early modern historian is a genius!

Newly named Macarthur Fellow and early modern historian Jacob Soll talks to Marty Moss-Coane on Radio Times on my old favorite radio station, WHYY in Philadelphia. You should listen to it. Soll talks movingly about struggling as a high school student, what we can learn from studying Renaissance accounting, why the intellectual tradition matters, and what libraries mean to him. Pay attention to the story in the last 15 minutes about his encounter with my friend John Pollack, rare book librarian at Penn!

(There’s also a nice video and brief profile of him on the Macarthur site. I’m almost convinced I should retrain as an accountant.) § continue reading

even the digital is physical

Many of you will have already seen the news that the Internet Archive is preserving hard copies of each book they scan into their archive. Kevin Kelly’s recent piece likens this to the need for type specimen in biology:

Biologists maintain a concept call a “type specimen.” Every species of living organism has many individuals of noticeable variety. There are millions of Robins in America, for instance, all of them each express the Robin-ness found in the type of bird we have named Turdus migratorius. But if we need to scientifically describe another bird as being “like a Robin” or maybe “just a Robin” which of those millions of Robins should we compare it to?

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to e-book or not to e-book

There’s been a slew of stories over the last few months about electronic books, primarily of the Kindle variety, but some of them touch on general issues pertaining to the availability, use, and desirability of e-books. I’ve been trying to compose a post in response to them, but I keep getting overwhelmed. What to say in response toa prep school that replaces its library with a cappuccino machine and 18 e-readers? *head-desk* (The School Library Journal has a more articulate response.) What about the summer’s too-perfect-to-be-true news that Amazon deleted copies of Orwell’s works from the Kindles without informing owners? § continue reading

being a reader in rare book libraries

I’ve been thinking recently about what it means to be a reader in a rare books library, a place like the Folger, or the British Library, or the Beinecke, for instance. That is, the sort of place where the lucky among us get to do research and routinely handle rare materials.

I think about this topic often while I am teaching my undergraduate course on book history. Undergraduates are not typically allowed into rare book libraries–I’ve heard stories that even some university special collections don’t like to let students handle their materials, an attitude which is sorely misguided and shameful and not, I hope, actually common. § continue reading

accessing and looking at books

My last couple of posts on “navigating the information landscape” and “democratizing early english books” have gotten a number of links and comments–it’s great to have such thoughtful feedback, and I wanted to use this post to clarify some of my thoughts.

This series of posts has been prompted by Robert Darnton’s latest essay in the New York Review of Books on “Google and the Future of Books.” Darnton’s call for the need to create a Digital Republic of Learning led me to wonder what it would mean to democratize access to early modern books. § continue reading

navigating the information landscape

Robert Darnton has, again, written a thoughtful account on “Google and the Future of Books” in the February 12, 2009 issue of the New York Review of Books. Prompted by Google’s recent settlement with the authors and publishers suing it for copyright violation in its vast digitization project, Darton wonders, “How can we navigate through the information landscape that is only beginning to come into view?”

For Darnton, the key forward is, unsurprising, through the Enlightenment, both in its ideal Republic of Letters and in its less democratic pratice of who had access to that Republic. As Darnton argues, the high ideals of the Enlightenment turned, in time, into the professionalization of knowledge and subsequently degraded to our current undemocratic world in which scholarly journals are produced through the free labor of professors and sold to libraries at insanely high prices. § continue reading