preservation and persistence of the changing book

scraped scrapbook

After 14 years the 47 stores of Archiver’s scrapbook supplies has closed. They join the many other sudden tent foldings of the short-lived paper scrapbook craze. This industry was based on high profit, paper conversion products. Industrial, hand-made scrapbooking was a short interlude between the long history of commonplace book repository and household economies of heirloom making and the new economies and formats of social media. The industry veneration of preservation and archival materials was rather shallow and the endless adulation of family history is over. Or will these commercial prompts pop up again?

One outcome is the “personal” photo book. The self-published photo book is not homemade but mass-produced as an entirely new sector of book production. The future of the jet printing of full color is represented by services such as blurb. These products, created by previous scrapbook and photo album markets and other self-publishing markets are the new commonplace books.

theory of the book

A recent thread on SHARP queried a theory of the book. Three components for a theory of the idea of a book can include (1) culture traits as a cohesive content, (2) material traits as made commodity, (3) a resilience traits of useful mobility.

Cultural Traits as a class of patrimony featuring cohesive reading content; content tagged however compiled to text and illustration, time-paced with infiltrating paratext prompting, an educational tool
auxiliary to other patrimony and augmenting meaning of other media, commerce driven influencing social enclaves as canonic, fandom witness

Material Traits as a manufactured commodity; compact retail commodity assembled into distribution systems, libraries
and access utilities; cognitive refinement as designed for bicameral, haptic, and pattern recognition reading capacity, transmission diversity spanning paper, screen, and audio formats, propagation capacity of mass production with widespread reproducibility

Resilience Traits of cross-disciplinary definition and useful hand-held mobility; a distributed preservation repertoire with institutional obligation, cross disciplinary attention including collaborative book history, current commerce and technology, cognitive science, library science, book arts, and literary studies, mobility encompassing a codex template and a variety of electronic devices with their extended connectivities, user authoring, revision and redistribution, an eerie complementary relation of genres, formats and locales of usefulness


“…the amount of data worldwide grew 48% between 2010 and 2012 to 2.7 zettabytes.” This exponential dynamic spills over to books. Digital books in a library cloud quietly compound as data points, as complex, composite sources, and, as on-line collections. Of interest may be the digital and screen delivered influence on any analog idea or theory of the book.

The usage constraint of a bionic reader is now exceeded with book use by reading utilities of algorithmic search, pattern recognition and content analysis. Analog books are transformed by automated reading. As with negotiation of a steady-state or dynamic universe, a theory of the book can be transacted again. Both digital and analog books will need to be encompassed. The encompassing may itself be the theory. Encompassing resilience may be the idea of the book.

ready for summer

The five bookbindings to be studied are carefully chosen. Each has its own place in historical methods and is represented by exemplars in the library collections. Each can also be resolved as a prototype of its exemplars; we can typify the features and structure and produce a prototype model. In turn each prototype can be adapted to categories of book conservation treatment. There are many models; the exemplar, the prototype, the conservation adaptation type and the accomplished treatment of an imprint.

So, what kind of approach to book conservation is this? It is a direct approach for the practitioner who must treat old books out of context with those who made them. At first it is an oddity that historical structures and methods should infiltrate modern work or present a treatment strategy in accord with current library services such as digital imaging. But this is a conservation action and fits the resilient legacy of book use. This a conservative approach; innovation springs from tradition.

Another validation of this model-based practice is an easy and successful adaptation (or avoidance) of a historical prototype in daily work. The sewn board model easily adapts to performance needs of texts with weakened papers and pre-existing saw-kerf sewing stations. The wooden boarded, supported sewing model naturally provides protective control of forces of board leverage transmission while the later, lapped component cover offers an exemplary case construction adaptation. Meanwhile the later tight-joint leather covered model is our guide for avoidance of proven failures!

