Citing Materials from Archives Is Not for the Weak of Heart

Today I have been struggling with the skimpy guidelines provided by the Modern Humanities Research Association that tell you how to cite materials found in archives. I’ve used Chicago and MLA for this in the past, and gotten quite a few migraines trying to get the citations just so. But these MHRA guidelines are really not too fleshed out. Anyone out there know of a site that explains more fully how to interpret the MHRA rules?

My Favorite Bookmarklets

I rely on bookmarklets in my browser to handle some everyday tasks. These are the bookmarklets I use the most:

Scrapes out distracting elements of a page to improve readability of text.This works wonders on blog posts that you may be reading outside of your feed reader.

 

 

Instapaper

 

Mark something as “to read later” and add it to a list. You can download items from the list to your Kindle, etc., if you’re so inclined.

Selectively remove elements from a web page to make it easier to print out and use less paper.

 

Delicious

 

For bookmarking sites.

 

Rather than crowd up my browser toolbar with a string of bookmarklets, I used the tool featured in this Lifehacker post to combine them into a single window. I’ve got this bookmarklet combiner in my Firefox and Google Chrome toolbars. Very handy.

Underreporting of Drug Trade Carnage in Texas & Mexico

After hearing a great intervew of journalist Charles Bowden on the radio show On the Media, (the weekly podcast is one I can’t recommend enough) talking about his soon-to-be published book, Dreamland: The Way Out of Juarez, I put in an advance order for it via Amazon. The book came out just a month ago, and I’m finally getting into it. The book offers fragmentary views of life in El Paso, Texas, and its companion city across the US/Mexico, Ciudad Juarez. Each page has striking and often distrubing line drawings by Alica Leora Briggs that are loosely connected to the text on the page.

In his interview, Bowden notes that the shocking reality of what’s going on along the Mexico/Texas border hasn’t drawn the attention it deserves in the mainstream media:

Part of what you’re seeing on the border is a mutual fantasy or fraud perpetrated by both governments. On the U.S. side and these agencies are slowly being corrupted, and they’re being corrupted because the money’s so big. I’ve interviewed gang leaders in Juarez, and I’d say, how do you move drugs to El Paso? And they’d say, well, we use the Border Patrol and the U.S. Army. I’ve interviewed cartel members, and I said, don’t you ever worry about DEA and the FBI? And they’d say, no, we have people in there.

Now, I don’t think these stories are false, and certainly nobody in DEA has any trouble believing them. But they are buried. Nobody will talk about them out loud.

It’s not exactly beach reading but it is compelling in its own, dark way. Here is Bowden in his book contrasting the vision promoted by Ciudad Juarez boosters, which spotlights the city’s manufacturing output, with his own view of the city based on years his news reporting on the drug trade and the life of those at the bottom rungs:

The noise of all this work is so great that no one ever hears it. They do not hear the screams, the gunshots, the knives sliding into flesh. They do not even notice the work. Instead, everyone says the city is about producing various objects for export–car parts, vacuum cleaners, things like that. Of course, such products are tiny compared to the real production line, the one nobody speaks of, the one slamming out human beings, a factory line of drill presses and lathes and huge stamping devices and intricate wiring and instant delivery. No one on the line gets a bathroom break or any other time off from this conveyor belt of flesh. (p. 25)

 

Valuing Questions in Student Research

As I gear up to teach a three-credit course again that my library offers (Information Research in the Social Sciences and Humanities), I’m looking for new sources that I can have my students read that introduce them to a model of doing research that is focused on inquiry (questions). To that end, I’ve just started reading the latest edition (the fourth) of Kate Turabian’s Student’s Guide to Writing College Papers. Here’s a nice quote with language that I may incorporate into my spiel to my students about what research is actually about:

New college students are often surprised to discover that just knowing the facts is not enough for most teachers. It’s not enough in our own work: more than knowing things, what energizes us is our habit of seeking out new questions, the cast of mind that drives all research. And it’s not enough in yours: more than checking that you know the facts, we want to see what you can do with the facts, what new questions, combinations, possibilities, or puzzles you discover–or invent. We value and reward good answers, but we reward good questions more. (p. 2)

Glancing ahead at chapter two of Turabian’s book, “Finding a Research Question,” I see that there may be some really good material there that will help me with one of the trickiest parts of information literacy: teaching students how to develop a good research question.

Screencast: Using Yahoo! Pipes to Combine Feeds

Our library offers two blogs to staff. I’ve had requests lately to find out how I could take the feed for new posts on one blog and combine with the feed for new comments. Using Yahoo! Pipes, I did just that for the Reference at Newman Library blog today. Since I had to do the same for the other staff blog, Newman Library Idea Lab, I figured I might as well record a screencast showing how to do it.

