave Eggers at McSweeney’s.  Contributors include Joyce Carol Oates, Jonathan Franzen, Stephen King, Billy Collins, Robert Coover, and many other literati.

Notes on the contributors are great reading, too, e.g. “Christoph Niemann was born and educated in Germany, and came to New York in 1997.  At some point he wants to learn to play the cello.”

Pleasures of the Catalog

December 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

Even experienced reference librarians sometimes make the same mistake students make: as soon as the question is posed, or the topic assigned, we are thinking: Internet, Internet.

One difference is that the librarians are thinking:  Internet, databases, search terms….

“Don’t we have some law books over there in the Reference section?” the student asked.  I responded that we did have federal and state statutes and court opinions.  “What are you looking for?”

“Well, I’m trying to find examples of how lawyers use persuasive language to try to defend criminals who everyone knows are guilty, you know, people like….”  I said, “Wait, aren’t people supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in our court system?”

“OK, that’s right. But what I’m looking for are speeches of lawyers and the kind of language they use in front of juries to make the jurors think their clients are innocent.  This is for a Communications class on rhetoric.”

“Well, I don’t think the law sources we have in the Reference section will be the best place to look for those kinds of speeches.  You can get oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, I think, on the Court website, but that might not be the best source, either.”

Finally, I suggested, “Try this.  Go to the Catalog and type “doublespeak” in the Title line and see what we have for books in the Library.”  The student followed my advice and was pleased to come up with Doublespeak: From Revenue Enhancement to Terminal Living: How Government, Business, Advertisers, and Others Use Language to Deceive You and Beyond Nineteen Eighty-Four: Doublespeak in a Post-Orwellian Age.

 The next day I asked the student how things were going on his rhetoric paper.  He got really animated and said enthusiastically, “Actually I found a couple of other really great books–Essays on the Rhetoric and Poetics of the Law and Rhetoric, Mass Media, and the Law.

This student, once he got into the Catalog, was surprised and delighted to find that there were several books right on target.  I’m sure there are lawyers’ speeches defending high-profile clients full-text on the Internet, but I was glad that the Catalog, often neglected, had served the student well.  And, I’m hoping this student will come back to this great online source in which we make significant investments every day.

         —-  Contributed by Sims Kline

Christmas Candlelight Meditations

December 24, 2010 § Leave a comment


 Read at the Candlelight Concerts at Elizabeth Hall, Stetson University, December 2-4, 2005  

 Text I:   The Gift

In the beginning, the hard wood of the manger.  In the end, the hard wood of the cross.  But before the beginning–and after the end–inexpressible grace and power and beauty and love.

Hear now the song of the angels, see now the star in the sky, come now with the kings and the princes and the shepherds and all their flocks.

Give rest to work and worry.  Give ear and eye and voice to Him, this Jesus, this infant, this gift.

The gift stands then—and now—a bridge between earth and heaven, between time and eternity.

Glory to Thee, O Lord, Creator Spirit, Trinity of blessed light, risen from the quarter of the sun.

Text II:   Advent Journey

Make this advent journey again, experience once more the waiting, the longing, the expectation for His arrival.

The Advent cloaks us in a minor key because soon a fearsome and profound beauty, almost unbearable, is about to be revealed.

And how should we approach this king of kings, who gives Himself to all who would believe?

As the darkness clears away, be still.  Expect more than any mortal can know or understand.  In awe, be silent.  Watch the light descend.

Text III:   Blessed, Magnified

Believing, Mary is blessed.  Blessed, she is magnified.  From lowly estate, she is exalted.

How can one so young, with so little experience of the world, become so wise in a flash of time, a single moment when the divine transforms the mortal?

How can she know so much about holiness and mercy? And how, indeed, can she understand the fate of the proud, the mighty, and the rich?

Believing, she is blessed.  Faithful, despite uncertainty and struggle ahead, she is given the fullest portion of grace.  She will need it all.

And  blessed, Mary is magnified and exalted by God Himself to bear His son.

Rejoicing in the hour of His birth and grieving in the hour of His death, she becomes intercessor for all who believe and for all who want to believe.

Text IV:   Res Miranda

Poets, painters, and lovers all are drawn to the res miranda, the wondrous thing, the Rose.  This flower, surely the Creator’s calling card, is engraved with heaven and earth, containing both, joining both, a unity.

