Each of the panelists on our roundtable will present a few opening remarks before we turn to discussion. I’ve asked them each for a teaser, which I’ve posted over the last several days. Wrapping up today, James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association.
This session is about the relationship between books, librarians, and scholars in literary studies and history. As an undergraduate and graduate student I learned that librarians were the historian’s best friends –not because a jobs in the library was helping with expenses at both stages – but because someone had to teach me how to navigate the complex and empowering world of bibliographical guides. A slight demotion took place during the course of my dissertation research, as the ability to find materials became as important as the ability to read them. I learned the difference between an archivist and a librarian (after ignorantly referring to an archivist as a “librarian”), and developed an appreciation – or perhaps awe is more accurate – of archivists at the National Archives, Chicago Historical Society, Howard University, and the University of Chicago. So for me, it was all pretty simple: no librarians or archivists (whom I still lumped together for far too long), no first book.
My subsequent publications relied on the work of librarians and archivists more indirectly. Instead I developed an appreciation at the Newberry Library of the enormous potential of collaboration with librarians and archivists in the conceptualization and implementation of undergraduate courses in history and literature.
Why does this matter? In the first instance, I developed an appreciation of the work of librarians and archivists, but not as scholars or collaborators. They were the custodians; we were the users. Good scholarship depended on good librarianship, but I inadequately apprehended what “good librarianship” meant intellectually. Librarians provided services and collections; historians did the intellectual work required to weave sources into scholarship.
At the Newberry I learned that true collaboration between humanities faculty and library staff was a broader partnership. And I worry that this partnership is fraying over a series of issues including the one on the table in this session. “The Future of the Print Record” focuses on an issue that requires librarians and humanities faculty to wrestle with the tension between the realities of budgets and space on the one hand, and ideas about the nature of books as primary sources on the other. These are not necessarily incompatible frames; but they can exist in conflict – especially when one of the issues on the table is the locus of decision-making.
Each of the panelists on our roundtable will present a few opening remarks before we turn to discussion. I’ve asked them each for a teaser, which I’ll post over the next several days. Next up, Andrew Stauffer, Director of NINES and associate professor of English at the University of Virginia.
What is the future of the nineteenth-century? In the wake of Google Books and the wide-scale digitization of library materials, printed books from this era are at particular risk. Most pre-1800 imprints have been moved to special collections, and most books printed after 1923 remain in copyright in the US (and thus on the shelves for circulation). But, as more people turn to digital surrogates instead of library copies, we face the downsizing of our historic print collections. What’s more, a large number of these volumes have been uniquely modified by their original owners: perhaps 10% of our national circulating collections of pre-1923 books contain annotations and other historical evidence of use (with books relevant to literary studies showing particularly heavy levels of marking). The Book Traces project is a crowd-sourced attempt to discover these unique copies in the stacks, and to help make the case more generally for bibliodiversity in our research collections. Book Traces will also gather evidence for the copy-based analysis of the history of reading and book-use in the long nineteenth century. Now is the moment for humanities faculty and librarians to work together to develop systems for discovering, cataloguing, and preserving the historical evidence in our collective circulating collections.
Each of the panelists on our roundtable will present a few opening remarks before we turn to discussion. I’ve asked them each for a teaser, which I’ll post over the next several days. First up, Deanna Marcum, managing director of Ithaka S+R.
In 1994, the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of the Print Record called for the establishment of a network of depositories for housing and providing access to materials discarded by libraries. To many librarians, this sounded like the San Francisco library of unpublishable books in Richard Brautigan’s novel, The Abortion. Manuscripts brought to this library would never be read, but they would be recorded, shelved, and cherished.
I was associated with the Commission on Preservation and Access in 1994, and we were deeply engaged in a massive microfilming effort to preserve at least 3 million scholarly monographs that were at risk of being lost forever because they were printed on acidic paper. We thought we were engaged in a noble preservation effort, and were dismayed to learn that our work was one of the motivating factors for the Ad Hoc Committee. Librarians thought scholars didn’t understand the preservation imperative. Scholars were equally sure that librarians did not understand their research need.
Now, we are looking at this issue again, this time in a very different environment. The digital future is here, not coming. Scholarly resources are being created digitally and they pose their own special preservation challenges. But many of the books needed for humanistic study were printed on paper. While tremendous progress has been made over the past 20 years in creating improved storage and preservation environments at many large research libraries, today these libraries face unprecedented pressure to reduce the campus space occupied by these very collections. With the development of HathiTrust, many libraries are seriously considering not only shifting vast quantities of collections off campus, but even beginning to withdraw from those book collections systematically. The beginnings of a print preservation network for journals has been created through the work of WEST, CRL, and many others, but today we are not very much closer to having a repository or a network of repositories for ensuring access to print books than we were in 1994.
Libraries are funded by their local institutions, but scholars need national and international solutions to their research needs. The conversations called for in the 2014 “Future of the Print Record” Working Group is a good start, but what we must have is new thinking about the broad-scale support that is needed for scholarly resources. The divide between librarians and scholars that was so evident in 1994 must be bridged, for libraries that do not support scholarship are meaningless. The discussions among scholars, librarians, and administrators that we are calling for in our statement will include serious considerations of national and international governance and funding models and new support structures for the scholarly enterprise.
Please join us in Vancouver for a discussion of the future of the print record, as well as the next steps for this working group. We’ll be posting brief statements from the presenters over the next several days.
242. The Future of the Print Record
Friday, 9 January, 10:15–11:30 a.m., 1, VCC East
Program arranged by the MLA Office of Scholarly Communication
Presiding: Kathleen Fitzpatrick, MLA
Speakers: James Grossman, American Historical Assn.; Chuck Henry, Council on Library and Information Resources; Geneva Henry, George Washington Univ.; Deanna Marcum, Ithaka S+R; Andrew M. Stauffer, Univ. of Virginia
New technologies, changing approaches to research, and growing strains on library space and budgets are dramatically affecting prospects for future access to the print record of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This session focuses on the development of a framework for collaborative, productive decision making among faculty members and librarians in shaping the future of library collections.