Late last week, I promised to report on the “Library 2.0” Symposium at Yale Law School, in which I participated on April 4th. I arrived at New Haven with a lovely Keynote presentation to accompany my essay on “Kindle and the Labor of Reading,” only to discover that my laptop had died! Well, thank goodness for backup — which is to say nothing of the goodwill of Ted Byfield, my session moderator, who just happens to be a Mac/Keynote user. Whew. In any event, I expected to issue my Symposium wrap-up this past Monday or Tuesday, but the death of my laptop resulted in my having to push back the schedule a bit. Thanks for your patience.
All that’s just preamble, I suppose, to my saying that it was a fantastic event through and through. It brought together an extraordinary group consisting of librarians and library administrators, from places ranging from elite private universities to small rural communities; high-powered practicing attorneys (one who even litigated the Google book scanning case–representing the publishers) and equally high-powered law professors; digital library innovators; and a few humanities professors, like me. Kudos to the planning committee for making a concerted effort to forestall what so often happens at symposia like these: group think (or the compulsion to engage in it).
What was fascinating to me was to hear about how librarians are navigating a shift in their profession, from their maintaining chiefly archival responsibilities to their increasingly becoming information managers. (Laura DeNardis, the Executive Director of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, opened the event with a hilarious video documenting representations of librarians in the popular media, which only threw into relief the degree to which the library profession has so profoundly changed.) It was also intriguing to hear about the types of new archival problems that get posed within digital contexts, which raise all sorts of questions about privacy, propriety, and responsibility. My co-panelist Michael Zimmer, for example, discussed the ethics of libraries’ retaining patron borrowing, web browsing, and search information in an age in which “the library” is becoming as much a physical structure as a digital, database-driven “back-end.”
Another theme that reared its head again and again was academic publishing — especially the legal, economic, and scholarly pitfalls that result from the over-concentration of the scholarly publishing industry. I’ve written on the subject before — from the vantage point of cultural studies — and so I was fascinated to learn what the world of scholarly journal publishing looked like from a library perspective. Long story short, it doesn’t look good, save for the important Open Access initiatives that have appeared in recent years, which themselves raise all sorts of conundrums about opting out and re-publication. My favorite moment? When one conference participant showed a PowerPoint slide depicting concentration in the journal publishing industry, with a gargantuan sphereoid “Elsevier” appearing in red in the middle, as though it were gobbling up all the other companies around it. She said that she’d shown the slide before, and that it had come to be known colloquially as the “death star” slide. How apt.
Let’s just hope that the library — a tremendous public resource — doesn’t end up getting consumed by Elsevier or some other evil empire.