Terms of the botanist cannot truly describe its contraries:  delicate and fragrant; but also sharp and thorny.

Res Miranda, wondrous thing, classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Rosales, family Rosaceae.

But more profound than all this nomenclature: the rose can melt a heart; the rose can draw blood.

Gaudeamus, let us rejoice and give thanks for the rose from which the Savior came.

Text  V:   Invitation

Can you dance?

If you can move your feet, you can dance.  If you cannot move your feet, you can dance in your dreams.  Everyone can dance.

The Psalmist sings: “Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.”

The Lord says I am calling “my true love to my dance.”

Who is His true love?  We are, all of us are invited by Him to the dance.

This He has done for us, His true love.

It is a heavenly dance, choreographed by angels.  You can hear the timbrel in the distance now, calling you.

Can you dance?

Text VI:   Mystery

Saint Paul declares how “great is the mystery of godliness.”

According to him, that mystery is revealed thus:  “God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”

This magnum mysterium began before the manger, many months before, when  the angel Gabriel came to Zacharias, then to Mary;  and when “the babe leaped” in Elisabeth’s womb.

The mystery is explained by Saint Luke: “with God, nothing shall be impossible.”

Bethlehem’s mystery, the manger mystery, includes the animals witnessing the birth itself.  Worldly nature observing divine nature, the creation close before the Creator, who was before the world began.

Text VII:   The Beginning 

In the beginning, the hard wood of the manger.  But before the beginning: inexpressible grace and power and beauty and love.

And in the beginning the Word, the Word of God.

In the beginning were life, light, and the Son of God, the Word incarnate.

The light and the life cannot be conquered by darkness or death.

When made incarnate, another beginning for love:  His all-encompassing, all-sufficient love, gleaming in the stable, poured out later on a hillside.

This amazing love flows well beyond Bethlehem.

It flows to all the world.  It flows to you.

Text VIII:   Lullabies

Two lullabies are sung, first by angels, then by Mary.

Bathed in a golden light, music from heavenly realms lulls the child so softly, so gently, none can hear, save for the babe Himself and the one who cradles Him silently.

The night’s chill is warmed by such music, sent from God the Father to God the Son.

Then Mary’s song calls us to behold the Christ child, quieted now, sleeping.

For so short a time, she will call Him “my Jesus,” knowing He has come for all to declare the very same.

She knows the “little brook” will be living water, a stream whose source is everlasting.

Text IX:   Praise

A great cloud of witnesses has praised the Lord:  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob; and David, Isaiah, Jeremiah.

When the Lord’s son, the new-born King, is praised, yet more voices are heard, declaring Him to be “wonderful Counselor,” “Lord of Lords,” “King of all nations,” by name–Jesus.

And now another name is given by those who praise Him: “Savior.”

Our voices reach heavenward, given power by His glory.  Our hallelujahs rise to His throne.  We bless His name, thankful for His mercy and His truth.

Boldly, we “enter into His courts with praise” !

Text X:   Mission

He is just a seeker, looking but not finding.  Sometimes he is afraid and trembles.   Restless, day and night, finally he seeks the Lord.  The Lord helps him, the Lord shows him the way.

The way shown to him begins in Bethlehem.  He sees the shepherds.  They, too, are afraid and tremble because they hear heaven’s host proclaiming the birth, the gift, the Savior.

Amazed by this grace, he is caught up in the angel choir’s praises.  Their joy becomes his joy.

To herald this news, good news, he chooses the mountain top. He wants to be heard.

The great proclamation is now his to share, everywhere.

Text XI:  Peace

Give us your peace, Lord.

We pray for your peace, but we do not live your peace.

Our frail litanies lack resolve.  They are like a sounding brass, a clanging cymbal.

We cannot fully understand your peace, but we can embrace it and clothe ourselves in it.  With grace, we can live it.

As in our Advent longing for your Incarnation, we long for your peace in a world of wars and rumors of war.

In our own lives, let your peace overcome fears, divisions, and failures of mercy.

Near the heart of your peace we can expect to find selflessness and sacrifice.

Nearer still we can see the brightness of a life given for others, a life which began in your heavenly light.

Give us your peace, Lord.

