The Scoop On Content Curation & Scoop.It

Once Snip.It pulled the plug on the content curation site, thereby pulling the rug out from under the feet of content curators like myself, I began speaking with the fine folks at Scoop.It.

As always, Community Manager Ally Greer was there with more than kind, supportive words but with some action too. Thanks to her, and the other responsive folks at Scoop.It, there will be some great news coming from my now favorite curation site soon. (Hint: They are working on a way for the exported Snip.It file to be uploaded to Scoop.It; details to follow, so stay tuned!)

Meanwhile, I wanted to talk about why why many had not been using the site – like myself, had not been as dedicated to Scoop.It. After all, while many are scrambling to move their online curation, the same reasons why they hadn’t used Scoop.It before may very well still apply, right? And what better way to discuss this than with Guillaume Decugis, Co-founder and CEO of Scoop.It.

Thanks so much for making the time to discuss this with me, Guillaume.

Decugis: Thank you for giving us this opportunity to communicate with you as we try to find Snip.it users a solution to migrate their topics to Scoop.it.

You might not feel that way after I shoot some hard questions at you! Here’s the first one:

The problem, comparatively, with Scoop.It vs. Snip.It, was the limited number of collections or topics. Many of us had 20 or more collections, and even the business plan has a limit of 15. Can you explain Scoop.It’s reasoning for limiting the number of topics?

Decugis: In the very early phases of Scoop.it private beta, we were confronted with a very simple problem: some people were doing domain squatting on Scoop.it urls without actually using them to curate content. Scoop.it topic urls are unique and it works really well with our topic-centric model: we’re not just about curating content but we also strongly believe that we offer better discovery capabilities to our users by having this model where you curate, discover and follow topics. Making urls unique encourages users to be specific on the niches they cover. So preventing domain squatting was one pragmatic reason to implement topic limitation.

What we discovered since then is that even though we fully understand that some people might want to do more than these limits, this limitation actually forced them to focus on what they felt was essential — one of the objectives of content curation. Content curation in general, and Scoop.it in particular, is biased towards quality vs. quantity after all. We’re not saying you can’t have both, and there are exceptions, but so far the scheme has been working pretty well even though that’s of course something we might revisit at some point.

Of course, paying is also a concern. We obviously feel the pain of “free that can go away” (despite millions of dollars Yahoo! paid), but paid service sites also disappear… Can we be assured Scoop.It won’t vanish? Or at least not in a matter of minutes, without warning?

Decugis: First of all, we’re not forcing anyone to pay: Scoop.it is a free service and will always remain free. Free users are very valuable to us as they help the Scoop.it brand awareness by bringing qualified traffic to the platform. Thanks to them we grew from 0 to 7 million monthly since our launch. So everyone is welcome to use Scoop.it as much as they want for free. Premium plans are here to add value to professionals who want more from Scoop.it or businesses and companies who want to use content curation as part of their content strategy.

No company can ever say “we’ll be here forever”. However, I think free Web services without any implemented business models are likely to be much more vulnerable which is why it’s been very important to us to launch Scoop.it publicly only until we had a good idea what our business model would be. We had close to a year of private beta (yes, we took our time…) but this was very important to us to understand how the balance between free and paying users would work, what people or businesses would be ready to pay for and at what price. We can’t say the current model is perfect, nor that there won’t be any changes. But a bit more than 1 year after our public launch, we’re very happy with the revenue we’re generating, the number and growth rate of our paying customers and, more importantly, their strong loyalty to their premium plans and the low churn rate we’re observing. In the long run, profitability is the only thing that can guarantee any company’s survival and while growth has been our main focus, having a sound business model has been one of our other priorities from day 1.

The last thing I want to say about this is that we view Scoop.it as an open platform: we offer multiple interfaces with social networks but also blog platforms like WordPress or Tumblr as well as RSS feeds and an open API. This provides multiple export capabilities for our users’ curated content and we’ll enable even more in the future. We think the value we build as a company is in our active and growing community – not in locking up our users in a proprietary platform.