So the approach is craft oriented and performance validated. Nothing in the history of bookbinding is obsolete; it is all relevant. Perhaps most relevant is the bookbinder’s reliance on the hands prompting the mind at the same time that books are built to provoke cognitive skills beyond the body. The resilience of book transmission is revealed by ambivalence, stealth, good humor and eerie relevance and so is book conservation.

feral S+R

What are libraries? Libraries are mediators between disciplines and learning methods, and they are custodians of communal resources. As such they are not the best planning base for the progressive evolution of universities but they are an accessible base for infiltration and subversion of universities. Libraries can go feral more easily than the university and they can more easily undermine the monetization and accreditation of university learning. It is also relevant that librarians are stealthy.

Librarians are not clueless. A planning displacement of university administrators, library directors and architects by workplace and technology experts and anthropologists is not that disturbing for librarians. For one thing they know that facility and grounds, risk management and parking agencies manage infrastructure. Librarians are also aware of the always hybrid, resilient nature of library services. And allocation of strategic planning authority to students should be amusing.

A new ITHAKA S+R white paper; Designing a New Academic Library from Scratch, 2014, offers no news for librarians. Librarians reinvent their services everyday. More disconcerting is the possibility that new feral behaviors, easily germinated in the library, will collapse the infrastructure of the university somewhat prematurely.

“I hope by now you’ve had the opportunity to experience the Learning Commons–a tech-infused, comfortable, flexible study space with a one-stop academic help center (not to mention Food for Thought, a cafe that serves great coffee and sandwiches). If not, this is your chance to visit this exciting new space and learn how you might be able to make use of its 24 group study spaces, almost 200 desktop and laptop computers, 45-seat TILE classroom, printers and scanners, multimedia resources, and expert library and technical staff.

The product of a unique partnership among Information Technology Services (ITS), University Libraries, and the Office of the Provost, the Learning Commons has become just what we hoped it would be–an intellectual hub for the university, focused on furthering students’ academic success.”

feral scripture

A feral student of resilience in book transmission can turn to the exemplar of the King James Bible. The KJB was extracted out of the languages of Antiquity and then re-projected in translations to modern languages. An even livelier resilience of this book is presented by the contentions over its canonic state with the endless transactions of venerators and modernizers. This whole diorama is wonderfully depicted by Gordon Campbell in his book; Bible, The Story of the King James Version, 1611 – 2011. This is a magnificent bible story and a magnificent revelation of the resilience of the book in society and the feral nature of its persistence.

If you look you can extract a binary here. That would be canonic vs. feral. So let’s look exactly between the two where various landscapes suddenly emerge. These are vistas of the role of books in society and the device of the book at work to conduct and deviate human behavior. There is also the mostly invisible work to produce books and the interplay of divine copy and compositor error.

A fascinating aspect of the book production diorama is the strange capacity of printing to authorize error. Minding p’s and q’s was an injunction after the printing but errors of inverted, omitted, transposed and otherwise mis-arrayed letters were already fixed in the printing. The advent of a fixed word somehow created an authenticity of error. Such an artifice of error is one anomaly or even one instigator of the resilience of the book.

It is another anomaly of the King James Bible and revisions that it is the most produced and least read English language book and even consultation is only by Christians. A further dilution of its efficacy is veneration as literature rather than scripture. The English language Bible, exemplar of the resilience of the book, has gone feral.


There was a Sunday call from a student phone bank on behalf of the Library. The student urged me to visit to appreciate all the renovations. I perceived that only an older Library user would be aware of any “renovation” and that the incoming students would be coming to the Library as it is.

My next thought was where has the “print alcove” gone? This was a nook with soft seats in the SW corner of Main. It was on the way between the entrances and the coffee shop and elevators.

The print alcove had the newspaper machines, the zine vending machine, and a very attractive shelf array of incoming print books. Even the old Columbian Press was there. The books were displayed in their jackets, facing out. I was always taken with the lively and changing diorama and often amazed by the kaleidoscope of scholarly book publishing.

I notice that now the newspaper machines are by the washrooms and the route to the coffee is all flat-screen TV. I am not aware of what happened to the shelving display of new print acquisitions. Scholarly books are still published as well as other print books useful for research and I know we still grow the print book collections, but are incoming under-graduates aware of that? Are they aware of the continuing role of print books in research libraries? Do they realize that print books are part of connectivity?