Give us your peace.

Text XII:   The Work of Christmas by Howard Thurman

 When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star up in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among brothers,

To make music in the heart.

      —- Contributed by Sims Kline

A Christmas Faculty Collaboration

December 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Among the most fruitful and meaningful faculty collaborations I have had was working with Dr. Duncan Couch, then Director of Choral Activities at Stetson University, on what has been a great tradition, the Christmas Candlelight Concerts.  The event features the Concert Choir—and other musicians—performing glorious Christmas choral works, interspersed with readings from the Bible and other sources.

During the 18 years he directed the Concert, Dr. Couch selected prose and poetic works to introduce the choral selections.  He would spend months making his choices and over the years acquired an impressive library of Christmas books, which he donated to the Library at Stetson when he retired.  One year he invited me and my wife Nancy to select and read passages for the concert.

My family and I have never missed the Christmas Candlelight Concert in 35 years. We had become good friends with Dr. Couch, truly “a prince of a man” — learned, gifted, witty, personable—and a real “gentleman and scholar.”  Both my daughters, Anna and Caroline, while attending Stetson, sang in the  Choir and went with the group on Dr. Couch’s last European concert tour.

Before his last Candlelight Concert in 2005, I collaborated with Dr. Couch and wrote a series of meditations to be read during the program.  I told him at the outset that if the meditations didn’t really work well, he was under no obligation to use them.  My plan was to listen to each piece (he supplied me with recordings from various sources), immerse myself in the music and the lyrics, and then write appropriate mediations, which would introduce each musical piece and somehow “enhance” the performance.

I was quite astounded when Dr. Couch said, “I want to use them all.”  I was hoping, in fact, that he would choose at least one or two of the mediations and rely on his considerable library for the rest of them.

His procedure was to audition students in the Choir to determine who would be assigned the readings.  Once he selected the readers, he invited me to attend a rehearsal to listen to the students and make suggestions about emphasis and overall presentation.

To have such an important role in the Candlelight Concert that year was for me a deeply meaningful and profound experience, one that I cherish and am reminded of each Christmas.

It is likely to be the most significant faculty collaboration I will ever have as a librarian on a university campus.

In my next blog, I’ll share with you the text of the meditations.

         —- Contributed by Sims Kline

Pluralism: Friend or Foe?

November 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

In my work as Research Services Librarian at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida I often assist students working on projects, some of which are quite extensive.  The Senior Research requirement for students in our College of Arts and Sciences includes a thoroughly documented, original paper.

The scope and complexity of these senior research papers often rival a master’s thesis, depending on the topic and the student’s approach.  Recently, one of the students I was assisting told me her working title, for a paper in political science, is “The Evolution of Hyperpluralism in News Media: A Comparative Approach to Understanding Today’s News Media Rhetoric.”  This particular student is a real stand-out, majoring in political science and communication studies, with a minor in Russian Studies.

I asked her to tell me what “hyperpluralism” means and why she had chosen this particular angle of approach.  She said that the origin of the term, which she had seen in a textbook, was unclear and that she was interested in determining the term’s first use and the context for that “coinage.”  This kind of question is, for a librarian, exactly the kind of challenge we enjoy.

Turns out that American University political science professor James Thurber used the term in his book Rivals for Power: Presidential-Congressional Relations (Congressional Quarterly, 1996).  Thurber’s book is now in its 4th edition (2009).  Jonathan Rauch, writing in The New Republic (June 6, 1994) describes what he calls “The Hyperpluralism Trap.”

Thurber says that “the United States is experiencing ‘hyperpluralism,’ or extreme competition among groups that makes it almost impossible to define the public good in terms of anything other than the collection of narrow special interests.”

Rauch criticizes both “left-populism” and “right-populism.”  On balance, Rauch is critical of a lot of the “liberal agenda,” but he does acknowledge a lot of posturing from conservatives, too.

Here’s my bottom line:  yes, we may plaquing up our political arteries these days with “hyperpluralism,” but we’re also getting blockages of understanding from our “hypermedia.”  The layering of the two is noxious, or, to borrow from a famous writer, “a snare and a delusion.”  Who originated that phrase?  Another good question for a librarian.

Contributed by Sims Kline. Posted originally on The Sustainable Governance Blog.

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