30 March 2012

Newman on Reading

"It is our duty to live among books, especially to live by ONE BOOK, and a very old one."
-Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman, Tracts for the Times, no. 2

Giussani on Imagination

"To have imagination means to be able to see the world in its totality."

-Fr. Luigi Giussani, At the Origin of the Christian Claim

27 March 2012

Day of DH: Thomistic Roots

I shouldn't be blogging at all today with a paper to finish, but as I logged into my feed reader today I realized it is Day of DH. For those of you who are non-librarians, Day of DH is a day when digital humanists around the world spend some time documenting what they do, usually by blogging or shout-outs in the Twitter-sphere. I'm not a digital humanist, but I have a marginal interest in DH activities, especially because I'm interested (as any archivist who wants to survive the future) in digital archiving and  preservation. There are a lot of really cool DH projects out there, done by both scholars and non-academics. One of my favorites is the Rosetti Archive (it's cool to see the poems and art of a poet-artist juxtaposed on the same page). Despite some attitudes to the contrary, the humanities are not dead, and technology is only helping to re-vitalize them.

One interesting piece of trivia about digital humanities, humanities computing, or whatever you want to call it, is that it has Jesuit origins. Fr. Robert Busa, S.J., collaborated with IBM to conduct linguistic analysis on the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, resulting in the production of the Index Thomisticus. Fr. Busa, bless his heart, spent years working with punch cards to produce this. He began this not in the 1980s, nor the 1970s, but 1949 (!). He is known as an early pioneer in digital humanities, and his death last year was a loss for the international DH community. So take a few minutes today to see what is happening in DH!

Fateful meeting with St. Thomas: a drawing from Fr Busa's last Christmas card (2010).

On Twitter: #DayofDH

25 March 2012

Holy People Reading, Annunciation Edition

The Virgin Mary, Ghent Altarpiece. Hubert van Eyck, 1432
The Virgin Mary Reads (at least in Christian art).

Happy [early] Feast of the Annunciation!

24 March 2012

Intolerance, Censorship, & Other Requirements of Rationality

From time to time I will likely reflect on censorship here, because it is an issue that demands more nuanced examination in the modern library landscape. Not, however, the kind of attention that library advocates usually give to it. Most of the library world (in my view) has a visceral reaction to any mention of "censorship," as if its very name was capable of beckoning twisted Inquisitionists back from the dead to steal our freedoms (I silently roll my eyes every time I sit in an LIS class and hear my professor ask us rhetorical questions about our opposition to censorship). Library advocates, most notably the American Library Association, are decidedly opposed to censorship in any form. The ALA's Library Bill of Rights states:
III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of the their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.
So there is a general patent assumption that censorship is intrinsically bad and an impediment to intellectual freedom. (My local public library even recently re-affirmed its decision to not filter p*rn on its computers, in the name of not invading patron privacy, and I guess, avoiding the expense of filtering software). Considering popular historical associations with censorship, such as government and school banned books lists, and the reputed Index Librorum Prohibitorum, issued by the Catholic Church, any discussion of censorship still carries significant political and emotional charges. 

I don't think we ought to up and start banning books again, but I do think that the ALA's outright opposition to censorship is an erroneous position. I also think that many librarians need to re-think their approach to public service in regards to serving patron 'wants'. This may have more bearing on personal philosophy than on library policy, but trusting too much in Enlightenment values can be an obstacle to intellectual freedom in itself. 

Lux in Arcana

In case you need an excuse to finally go on pilgrimage, or (if you don't happen to be religious) visit the Eternal City, this exhibit is your ticket. Lux in Arcana (Latin for "light on the secrets") is a spectacular showcase of 100 documents from the Vatican Secret Archives, never before shown to the public. The exhibition opened March 1st and runs through September 2012, at the Capitoline Museums in Rome.