Those antique left column links still work and Workshops has been updated for 2014. FotB continues as an outpost relay station for learning opportunities offered by the old ornament Instructor.

experimental humanism

Experimental archeology began to influence lithic technology study in the 1960’s. John Whittaker in his book American Flintknappers, summarizes; “…archeology increasingly shifted away from descriptive and chronology and towards attempts to understand how cultures were organized and to explain processes of change and adaptation. These new emphases required studying how specific tools were made and used in order to understand what people were doing and how they made a living in their environment.” Lawrence Barham in his book, Hand to Handle, goes further to position the importance of experimental archeology yet also cautions that modern studies are “artificial constructs divorced from the messy reality of tool-use in a hunter-gatherers’s camp.”

Katherine Hayles and Jessica Pressman in their book, Comparative Textual Media, mention a similar disciplinary shift as specialties of textual and bibliographic studies begin to “recognize that recursive feedback loops between form and content are not only characteristic of special cases…but are the necessary ground from which inquiry proceeds.” So, a construct of “experimental humanism” infiltrating materialities of book transmission and experimental reconstruction of historical functions and uses could be at work.

In both interdisciplinary extensions, of lithic and book innovation and transmission, the contrast of the messy camp and orderly lab is apparent. But a larger recalibration is also needed. This adjustment would be recognition of the displacement of living practice from historical experience; there is going to be faulty virtualization. Here also is the unease of merging humanist approach with its own ambivalence, stealth, good humor and eerie relevance with increasing relevance and domination of larger data and binary purge of search results.

Humanist agenda is persistent but that quality requires continual retransmission and feedback recursion so that there is frequently a sense of humanist intrusion into the current technology and commerce of book transmission. A feral relationship of humanist query and automated search extraction needs to be built.

great books

Iowa Book Works continues the run of fabulous, long tail titles. The 2014 edition wonders include Adventures in Book Preservation and the wily Feral Seminar; Resilience of Book Transmission post-print. These gems cost only $10 a piece or both for $15. $3 for postage, just send shipping address. Pay nothing if you are not fully happy.

commonplace blog

Blogs can be considered a commonplace book that compiles a person’s reading and applied experiences. The compendium is a reflection of the individual as vivid as the content. Beyond acts of editorial management commonplace blogs also present another special projection.

Blogs can reveal a disconcertion with the challenge of advancing any skill. The skill of compilation must be acquired and practiced as a personal act. At the same time there is the incentive to put oneself in a context of other disciplines and practitioners. Add another layer as the blog author wishes to communicate beyond any audience of acquaintances.

A blog, in contrast with the historical commonplace book, does add illustration to writing. This enhancement is compounded as the pictures are compiled from the author’s photography and other sources. These dichotomies between writing and illustrating are subject to swings of emphasis. An easy census is the scroll distance allocated to the two contents. Another evaluation is management of composite caption/picture meaning within a display format.

So commonplace compositions are exemplary paratextual works displaying an exposition of the enthusiasm and disconcertion of an individual and scrolling or paging through a sense of skill advancement.

accelerating episodes

I have noticed lately a possible pre-requisite standard for documentary transmission; is it a coincidence that the newly discovered recordings of the Beatles BBC radio broadcasts, the newly recognized recording of an MLK 1962 speech, or our UI Preservation project with Voyager telemetry all involve analog media that has a proven 50 year play-back? If research interest matures at a 50-year stage this may suggest an inherent basic media transmission performance requirement.

If so we will soon move beyond any 50-year playback capacity of electronic recordings. The recoverability of evermore fragile, dependent and encoded recording will doom capability for media migration forward at the 50 year mark and certainly involve content display atrophy.

One hopeful strategy is inexpensive copy and reformatting options migrated evermore closely from the 50-year distance to maintain association with more intensive research interest. Here the continuing use of the holding function of microfilm or even paper print out come to mind as models. Increasing impermanence of electronic media and any increasing gap between renewed research interest present two sliding scales that could be charted. Increasing urgency for open source and Hathi models conveyed to electronic media is suggested.