I know beggars can’t be choosers, but is there a way former Snip.it folks could get a discount on Scoop.it services?

Decugis: Though we’re happy for Ramy and the team at Snip.it and wish them the best in their integration with Yahoo!, we feel sad about the Snip.it service shutting down. We didn’t plan to do anything specific, but some Snip.it users like yourself have asked us whether they could import their Snip.it collections to Scoop.it and we’re investigating that. We don’t plan to offer a discount on Scoop.it premium plans, but we’re looking at what we can do to welcome Snip.it users who want to join our community while obviously being fair to our existing users. Stay tuned.

I can’t thank you enough for your time, Guillaume. Hopefully this will address the concerns and potential fears of people who are considering using Scoop.it.

As for me, my final thoughts are this: Scoop.It may be forcing us all to limit or tighten up our topics of interest (which does have both its pluses and minuses), even when you pay to play — but they’ve always had their strong points that can’t be refuted.

One, they’ve always had the best means of connecting and disseminating curated content to social media sites and blogs.

Two, they’ve always had the best method of suggesting content to a curator. In fact, they may be the only curation site to offer that option — which has proven to draw in members who may not even curate, but read and watch. Turning lurking subscribers into participating, engaged members is not to be undervalued.

Three, as you can see with this interview, the folks at Scoop.it are readily available to discuss issues, concerns, and suggestions.

As Guillaume Decugis and I have both said, stay tuned!

When Movie Theatres Die

I watched both of these on TCM a few weeks ago and was thrilled to find them available online. This Theatre and You was put out in 1948 by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to educate about the importance of movie theatres in a community — your community. And 1953’s The Case Against the 20% Federal Admissions Tax on Motion Picture Theatres provides a look at an industry which may seem like a dinosaur now, as we sit solo and absorb our individual digital media. But moving away from the shared experiences of film certainly explains a lot about the failings of old downtown centers and communities alike.

It’s well worth the little over 30 minutes of your life to watch both of these.

Image of the Fargo Theatre, 1941.

Cool Winter Events To Deal With Cabin Fever

Despite what the official website doesn’t say, Jay & Silent Bob Get Old will be here in Fargo on March 6th — I know, ‘cuz we got tickets!

Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith will be at the Fargo Theatre to kick-off the 12th annual Fargo Film Festival. (Yes, we have a film festival here in Fargo; no, we don’t just watch Fargo.) If you can’t make the Jay and Silent Bob show, don’t worry; the duo will be recording a podcast during the Fargo appearance.

I don’t know where you live, but there’s something going on where you live too…

How about going to see Daughters Of Lot and making me green with envy?

Want to participate, more than just watch? The Bunker Hill Community College Art Gallery is seeking female artist/creators and collectors of kitsch from the Mass and Boston area for a group showing March 8 through April 13, 2012, called Everything But The Kitchen Sink: Women Create and Collect KITSCH.

Work sought in varied media including 2-D works; photography, printmaking, drawings, painting, digital video, 3-D; sculpture, installations, etc. that would be considered within the category of kitsch. …Acceptance of work will be ongoing until Feb. 29. Notification will be immediate upon receipt. For consideration of artwork to be included in promotional material, please submit artwork ASAP!

Those interested should contact Ms. Laura L. Montgomery, M.F.A., Director of the BHCC Art Gallery at 617-228-2093; or email montgomery@bhcc.mass.edu &/or artgallery@bhcc.mass.edu.

If that’s not your thing, it’s not too late to catch the gallery’s THAT’S A FACT: Young, Gifted & Black, a group exhibition of Massachusetts/Boston area African American artists under 40. Another cool Black History Month idea.