Some of the items featured include Galileo's conviction, the letter instrumental to the Anglican schism begun by the affairs of Henry VIII, the document proclaiming the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, and the bull of Martin Luther's excommunication, among many other very cool things. If you can't make it to Rome, or simply want to whet your appetite for the real experience to come, the exhibition's well-produced website features a selection of the items, which you can browse here. You can also buy the exhibition catalog here.

I should have mentioned in the last post that the Vatican's reputation for clunkiness in web design also extends to the Vatican Museums (whose site seems to be stuck in the '90s), and to a lesser degree, the Vatican Library (which recently underwent a massive renovation a few years ago). The Vatican Secret Archives, on the other hand, has got itself a little more with the times with its very sleek website.

I dearly hope that I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit this exhibition sometime in the coming months. 


Information Architecture: Vatican Edition

Homepage of The Holy See.
The Vatican gets a lot of flak for its website (it was playfully critiqued during a design review exercise in my first Web Design class last semester, and I hope it doesn't remain the only window into the Church's online presence for my peers). If you've spent any amount of time on the site, you know well the frustration of getting lost, or at the very least, finding an apostolic letter or encyclical in only Hungarian and Italian (personally, Latin-only is less of a problem, although it does take longer to read).  It contains so many documents that I'm not sure I blame their tech people for their 'bare bones' approach. I've often joked that if I ever wanted to be employed for life, I would work my way into web development for the Holy See. But like any site, visit it often enough, and you'll get the hang of navigation. That is, if you know what you're looking for. If you don't know what an encyclical or apostolic constitution is, the current layout will not be helpful at all. This saddens me, because there is enough good reading on this site to last a lifetime, and navigation shouldn't be an obstacle.

22 March 2012

St. Josemaría on Reading

"Don't neglect your spiritual reading. Reading has made many saints."
-St. Josemaría Escrivá

21 March 2012

"Junk Food" Lit as Reading Bait

Today the Crescat muses over The Hunger Games and the lamentable phenomenon of much teen or YA (Young Adult for those who aren't familiar with library speak) lit.

...but not everything.

For the most part, I tend to agree. There is a lot of junk in the Teen Lit universe. It is true that sometimes kids and teens (and now that I think about it, even a lot of adults) who need some sort of literary "fluff" to turn them on to reading. But young people who are whiling away the hours reading, e.g., the Gossip Girl series, are almost certainly reading at the expense of intellectual and moral muscle. Sometimes a kid picks up a book like Twilight and it begins a lifetime of reading. But I think there is a greater possibility that those whose first gravitate towards reading purely because of YA fluff (especially that with more sexual content) will turn out to be the same people who can't live without their fix of Cosmopolitan magazine, unless something helps to otherwise shape their reading habits. It's not the reading their interested in, but the juicy content (why, oh why else, are Danielle Steele novels still in print?).

There tends to be an attitude in the library world that any reading, especially by young people, should be cause for celebration. I was annoyed, but not surprised, at the actually graphic content of some graphic novels I had to review for a Collection Development class last year that were aimed at tween boys (nearly nude women and drug use, anyone?)*. I'm of the mind that any instance of good reading, by anyone, is what ought to be celebrated.  Kids have to learn that it's eating their literary 'vegetables' that makes them strong. Parents, despite their often cynical impressions, have a significant role to play in forming good life-long reading habits in your children (yes, even teens). And what a lot of Catholic parents do have going for them is that they exercise more discretion in what their children read than your average mom and dad, who are just happy that the children have something to keep then occupied (if you are a parent doing this in regards to either books or television, you may want to re-think your strategy).

St. John Bosco on Reading

"No poison is more fatal to youth than bad literature. More than ever today, [bad] books are to be feared because of their abundance and disguise. If you value your soul, do not read them unless you have you confessor's approval or the advice of other learned, pious persons. I repeat--learned and pious."

"Above all, avoid bad reading. If a book, indifferent in itself, should upset you, put it away. Willingly read good books, preferably those which treat of Mary and of the Blessed Sacrament."

-St. John Bosco