Nearly every day we are privilaged to hear from some of the most influential and accomplished library and information science professionals from here in the UK. While most of the lectures are about the model of change for Oxford's libraries in particular, some are very beneficial theories and practices that have been used successfully.
It is a note of interest to mention that the recently hired director of the Bodleian library is a woman from the United States. Sarah Thomas worked in many successful US libraries all over the country including the Cornell academic library making her more than qualified for the position. Her lecture to us outlined her many accomplishments in the United States, particularly in the Cornell library, giving us a loose model of what she planned to incorporate in the Oxford system.
As many American librarians, Sarah Thomas did not like the stern image of librarians that most people imagine as our stereotype and mentioned this when she noticed the numerous signage in the Bodleian requesting "Silence Please." The culture in the UK, however, is different from the American one on this subject. During her lecture, I came to be aware of many of these differences.
Before leaving for the UK, I acquired a copy of Brit-Think Ameri-Think
to get a good idea of the culture differences between the US and England. One point I remember the author making is that the English value their traditions a great deal. When marketing products, the US often plasters the words New
all over the packaging, making the product more appealing to our desire to always be on the cutting edge. Not so with the English it seems. The book I consulted gave several examples of English tradition that embraced the old standby way of doing things, waving off anything 'new fangled' or 'untrustworthy.' From Sarah Thomas's perspective, the English are more than a little attached to their hard copy volumes of books and not as interested in having podcasts or electronic resources. I nearly asked about the newer generation of Brits, and how the Oxford students would react to having these newer technologies available to them.
At one point she mentioned how the Cornell library had much success with integrating a cafe into their library. A similiar idea employed in England was discouraged. Her exact words were, "They aren't as interested in the idea of 'see
William Blake's journal--the cover
A beautiful leather volume of the poet's notes
and be seen,'" which I think means that the English are more comfortable taking their materials home and studying them there instead of hanging out in a cafe with their computer or book or arranging a group project meeting in such a place.
I picked up on a slight tinge of disapproval of the current library system from Thomas's speech. It seemed as though she did not approve of the current state of the libraries and was intent to improve what she could. I can't say I much blame her for being critical. The online catalog is prehistoric at best (running on telnet and having a less helpful web version), few of the materials have been transfered to digital format, most of the library's functions are done without the aid of technology, and there are very few media resources. In all fairness, though, there is a Google supported project to eventually digitize everything in the Bodleian for electronic access.
It does make me wonder, though, whether the patrons of her library will actually use the advanced, technological features she is planning to add to the library, or will they be set in their ways of tradition?
To provide a complete foil to Sarah Thomas's lecture, John Tuck from The British Library gave a lecture immediately after. Representing one of the three national libraries in the UK, Tuck is the Head of the British Collection over at the British Library. While I enjoyed his lecture a great deal and agreed with nearly every point he made about the goals for the collection, he fit right in with the stereotype in the Brit-Think Ameri-Think
book. His lecture was about preservation and the techological innovations that enable the materials to be sustained for longer periods of time.
The British Library seems to be much more forward thinking than the Bodleian, offering numerous online services and participating in projects where hard copy materials are transferred to electronic. One in particular is a project for British Newspapers, scanning them to create a database of electronically available articles. My first thought was, "They don't already have this?" I'm not sure how old these newspapers are, but in the US most newspapers have already been keeping digital archives of their articles for some time now.
I must admit, I was most intrigued when Tuck listed the famous texts that are
Still William Blake
now available through their Turning the Pages
award winning feature. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Shakespeare's first folio
, and the earliest available copy of Beowulf are all available through this amazing new feature.
There is one project, though, that I didn't actually like. The British Library collaborating through the UK Web Archiving Consortium have started a project to document UK websites because, as we all know, the world wide web is a temporary medium where information can easily disappear from one day to the next. I thought that this attempt, however noble, embodied the British stereotype a little too well. The nature of the internet is to be inconsistent. The information is updated and is ever changing and I like it that way
. The reason that most government documents are no longer available in print form is because the laws, dates, and fines are always changing and becoming updated. A hard copy document would only provide a citizen with quickly oudated proof of the change that was made. So, what I say is, if it's information worth having, the website should maintain its quality and status. A website that cannot even maintain its position on the web is the very definition of unreliable.
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