“Protection To American Labor And American Industries”

I spotted this 1888 Benjamin Harrison silk handkerchief or scarf at Listia (if you don’t know what Listia is, check out my review), and I was so bummed to have the bidding surpass my meager credit balance.

A promotional item from Benjamin Harrison’s run for the presidency, it bears the slogan “Protection To American Labor And American Industries.” It makes you wonder — I mean really wonder — at the possibility of running on the idea of being pro-Union and pro-industry. I mean, progressives like me believe it’s possible, but would a single candidate dare today?

Anyway, now that I lost at Listia, I’ll have to keep checking eBay

PS  I’m pretty sure, based on the tears, that this antique textile is silk; but I have not touched it…

Mississippi Paper Burning (Hot Vintage Magazine Blog!)

I’ve fallen in love with a newly discovered blog: Visual Arts Library Picture & Periodicals Collections, part of New York’s School of Visual Arts. And not just because David Pemberton, the Periodical/Reference Librarian who runs the blog, linked to my (obsessively detailed) post on The Mentor magazine, either. (Though I am a sucker for librarians and curators — and links don’t exactly hurt.) No, I’m in love with this new-to-me blog because of it’s content.

Sure, the visuals are great — as you’d expect from a visual arts school library. But it’s more than that. It’s the writing. Not just the historical context I crave, but the frank tone I adore. Such as the delightful description of National Lampoon Magazine as having “heaping sides of boob and toilet humor.” (I know I’m a fan of heaping boobs and even side-boob *wink* I’ve even succumb to toilet humor plenty of times.)

But the best part is the mix of selected offerings. Again using the National Lampoon post, look at this gem from the August 1975 issue:

Many of the magazines have embedded publications in them that parody other actual publications, such as this one that is supposed to have been put out by the state of Mississippi Bar Association featuring articles on “Closing Those Loopholes in Mississippi Lynch Law” and “No-Fault Rape–New Concepts to Protect Our Menfolk:”

I’m absolutely dying to read that! I bet most of the satirical messages are still relevant today. But then I love to read what I collect. …How else can I obsessively research it, over-analyze it, blog about it?

The History, Legacy & Power Of Housewives (And Woman In General)

I found this photo of a National Housewives League meeting Detroit, Michigan, in 1945 while researching the Organized Housewives, a completely unrelated group.

The National Housewives’ League of America was founded in the early part of the twentieth century to advance the economic status of African Americans. Its mission was to encourage African American housewives to patronize African American-owned businesses through “directed spending.”

The Rev. William H. Peck and his wife Fannie B. Peck, after hearing Alben L. Holsey of the National Negro Business League and Tuskegee Institute speak about the successes of the Colored Merchants Association and the New York Housewives’ Association, were inspired to create similar organizations in Detroit. Rev. Peck organized the Booker T. Washington Trade Association in April 1930. Mrs. Peck, believing that the support of those women who controlled most household budgets — housewives — was essential to any business success, founded the Housewives’ League of Detroit on June 10, 1930, with 50 members. In the next couple of years, Mrs. Peck went on to organize leagues in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Toledo, Ohio; Indianapolis, Ind.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Jacksonville, Fla. By 1932, Alben Holsey, impressed with the response of the women in the leagues, invited Mrs. Peck and the other league representatives to meet in New York City to form a national committee, which Mrs. Peck chaired. The following year, the national committee met in Durham, N.C., in concert with the National Negro Business League, and formally organized the National Housewives’ League of America, Inc. Mrs. Peck was elected the first president of the organization.

I find this notion of housewives, and the purchase power of women in general, quite incredible… Normally we only hear of the economic power of those who control most household budgets in terms of boycotts, not as positive actions and long term change-making acts too.