 

If you don’t feel like sitting through the video, here’s the short version of what I did:

  1. Set up a Yahoo! account so I could use the Yahoo! Pipes service to make things (account set up years ago)
  2. Copied the URL for the new posts feed
  3. In Yahoo! Pipes, dragged the “fetch feed” button to the right in the workspace area of the page
  4. Pasted in thee URL for new posts feed into the fetch feed box
  5. Repeated steps 2-4 for the new comments feed URL
  6. In Yahoo! Pipes, dragged the “union” button from the “Operators” set of options on the left into the workspace and connected the feed box for the new posts and the feed box for the new comments to the union box
  7. Dragged the “sort” button from “Operators” onto my workspace and connected the “union” box to the “sort” box.
  8. Selected “descending” in the “sort” box so posts and comments would appear in reverse chronological order.
  9. Selected “item:pubDate” in the “sort” box to tell Yahoo! Pipes what to sort in descending order.
  10. Connected the “sort” box to the “Pipes output” box.
  11. Saved the pipe.
  12. Clicked “run pipe” so the service would generate a new URL for the combined feed.

Here are the relevant URLs for the second staff blog that I did this work for:

Thomas Jefferson on Ideas as “Property”

Nearly done with Lawrence Lessig’s Remix. In the final chapter, Lessig offers this great quote by Thomas Jefferson:

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. (p. 290).

The full quote can be found in a letter Jefferson wrote to Isaac McPherson on August 13, 1813, and is reprinted in volume 6 of The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Andrew A. Lipscomb and Albert Ellery Bergh (Washington: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1905). The letter can also be found online on a site from the University of Chicago Press.

In Defense of Amateurism on the Web

Here’s another quote from Lawrence Lessig’s Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy that caught my attention:

Just as Jefferson romanticized the yeoman farmer working a small plot of land in an economy disciplined by hard work and careful planning, just as Sousa romanticized the amateur musician, I mean to romanticize the yeoman creator. In each case, the skeptic could argue that the product is often better produced elsewhere–that large farms are more efficient, or that filters on publishing mean published works are better. But in each case, the skeptic misses something critically important: how the discipline of the yeoman’s life changes him or her as a citizen. The Long Tail enables a wider range of people to speak. Whatever they say, that’s a very good thing. Speaking teaches the speaker even if it just makes noise. (p. 132)

What’s the Best Place to Link to for Book Records?

As I’ve been composing blog posts, tweets, Facebook status messages, etc., on my various online accounts (as opposed to those institutional accounts that I have read/write privileges on), and have wanted to link to a book record somewhere, I’ve used a variety of different services. Now I’m wondering what works best for me and what works best for others. Here are the places that I’ve linked to book records over the years:

Amazon.com

  • Pros: Offers my readers a nice synopsis of a book, reviews of the book, and jacket art. When a book isn’t published yet, this is one of the few places that you can find record.
  • Cons: Amazon doesn’t really need my help in making sales. I’d rather link to places that feature borrowing opportunities and deprecate buying ones.

A Publisher’s Website

  • Pros: Good for books that aren’t yet published. Often provides author bios, reviews, jacket art, and excerpts.
  • Cons: URLs may not be as long-lived as those on other services. As with Amazon, I’d prefer to send my readers to places where borrowing is featured.

LibraryThing

  • Pros: Book is embedded in a rich social network; jacket art, reviews, recommendations of similar or related titles; Common Knowledge section allows users to add/edit info about books, authors, etc.
  • Cons: ???

WorldCat

  • Pros: Links to specific editions; borrowing opportunities are prioritized; jacket art; stable URLs; author info in WorldCat Identities section.
  • Cons: I don’t want my readers to think that OCLC has an exclusive on making book records available on the web when there are other useful options where the record data can be more freely reused. (I realize that this concern is, at best, half-baked; what other concerns should I have?)

Open Library

  • Pros: I can create new records or edit existing ones (check out my amateurish dabbling); good source of jacket art; the site is an open catalog for the public, whereas WorldCat is really more for libraries and library staff; stable URLs; catalog records can be easily reused.
  • Cons: You may have to create the record yourself for a newly published book (as I did just today for The Yahoo! Style Guide); catalogers are going to have bones to pick with some of the records (such as the ones I added).
  • Special note: John Mediema’s OpenBook plugin for WordPress does a beautiful job of displaying book information (via Open Library).

I’m really curious to hear what other folks are using when they want to link to books. I’m hoping that I’ll get some comments here, as I’m genuinely interested in what works for others and why.