There is no reason to suspect any inherent relation between eventual research interest and ever-shortened media longevity yet a curious pacing can be pictured in the longest possible perspective of communication media progression.

The advent of language is associated with the other advent of simple tools. Study connects communication and technology as inherently related. The persistence of the relation is stupendous approaching the better part of one million years and crossing various hominid species.

At the 100,000 thousand year mark our own species advance to use of compound or hafted tools. This stage also brought more complex grammar and range to language. At the 10,000-year stage there was the advent of counting tokens or the precursor of writing and by 1,000 years ago alphabetic handwriting was well established. Cultural and communication complexity increased. 100 years ago instantaneous communication was well established and larger populations were informed of news and by ten years ago massive data retrieval networks are assumed. Wow…!

Mutual evolution between communication and its technologies may not tolerate such magnitudes of acceleration. Certainly we have reached an end of a progression. Can maturing research perspectives be built on rapidly changing and discontinuous media transmission?

new meaning

An amusing question is where meaning resides. That is where does it go after it is revealed and realized; where out-of-body does it end up and add to a corpus? Where is the new meaning situated in context with initial source and the journal publication or lecture presenting a new interpretation. Is it in one location or another?

Take a 16th book source and an automated word frequency parse prompting a new interpretation. Where does previous and divergent new meaning reside? Is it in the surviving source or the screen published new meaning? It is possible that the whole meaning of the work is situated exactly between the source and the derivative product; the whole meaning resides in the relation.

In between is a special place but it may also be the optimal destination for study of all binary diorama. And that catalog of binaries includes paper and screen, scroll and page layouts, and codex and electronic device commodities of the book.

new meaning2

The end of scrapbooks as we have known them in the free world: Auto-Remind Say you write all of your to-do lists on Limeade Post-it® Notes from the Evernote collection. Every time you capture a Limeade note with the Evernote camera in Post-it® Note mode, Evernote can automatically set a reminder for whatever time you choose.

This gets weird, but the phone camera app sees the montage of Post-its refrigerator paper colors as a tag for tile re-arrays on the screen. Can these be sent to a printer?

new meaning3

How did keyboard prompted composition shift the magnitude of text production? Consider the area of a type case compared with a keyboard as field for letter selection motions and then consider the selection as a motion of picking and manipulating or only touching the character. Every keyboard composition sequence also eliminates re-distribution of the letters by one means of another; there is no need to select the character twice for a single display.

Was there ever a keyboard array that matched the lay of the case? A case that followed the Linotype arrangement would speed hand set composition. A case top assembler rail and takeoff transfer would eliminate the stick and free both hands for character selections. The Ludlow echoes what would have been if hand setting was invented after keyboard composition.

As phone provider texting moves to an internet app the keyboard prompting remains. With this latest migration over a century of dominance of the clumsy QUERTY array and more centuries of keyboard prompting remain in place. Also in still in place is an ancient dominance of composite invention and the even mistier legacy of primate dexterity.

For the back story of the back shop reference From Hand to Handle the first industrial revolution, Oxford Press, 2013.


check it out

Here is a fabulous, up-to-the-minute, history of the library binding industry by our most knowledgeable and insightful presenter.


Early Modern Digital Humanities (EMDH) was a five-panel sequence given at the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference (SCSC) October 2013 meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The conference proceedings are reviewed by Jason Cohen (Berea College) and Colin Wilder (University of South Carolina) in a recent SHARP-L posting.

This excellent program synopsis suggests tangents even beyond more effective recognition of the funding, logistical, and departmental recognition of digital humanist work.

For example how will this research and publication genre transcend or not a context of the conventional academic conference? This work is definitely post-PowerPoint. Will current digital scholarship, with its own screen products and using computer assisted analytics and network display parse to categories of the previous centuries and are partitions of the legacy studies a natural home for digital projects? Recent displacements within natural history taxonomy and library print collections are suggestive.

So, from an intuitive humanist position, should all work regardless of format, discovery method, or analytic technologies augment the traditional chronology and nationalistic infrastructure or have its own digital studies home? Perhaps we will create another discipline of the interactions.

forever entwined

The synopsis of comparative paper/screen and page/scroll functionality of the monographic book by Robert Bolick is fairly miraculous and portrays the actual advances of understanding of the inherent interdependencies.