Some related facts on the economic powers of women, which I heartily suggest you use to best impact social and economic change along with your household budget:

From 2005 Wow! Quick Facts Book, published by United States Census Bureau:

* Women control 80 percent of household spending
* They make up 47 percent of investors
* Women buy 81 percent of all products and services
* They buy 75 percent of all over-the-counter medications
* They make 81 percent of all retail purchases
* Women buy 82 percent of all groceries
* Women sign 80 percent of all checks written in the United States
* They make up 40 percent of all business travelers
* They make 51 percent of all travel and consumer electronics purchases
* Women influence 85 percent of all automobile purchases
* They head up 40 percent of all U.S. households with incomes over $600,000
* They own 66 percent of all home-based businesses
* Women have been the majority of voters in the United States since 1964

For more information on the history of the Housewives League, see Housewives League of Detroit (HLD) and the records at Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan (where the images are from).

Cheap Thrills Thursday: Discarded Stockings Go To War & End Up At The Hingham Shipyard

stockings-go-to-warAwhile ago, folks working on The Launch at the historic Hingham Shipyard, contacted me about one of my pieces of ephemera, a page from Modern Woman Magazine (Volume 12, Number 2, 1943) with the article “How Your Discarded Stockings Go To War.”

They wondered about using the image in the series of panels which would be placed along pedestrian walkways, creating a walking tour educating people about and commemorating the history of the shipyard’s role in World War II. In case you don’t know, the Hingham Shipyard was one of the largest shipbuilding centers in the entire country, where over 2500 women worked, putting out over six ships each month.

Long story short, I’ve finally got photos of my contribution to the Hingham Shipyard Historical Exhibit, included on the ‘Home Front Sacrifices’ panel (the one with the children & Victory Garden veggies).

hingham-shipyard-historical-exhibit

panels-at-hingham-shipyard-launch

closeup-of-home-front-sacrifices-panel

Cheap Thrills Thursday: 1907 Englishwoman’s Snark On Fashionistas

The piece, a little beauty titled “Woman’s Dress and Women’s Homes,” in which an Englishwoman ever-so-politely snarks about the mode of American dress, was written by Anna A. Rogers (originally in the Atlantic and then published in the November 4, 1907 edition of The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican). In the article, Ms. Rogers quotes an unidentified Englishwoman who had apparently spoken to an unidentified “writer in one of our western cities especially given over to the national passion for dress.”

The authenticity, sincerity, and/or seriousness of this piece is up to you to decide; as is Ms. Roger’s intent. But comments like “a slovenly ‘slavey’ attends the door,” sure are telling enough on their own.

nov-4-1907-womens-dress-and-homes-snark

This little bit of joy was discovered via the many hours I spend nerdily reading antique newspapers on microfilm at the Fargo public library (because, as they say, “Library, library, more than a book!”), and so my cost was free — unless you count my taxes, which I am most happy to see go to the preservation and presentation of such things.

Cheap Thrills Thursday: Of Storks In My Collection & Contraception

shoo-vintage-stork-postcardA few months ago, a gentleman contacted me about one of the items in my “vintage stork” collection. The antique postcard, postmarked 1908, depicts a couple shoo-ing away a baby-delivering stork; the gentleman was James M. Edmonson, Ph.D., Chief Curator of the Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum at the Case Western Reserve University; and he was asking if I could get him a larger high resolution scan of the postcard for inclusion in a new gallery the museum was working on.

Could I? Would I? Um, this is exactly the sort of stuff that floats my boat! Not only is my object connecting me with others, with history, but the gallery is for Virtue, Vice, and Contraband: A History of Contraception in America — a new exhibit at the Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum that examines 200 years of the history of contraception in the United States.

