Internet Archive visit

Internet Archive glass     I’ve been wanting to take a trip to visit a Friday lunch at the Internet Archive for years since I heard about them. If you haven’t heard of or used it, it might be a shock to learn about its existence–since 1996, they’ve been “capturing” the Internet onto permanent, indexed, searchable hard drives on behalf of the public. The Wayback Machine is probably the most famous arm of this project, and one that I use to reference works I wrote way back when I was a music journalist for the online-only publication, Buzznet.

A year and a half ago, they moved from their old digs in the Presidio to their new digs in the former Christian Scientist building on Funston (at Clement) and done some renovating (along with their logo which now features the Roman columns on the building). It’s a beautiful space, and one that fits many “wings” of the organization that they’ve branched into collecting–sound, video, and, along with Google, a book digitization project which includes open access and a lending library, called Open Library. They are even suggesting the MegaReader app for iPhone/iPad users to access the collection.

Digital desk

Digital desk

As part of the lunch, each person had to describe why they were visiting or, if you work there, interesting progress or events from your project you are working on.  I was visiting for several purposes with one being that my library receives unique items which are often Quaker-related and can be rare. I was particularly interested in seeing how their digitization works after realizing they have quite an amazing collection of Quaker documents already in their library for free viewing (482 as of this writing). One of the key findings, for me, is how this work is being done and shared as a research tool for Quakers, especially those not living near a library that would stock such items. Unfortunately, the cost is around $.10/page to have your document scanned, unless you donate the item to them, so this will most likely be cost-prohibitive at this point but it does bring hope that, should someone have a large bequest, they could probably pay for the scanning of many Quaker documents and have them housed, potentially, forever on open servers and open to the public. Better than a physical library in many ways!

I was particularly engaged by the Director of this project, Richard, who came from a commercial background and now works for this non-profit. He’s a great

Internet Archive server rack

A slice of the Internet

person to head this project as he definitely had a feel for why and how the Open Library will deal with the Googlization of everything in a non-commercial way.

The Open Library project is working toward offering books in many formats compatible with many e-readers out there, and have built their own web-reader which makes it available in this future-compatible format. And, since this past holiday season, it’s getting easier and easier to have access to e-readers. I’ve been an ebook fan/reader since back in 2000 when I started library school using my HP Journada 540 with a black-and-white screen.

While I’m not sure the Internet Archive will truly ever compete with the commercial world, it will continue its efforts to bring free books to the public in many formats and continue the fight for bringing books to people free of charge, so hooray for that. I’m happy to see that this is another answer for libraries as opposed to complicated DRM files and outsourcing to paid-vendors like OverDrive.

Headphoneless: connecting to community

As part of a conference on Convergent Friends I went to a few weekends ago, I realized that one of my urban tools, headphones, were getting in the way of my connection to my community.

One of my previous posts mentioned my love, fascination, and complex relationship I have with my noise-canceling headphones.  I fell in love with them and their blessed ability to remove noise, creating a better BART ride, lower the volume on my iPod, and promote a calmer traveling experience.  What I didn’t count on was my disconnection from the world.

Public transit’s great, but I do miss the solitude of the car–listening to the radio or my own mix was a great way to pass the time and educate myself when I was growing up traveling those long Maine-distances between towns on the country roads.  Nowadays, I plug in, walk out my door and have a 30-minute walk/transit to work and do the same thing with headphones and iPod.  But what’s missing?  Why do I continue to isolate myself from others, the same as in a car, while being in community with my fellow travelers?

This idea came to me when we discussed the concept of “Quaker plain”–how early Quakers, in their quest to be closer to God avoided distractions in the physical world.  Clothing became functional, avoiding frills (even shirt collars and belts were forgone for collarless shirts and suspenders), speech became more direct, and other moves toward a simple life so as to give more attention to God.  I realized that my headphones were not creating silence, but creating a distraction from the world, an ability to trade a personal, inward growth and satisfaction over the challenges and beauty the world offers.

One idea that developed from that discussion was having an Internet Sabbath, a day free of digital connection.  I could hear groans in the room.  These days, this is pretty challenging for many young Friends.  But this, in truth, is another distraction.  Yes, a useful tool, but not a necessary one–like a collar.  I’m noticing, however, that there is something developing among young Friends called “New Plain” which this might fit into.

Secret readers

Remember when reading comics was considered uncouth by the literati.  Well, I do and I know that it wasn’t that long ago, and that it took Maus and Batman: the Dark Knight to bring the light of day to the rest of the world on comics as art that is now upon us.

a comic-strip biography

Louis Riel: a comic-strip biography

I bring this up after re-visiting Chester Brown‘s biography, Louis Riel, which absolutely blew me away a few years ago.  I was already a fan of I Never Liked You from years back (having discovered him via Drawn & Quarterly‘s Julie DoucetLouis Riel, the graphic novel, is actually a reprint of work he did back in the early 90’s, which makes it all the more impressive.  Thoroughly researched, deftly edited, and drawn with the sparse clarity of Japanese manga and condensed dialogue, Brown makes quick work of a folk hero from what is now Canada who is both lauded and unsung (and easily mentionable to any Canadian as a quick ‘in’ if you drop his name).

To bring this up, however, at a children’s book store with adults brought an unexpected surprise: we all shared in a love of graphic novels, secretly.  We’d never truly own it out loud (except via a blog, right?), but we all loved to talk about what really made us fans.  Was it the artwork of the incomparable Steve Ditko who inspired us to think in other dimensions about the reasons behind good and evil?  The mastermind of marketing of Stan Lee in our early years?  Or our affinity for the bleak altruism of Frank Miller?  An affinity for the sparse, beautiful ennui in Adrian Tomine’s youthful protagonists?  We loved them all under the “Graphic Novel” display one evening and wondered if anyone else in the room knew we’d found each other.

Children’s books redux

Every year I get to go on a binge of children’s lit, taking a survey of what is out there, what are the trends, how things have(n’t) changed, and discover new pearls among…well.  What’s challenging is to realize that, in actuality, children’s book publishing is becoming more extensive than in the past.  This might go against the folk myth that print is actually suffering from an influx of the Internet, whereas print materials have been expanding for years.  However, books are going out of print much more quickly than in the past, such that I need to purchase a book in 1-2 years if I want it in hardback, otherwise it’s gone to paperback and in 3-5 years (conservatively speaking) it may be out of print altogether if it isn’t on some best seller list somewhere.  Shelf real estate is valuable to libraries and to publishing houses!

On a side note, I’m discovering a lot of good tunes via Last.fm while working, with one gem being Joanna Newsom.  Unfortunately, this video is the size of a postage stamp on her site, but thank goodness for YouTube:

One for the po-mo business world

I’m digging on Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody: the Power of Organizing Without Organizations.  It’s outside my normal range of reading, but I’m interested in what he has to say on how “flat” organizations structures can actually come into fruition in today’s educational and/or Quaker environment (my spin on reading this).  I’m no business management person, but he’s definitely onto something with sections titled “Sharing Anchors Community” and “Everyone is a Media Outlet.”

It’s so interesting, I’m resisting the library’s recall notice (it’s on hold and I can’t renew it–gah!) until I’m finished with it.