Some confusion has arisen between phones and tablets in the zone between 5” to 7” diagonal screen measure. Are the smart phones growing? It may be that the distress is a fundamental lack of adaptation of the phone lozenge shape to hand held use of any sort. Recall that the legacy phone device was designed for hand held use with a handle situated to position a speaker in front of the mouth and receiver over the ear. The alternative hand was free to manage a keyboard. What a silly design…smart phone designers are smarter.

Even if phones are now optimized for screen display they will remain goofy as a hand held device. Notice the 18th century tablet design.


umwelt – cognitive and sensory capacity to assemble and utilize a perceptual field of surroundings. A umwelt construct is species variable but is needed by all organisms to survive. Of particular human interest is the role of an embedded umwelt construct in conflict with logical, statistical and scientific constructs as in the taxonomic fields of natural history.

The classic umwelt association is with the perceived world of living organisms and long evolved strategies of hunting and gathering. At first such a natural world umvelt intersected emerging scientific views without displacement and intuitions of Linnaeus and then Darwin were advanced based on inherent umwelt constructs. However evolutionary change and subsequent statistical, DNA and cladistics analysis could not be and never were realized in an intuitive ordering of living organisms. A displacement of the evolved perceptual capacity by scientific construct then occurred and traditional intuition of living orders was discredited.

I suspect this umwelt precept can convey to communication efficiencies with the codex as well as providing a deeper narrative of conflict inherent in digital humanities. A separate cognitive capacity and neurological region is dedicated to constructs of the inanimate world and it accommodates artifacts. Curiously this cognitive capacity is not ordered by living behaviors or appearances, but by artifact function. So tools, hammer stones, projectile points, power drills and iPads are ordered according to what they can do. Such a culturally evolved perceptual capacity is not as likely to be displaced as technology and scientific understanding advances. However, it can also be suspected that deeper, embedded perceptual constructs also overlay and, so, influence our appreciation of artifact function. At that interface the possibility of a longer refined and adapted function of the codex may find comparative cognitive capacity of higher efficiency among later formats of book display. Such conjecture would call on influence of brain lateralization, haptic navigation and pattern recognition as optimized by the codex.


Librarians accept the reality of operation of hybrid print and screen libraries. The interplay of these resources is not yet fully emerged. Do we need multi format displays of book collections? OCLC research into configurations for co-operative “last copy” general collections still side-steps the full functionality of hybrid collections. Print collection growth continues and supersession of physical collections by screen equivalents has not occurred. Preference for paper format continues for textbooks, print on demand options and website and blog screens sent to printers. Paper book collection populations compiled by OCLC research as “duplicates” are projected for disposal but these distributed print duplicates can also be projected as the analog equivalent of digital network access. A larger issue of the interplay of self-authenticating paper books with self-indexing attributes of screen book lurks here.

Taking a wider view, the bionic type specimen and residual monograph title exemplar now arise in context with comparable entropies of diversity. Mass die-off and extinction threatens the bionic world while an equivalent dissolve of bibliographic entity dismantles and displaces previous access systems and displaces use of print. Another shared displacement is apparent with discredit of previous intuitive classification methods of human entry cataloging and similar displacement of biologic classification by computer driven analysis. A general displacement of humanist construct is apparent in classification of both the living and artifact world.

Such humanist displacement can be superficially attributed to a “digital revolution” but a larger displacement may be at work between intuitive perceptions and computer assisted perceptual methods. Associated conflict and ambiguity would account for interest in composites such as “digital humanities” or cross-disciplinary study in general. Libraries are the laboratories for such contests.


Demsey, Lorcan, Lavorie, Brian, and Malpas, Constance, Understanding the Collective Collections: Toward a System-wide Perspective on Library Print Collections, OCLC, 2013.

Schonfeld, Roger, “Stop the Presses, is the monograph headed toward an e-only future?”, ITHAKA S+R, 2013.