So, naturally I did whatever I could to get the chief curator the graphic. And here it is, on the left-hand side of the display designed by guest curator Jimmy Wilkinson Meyer from The College of Wooster:

history-of-contracption-percy-skuy-collection-at-dittrick

The exhibit (launched September 17, with Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, author of Rereading Sex: Battles over Sexual Knowledge and Suppression in the 19th Century America, at the Zverina Lecture), depicts the social and cultural climate that influenced birth control decisions in this country, says James Edmonson, chief curator at the Dittrick:

The exhibit reveals a longstanding ignorance of essential facts of human conception. For example, that a woman’s ovulation time was not discovered until the 1930s by two doctors, Kyusaku Ogino in Japan and Hermann Knaus in Austria. Before and after this finding, desperate women went to great length to prevent pregnancies. The exhibit explores less well known (and dangerous) methods such as douching with Lysol or eating poisonous herbs like pennyroyal, as well as conventional means such as the IUD or the Pill.

“A remarkable body of literature was available to assist newly married couples and others,” says Edmonson. “These books were not displayed publicly, on the coffee table, but hidden in a private place.”

He cites examples such as Charles Knowlton’s Fruits of Philosophy, or the Private Companion of Young Married People (1832) and the popular 18th century book on anatomy, reproduction, and childbirth, Aristotle’s Masterpiece.

In addition to literature, the exhibit draws upon and incorporates the vast collection of contraception devices donated to the university in 2005 by Percy Skuy. The Canadian collector had amassed the world’s largest collections of such devices over the course of four decades.

The exhibit starts in the early 1800s, before Anthony Comstock, lobbied Congress to pass the Comstock Act of 1873, responding to what he viewed as a moral decline after the Civil War.

“It was a watershed year. The Comstock Act made it illegal to sell contraceptives or literature about contraception through the mail,” says Edmonson.

While Congress legally barred contraception, a black market for such products and literature flourished. Comstock went undercover to search out and turn in violators of his law in his crusade to stamp out what he defined as smut and obscenity.

In the early 20th century, women’s advocate Margaret Sanger opened a birth control clinic and research institute, flaunting the Comstock Law. Eventually her efforts evolved into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The exhibition highlights some ancient methods of birth control and presents information about the influence of religion on contraception.

“We wanted to have a multi-faceted look at the topic of contraception,” Edmonson says.

Future plans are to expand this exhibit with a companion book, a kiosk where additional information can be accessed on the birth control collection, and an extensive online site available worldwide.

I love that my old postcard is hanging out with Margaret Sanger — well, it does that here at home, but now it’s part of the larger public story. And that’s cool.

Now I must get myself to Cleveland, Ohio to see it!

Hip-Hip Hooray — Museums Not “Low Priority!”

From the Mountain-Plains Museums Association, this update on museum funding:

Brief from American Association of Museums

Amendment Targeting Museums Defeated; Field-wide advocacy efforts credited with victory over Sen. Coburn’s latest effort!

Sept. 16, 2009- Congratulations, museum advocates! Thanks to your efforts, the Coburn/McCain amendment (S. Amdt. 2372) – which would have prohibited ANY funding from the Transportation Appropriations bill (H.R. 3288) from going to ANY museum – was defeated on the Senate floor today. The amendment, which states, “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used for a museum,” was rejected by a vote of 41-57!

An additional amendment offered by Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and John McCain (R-AZ) – (S. Amdt. 2371) which would have waived a requirement that states set aside 10% of their overall funding for Transportation Enhancements (including historic preservation and museums, among other programs) – was also defeated by a vote of 39-59. Sen. Coburn had initially offered another amendment (S. Amdt. 2370) that would have prohibited funding from going to transportation museums and other TE projects, but later withdrew it.

Since 1992, the Transportation Enhancement Program has provided at least $110.6 million to support museums.

During Senate floor debate yesterday and today, Senator Coburn repeatedly referred to museums as “low-priority” entities that did not deserve federal transportation funds in these difficult economic times.

In response, Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) defended Transportation Enhancement (TE) projects and highlighted their value to communities.

Sen. Carper highlighted the impact of TE funds on Wilmington, DE where they are being used to revitalize the waterfront district, including a science and trail center that will engage and educate thousands.

Sen. Boxer noted that TE programs and projects, “put hundreds of thousands of Americans to work” and “improve the quality of life for millions of Americans.”

