When I flew United on a regular basis, I loved reading the “three perfect days in …” articles. Now I fly Delta more often than not but I still think about those articles and what three perfect days in… where ever I am going would look like. In reality I have been away five days but two have been spent almost exclusively on planes and in airports across North America. So I had three days in Vancouver, BC. Part of the perfection is simply being in the Northwest. Deep into my bones I feel that is the part of the country where I belong. It will happen.
My reason for trekking to Vancouver in January was to attend the Modern Language Association Convention. I am on the Committee on Information Technology and a member of the Future of the Print Record working group/task force/committee ( not sure what our status is now). My meeting focused on issues related to both groups.
On Friday morning I attended the panel on the Future of the Print Record. Panelists representing the various groups presented statements about where we have been and where we need to be in the 21st century. This group began a year ago as a result of member’s requesting the statement that MLA issued in 1999 be re-visited. There were several people in the room and a good mix of faculty members and librarians. It seems the main issue is communication between groups and understanding the needs of scholars and students as well as the needs of the library. Librarians are really not trying to just throw out all the 19th century texts, the material this project is largely focused on, but there are 21st century issues to consider. This panel, as well as another that I attended, brought up good points regarding the differences between the digital and print versions. It is more than sentimental value for the print that has scholars concerned. More on that point later when I discuss the other panel. What we do need is input. The Future of the Print group has posted a statement on the MLA Commons and will be seeking input. The group includes representation from the major associations in the humanities as well as ARL, Ithaka, CLIR and faculty.
I attended a number of panels on digital humanities as well. These varied from panels who presented on the tensions present in defining digital humanities and who is “allowed” in the academy vs those who reside outside but who are creating legitimate and important resources in DH to presentations on research being conducted.
The most interesting discussion came from the large group who presented on disruption in digital humanities. Disruption creates necessary tension. Whose voices are heard and who is the academy trying to exclude? (or some in the academy?) Digital humanities is not the sole purview of academics.
The other panel that I found interesting and that intersected with the Future of Print panel, was on digital projects and issues in Antebellum American literature. In this panel there were remarks made that supported retaining 19th print, especially in particular formats. Leon Jackson, University of South Carolina, provided compelling reasons for retaining print periodicals and newspapers, for example. Jackson, no relation by the way, discussed the cultural contexts for newspapers in addition to textual contexts that make understanding how their size, format, and circulation inform literary scholars as well as scholars in other fields. The panelists also discussed the way the digital has changed reading practices and habits. On a flat screen everything is recto, as one panelist pointed out.
As a scholar who studied the history of reading and the book, I find these fascinating points and entirely true. As an administrator in an ARL library, I feel frustration about how to preserve print while meeting the needs of the 21st century student and faculty. The all or nothing approach is not feasible. We cannot discard the learning commons, the digital labs or other 21st century learning spaces to keep the print volumes on site on the shelf. Nor can we just say we must do it all on campus. We can, of course, but we won’t get far with that argument. One of the audience members stated that she was no longer concerned where the print resided but that it did and posited that what the real job is is making students understand the necessity of print in a world of digital. Others want all the books on the shelves in the library, however. These tensions between what scholars who do see the library as their lab (hooray for that) and what the library is becoming must be addressed in conversations. As I tweeted, faculty members must talk to their librarians and not merely feel like they are defending a certain group of materials. Librarians must also talk to faculty. And the vital point is that each group must also listen to the other group.