Stallybrass, Peter, “Books and Scrolls: Navigating the Bible”, in Books and Readers in Early Modern England, 2002.

Yoon, Carol Kaesuk, Naming Nature the clash between instinct and science, 2009.


new century

The making of printed books has continued quietly across each turn of each century since the fifteenth century…except for one. With the turn of the twenty-first a sudden displacement has taken place. Thereafter books need not be something somewhere; books could be effervescent appearing and disappearing, on a screen display. Another way of considering this sudden bibliographical significance is that prior to the twenty-first century almost all books were not digital and following the turn of the century almost all books were.

To accommodate this new bibliographic circumstance some descriptive adjustments for book definition are needed. The trilogy of surface derived from papermaking, image derived from printing, and commodity derived from bookbinding needs further parsing. The surface can be distinguished as paper or screen, the image display can be distinguished as page or scroll and the commodity can be distinguished as either codex or electronic devices.

It is also important to accommodate the first book type that is the audio book. This book has also crossed the digital divide and remains a distinctive, functional and popular transmission format.

So what stance should bibliographers take today? Perhaps book scholars and advocates should transcend hollow binaries and focus on the composite resilience of book transmission. This will require study across many disciplines including book history, current technology and commerce, cognitive science, library science, book arts and literary studies. There is also need for a distinctive focus on the composite of all these to confirm the resilience of book transmission.


The extent of copy rights across screen display and paper display of books pivots on a simple question. Are the two manifestations of the given title functionally identical or distinctly different works? All parties may well have reason to argue for both contentions.

Authors, retailers, and publishers can wish both display versions, and audio books as well, as simple edition variants of the same title. Such a circumstance offers a more expansive market. On the other hand publishers and authors may contend that aftermarket conversions of a purchased title are not permissible and each display is a functionally distinctive product to which they claim rights.

Libraries and readers can also adopt both perspectives. They can wish that a single purchase of a title entitles the buyer to migrations of content freely across various display modes. Or they can also adopt a view that the purchased format can be exposed across enhanced bibliographic utilities that feature functionally distinctive delivery types. The defense of this initiative is a fair use of the purchased title and a retention, autonomous or in consortia, of the purchase product.

Perhaps this situation recommends a feral approach between these conflicting stances. The larger majority of monographs at issue are those within copyright constraints yet these conflicting positions persist. Let’s accept the ambiguity as a given. Rights of all kinds are uncertain if the producer and user both contend that a book title is functionally the same and, at the same time, distinctly different depending on display type. Courts are a diversion if this ambiguity persists.

Curiously another question needs clarification as well. What is a book? Perhaps a book is the feral composite of values that is dynamic enough to accommodate all transactions and rights perspectives and require the ambiguity, stealth, good humor and eerie relevance of feral life. Just such a clue to the definition of the book is revealed.

Reference Papers of the Bibliographic Society of Canada, Sprint 2013, “Trying to Out-Book the Book: Amazon Marketing of the Kindle” by Christopher Doody.


little library

Our Little Free Library is weathering its first winter in our stoic blue collar neighborhood. We have been an outlier in our Barcelona and Red Pepper 20′ x 20′ little house so this outreach is risky, but appropriate. Let’s see what spirit lurks.

don’t be the bunny

“Contemporary pronouncements about the death of the book are puzzling, for in many ways, it is the book form – the combination of the ability to scroll with the capacity for random access, enabling you to leap from place to place – that has provided the model which these and other cultural technologies now seek to emulate.” Peter Stallybrass, 2002.

FotB has now posted on average every week for fifteen years. We have shifted from a goofy futurist topic to a more promising resilience of book transmission theme. We still attend to an examination of the continuing adventures of book production, distribution and reception so resilience of book transmission is nothing special if nothing has been learned.

We have learned something; be feral. Feral behavior is neither wild or domestic but opportunistically adapted to disrupted environments. We have also learned to avoid being the bunny. Being the bunny means obsessively engaging binaries. Instead we look exactly between at the third thing that is always there.

