Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Notes from Above the 49th Parallel

I am in Calgary, Alberta, on my way to Jasper for the Alberta Library Conference. And if you check the Jasper link and think Alberta librarians must get paid way more than you because of the swanky surroundings...nope, the ALC has been at this location for more than two decades and gets very good rates. I know it's more that two decades because I went to my first ALC in 1987.

I lived in Calgary for a total of 13 years, and I loved living here. It's a great city: large but not too large, great restaurants and coffee places, good public spaces (including a very large system of bike trails all over the city) and easy proximity to some of the best hiking and skiing in the world, a thriving arts community, home of the Calgary Stampede when even CEOs and mayors and librarians wear cowboy boots and hats, and is blessed by about 250 sunny days a year.

Not that it is sunny right now. But seeing many old colleagues and friends will make up for that.

First, I am bummed that I missed Carl Grant's presentation at OCLC that Alice wrote about in the previous post. I knew I was going to miss interesting stuff and I clearly did. Be nice if the ILS vendors and OCLC could all put all that talent to use and come up with some really fast ways to get library metadata and content into peoples' spaces in Google-like ways.

Secondly, Walt Crawford has exposed my innumeracy--correction. I exposed my innumeracy in my last post when I claimed there were 10 times less Canadian librarians than US ones. In a comment, Walt quite rightly pointed out that I am an idiot--of course he didn't say this. I am paraphrasing.

Thirdly, on the plane trip here I started reading The Five Laws of Library Science by "the father of library science," Indian librarian S.I. Ranganathan (first published in 1931). I am ashamed to admit that I have never read this despite having an MLS from a good school and being indoctrinated by Ronald Hagler who had the unenviable task of teaching the foundations course at UBC.

Well, a pleasant surprise. I've only read the "first law" pages (Books Are For Use) but S.I. is a funny writer. He is merciless about librarians interested in preserving the book as object and in unfriendly spaces built for those objects not people.
Next, let us see the effect of the law 'BOOKS ARE FOR USE' on library furniture. One may say with confidence 'Show me your library furniture and I shall tell you whether wou believe in the First Law of Library Science or not.' To begin with, in the days when the rival dictum 'BOOKS ARE FOR PRESERVATION' ruled, the library racks were built only with a view to preservation. The problem was to accommodate the maximum number of books in the the least space and the lowest cost. The Rule of Least Space left the height of the book stacks determined by the height of the ceiling. Not even an inch of vertical space should be wasted. Hence each rack should begin at the very bottom and go right up to the ceiling. Similarly, another corollary of the Rule of Least Space was that not an inch of horizontal space, beyond the absolute minimum, should be wasted. This required that the gangway between book-racks should be as narrow as possible--just enough for an attendant to pass through--say a foot and a half at the most [...] The Rule of Least Cost required that the furniture of the reading-room should be as simple and as cheap as practicable. The reader had no business to expect comfort.
Finally, also read on the plane trip, an interesting article in the most recent issue of Forbes on Microsoft and Google. I read it as a morality play and subsituted "libraries" for Microsoft. Forgive me for not providing a link to the TOC but the Forbes site is full of stuff--way too much stuff--and I cannot ferret out the info at this late hour--although not as late as it looks. I am on Mountain time and IAG is on Eastern


waltc said...

I may be jealous (sounds like a great conference! I know I loved the BCLA conference at Whittier I spoke at, many years ago), but I'd certainly never call you an idiot.

Innumeracy is rampant (and encouraged by media usage)--and what I pointed out is really the least harmful form of innumeracy, that is, linguistic symmetry regarding asymmetric number situations (oog, an awful sentence, but heck, it's a blog comment).

What's amusing, sort of, is that when I wrote an article on numeracy among librarians in 1995 and used it, in revised form, in Being Analog: Creating Tomorrow's Libraries, I was soundly thrashed for the chapter in one review, with the reviewer flatly asserting that no librarian ever has problems with numeracy. (I never respond to book reviews, not being quite that stupid, but I was sorely tempted to respond that this particular person's track record was all the rebuttal anyone needed.)

I may not be fond of the polka dots, but I sure do like the weblog...

Paul R. Pival said...

Are you sure that article wasn't in Fortune instead?

GATES VS. GOOGLE - Search and Destroy