In this issue:
The Aporetic • October 6, 2010
Attention surplus. Pundits say that today's firehose of information is drowning us in minutiae and straining our attention span. But blogger Mike O'Malley says the reality is that 100 years ago, there was plenty of information people paid attention to every day: weather signs, crop health and the size and condition of the firewood stack, to name a few. As our lives have become urbanized and technology has relieved us of much of the day-to-day physical struggle, O'Malley says, "What we see as 'too much information' is probably something more like 'a surplus of free attention.'" He also poses the question, "What do we do with ourselves now that the time required for basic research has been (in many cases) so drastically reduced?" Good question.
The interesting observations about "free attention" are brief and really a prelude to some provocative observations about the future of serious archival research—"shorter forms with less scholarly apparatus." This is followed by a captivating example which appeared as a blog post—How did someone named Patrick O'Malley get categorized as "colored" in 19th Century Virginia? Along the way the author mentions the online journal Common-place as a regular channel for this type of writing. I was pleased to see that it is sponsored by our friends at The American Antiquarian Society and The University of Oklahoma and is full of intriguing articles. I'm a new subscriber. ( Michalko)
Big Questions Online • October 19, 2010
The downside of DIY. The current university system is not sustainable, and some observers are suggesting the remedy for some may be the free courseware offered by institutions such as MIT. But blogger Alan Jacobs says most people don't have the drive or discipline to benefit fully from such offerings: "The problem with DIY education is not only that it's parasitic on existing universities, but more importantly, that very few human beings are good parasites." Even more daunting is humans' innate need for some concept of authority—someone we respect telling us what we need to know. "The edupunk movement rarely acknowledges that elementary fact, instead preferring to sell what is often and at best a fantasy: that I already know what I don't know, that I can find my way to enlightenment through resources I already have, that nothing I deeply dislike is necessary to my education."
I'm pleased to see that this article draws heavily on James O'Donnell's 1998 book, Avatars of the Word, which was prescient in its description of the impact of technology on the humanities and humanities scholarship. I think this post's author is correct in asserting that a big part of education is the presence of authority in some form or another. ( Michalko)
BQF Innovation • September 24, 2010
Beyond BFFs. Paul Sloane says we need to branch out in our relationships, choosing to spend time with people who challenge our world view and enrich our conversations. This is good advice that may be difficult to implement in reality, but deliberately moving beyond our comfort zone can help improve our intellectual acumen, both personally and professionally.
This short admonitory note is also one of the best continuing arguments for elite residential higher education: "You are the average of the five people that you spend the most time with . . . " ( Michalko)
Urban Omnibus • October 27, 2010
Touching up touchpoints. Libraries and museums are service organizations, and the way we distinguish ourselves is through services that meet or exceed the expectations of our users. To achieve those goals, we can learn something from service design consultants who specialize in enhancing user experience through touchpoints, navigational aids, interaction planning and architectural and spatial configurations.
I was unaware that the various design strands, i.e., product design, interface design, human computer interaction, etc. had morphed into this new discipline referred to as "service design." It's worth looking through this article for the graphics. These service designers certainly know how to present things visually. ( Michalko)
Intelligent Life • Autumn 2010
Revelations. Booker Committee Chairman Andrew Motion writes movingly about the treasures of the British Library's Ritblat Gallery—original manuscripts of literary, historic and cultural works that reveal rich insight into the magical moment of creative genius.
A great author writes with great feeling about the influence, feelings and impact of the unique materials stewarded by libraries—in this case, literary manuscripts. ( Michalko)