Some typical binaries here are print and screen or scroll and codex. Others are database and narrative formats or hand and machine made or technological and cultural determinants. Look exactly between to find book resilience spanning all these binaries. You will also find lively motion of resilience. There is the ambiguity, stealth, good humor, and eerie relevance of resilience and lively continual teetering.

So the real bunny binary to be avoided is preemptive mutual definition that binaries impose and preemptive partitions. Let’s just hope that the lively motions of resilience of book transmission are more worthy of study. Otherwise we will move on again.

holiday cheer

OCLC has just published an anthology of research and exposition on collective collections or co-operative print repositories. I printed out a copy and the even-odd pagination starts me out wrong-ways. There is a promo at ITHAKA S+R blog. If co-operative print is a security measure we may need to look beyond the artifactual justification. Microfilm is an artifact and so are server farms. Perhaps these as well can be reduced to co-op repositories to permit libraries to move on.

The lurking artifact here may be the adaptation of physical media to cloud rapture in a warehouse network. The realization lacking is that readers rather than collections are in need of network accommodation. The readers are the network. Only librarians visualize stored media and data as a rapture network. A precept of the reader as the network is inherent in Lorcan Dempsey’s wonderful exposition of “Libraries and the Long Tail” in the OCLC anthology. It is reader agenda and reader contemplations that collection systems must efficiently engage. His analysis of Amazon market response systems and the library systems is wonderfully instructive.


comparative textual media

The first rule or non-rule is that any un-conference should have no title or somehow evade or escape identity. If it is New Media in American Literary History; Interdisciplinary Symposium then each of these keywords will need displacement. We can look at the paratext. If one presenter will present remotely we can focus on the interplay with those on-site.

(On attempting a full screen feed loading the connection itself was inadvertently broken. One unintended cancel click will do it.)

“Hang on Liz, I just killed it!” (Click to join video call.) “I can hear you typing, but can you hear me talking?” (sound of papers shuffling and a blank stare at the audience) (The on-site Tweet reporter is running low on battery and must move closer to an outlet.)

The on-site moderator now begins to type in a URL line live and now we are at the American Antiquarian Society and the American printers’ database which is depicted on the screen as a twenty-five drawer card catalog. The ambient auditorium lights are bleaching out the projected image but no one cares. The cards are alphabetized using printers’ names but the database is not. There is jumping between screen grabbed shots and there is some collapse of authority of agency.

The remote participant must regress to typed text while those present can speak and the text delay is exploited by those speaking. Speakers grab the questions first and the screen stare continues.

The conference take-home is that memes and mimes are now crossing the bridge between legacy humanities and digital humanities in reverse . We now discuss “viral” nineteenth newspaper stories rather than screen book “pages”. Needed is the further vantage of the two-way traffic as seen from the bridge itself. There we can observe “feral” text or “shapes” of a book pattern propagating between print and screen. We watch texts in motion and in transaction across their production, transmission, and reception.

Another take-home is that data scales too quickly. Textual studies is confronting increasing database mining and manipulation and projects are producing implications faster than interpretation or study. Meanwhile capacity to build out networks compounds. This is a humanist issue for text transmission. Is digital scholarship less or more productive? Is there a fantasy rapture of database convergence at work?

stop the presses

The ITHAKA study of comparative monographic formats is couched in terms of preference for screen or paper format. I suggest that preferring is not the transactional activity here. The comparative usage is rather a transactional activity of integration or compilation or even a collation of paper and screen resources. The hollow binary of simple format preference is displacing the needed study focus and compromising survey interpretation.

Another displacement is at work. This is the suggestion that avoidance of intensive paper monographic reading is itself an indicator of transformation adoption of screen affordances. Circumvention of cover-to-cover reading of a title is a long established scholarly skill un-tethered to screen affordances. And since when does the database dissolve of bibliographic entity necessarily dissolve the humanist incentive toward works of bibliographic integrity? In some views the constraints of the print format are its attributes.

Perhaps the monographic prospects are best approached from neither a paper or screen format. And a real mystery is not any persistent “preference” for print, but the eerie interdependence of paper and screen. Scholarly users are by far our most skillful readers and “a richer infrastructure might well be gradually emerging”.

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