“This is a great victory for the museum field and I want to thank each and every advocate who contacted their Senators to urge a No vote on these amendments,” said AAM President Ford W. Bell. “To have Senators Barbara Boxer and Tom Carper speak on the Senate floor about the many ways in which museums create jobs, revitalize communities, and preserve our national heritage is very heartening. But the fact that these amendments continue to come up and are supported by more than a third of the Senate reflects that we need to strengthen our field-wide advocacy efforts.”

Please take a moment to THANK the U.S. Senators who voted NO on these harmful amendments.

You can reach any of them by calling the Senate switchboard at 202-224-3121:

Akaka (D-HI)
Alexander (R-TN)
Baucus (D-MT)
Begich (D-AK)
Bennet (D-CO)
Bennett (R-UT)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Bond (R-MO)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Burris (D-IL)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Cardin (D-MD)
Carper (D-DE)
Casey (D-PA)
Cochran (R-MS)
Dodd (D-CT)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Franken (D-MN)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Hagan (D-NC)
Harkin (D-IA)
Inouye (D-HI)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kaufman (D-DE)
Kerry (D-MA)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Lieberman (ID-CT)
Lincoln (D-AR)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Merkley (D-OR)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Murray (D-WA)
Nelson (D-FL)
Nelson (D-NE)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reed (D-RI)
Reid (D-NV)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Sanders (I-VT)
Schumer (D-NY)
Shaheen (D-NH)
Shelby (R-AL)
Specter (D-PA)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Tester (D-MT)
Udall (D-NM)
Warner (D-VA)
Webb (D-VA)
Whitehouse (D-RI)
Wicker (R-MS)
Wyden (D-OR)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sen. Coburn has targeted funding for museums before. Earlier this year Sen. Coburn attempted to prohibit museums from competing for or receiving any funds from H.R. 1, the economic stimulus bill. While the prohibition on museums was not included in the final version of the bill, Sen. Coburn’s amendment to prohibit museums was approved on the Senate floor by a 73-24 vote. In the end, the word “museum” was dropped from the final prohibition, but zoos and aquariums remained barred from competing for economic stimulus funding.

If your representative was a good boy or girl, please do call and them them; like the MPMA says, thanking is part of advocating. I will. (And after my ranting at Senator Dorgan yesterday, he and his staff would likely enjoy me calling with happy sentiments!)

Culture Is Conversation; Illiteracy Silences Voices

Each year since November 17, 1965, UNESCO reminds us of the status of literacy and adult learning globally with International Literacy Day. Currently the state of illiteracy is alarming:

* one in five adults is still not literate
* two-thirds of those are women
* 75 million children are out of school
* many more children attend school irregularly or drop out

As I do not posses the concise elegance that Gabriel Zaid and translator Natasha Wimmer have, I’d like to illustrate the importance of literacy with another quote from So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance:

Culture is conversation. Writing, reading, editing, printing, distributing, cataloguing, reviewing, can be fuel for that conversation, ways of keeping it lively. It could even be said that to publish a book is to insert it into the middle of the conversation, that to establish a publishing house, bookstore, or library is to start a conversation — a conversation that springs, as it should, from local debate, but that opens up, as it should, to all places and times.

Culture, in the anthropological sense of “way of life,” manifests and reproduces itself live, but it is also a collection of works, tools, codes, and repertoires that may or may not be inert text. The same is true of culture in the limited sense of “cultural activities.” In both senses, what is important about culture is how alive it is, not how many tons of dead prose it can claim.

How much of our culture — of other cultures — are dead or dying due to illiteracy? How many tons of text dead because no one can claim it?

How many conversations void of voices, their owners unable to crack the codes to participate in them? If you blog, how many people are missing from your published conversations? And how many conversations do not even exist because people are unable to start them?

I don’t think we can afford such losses.

Here are six simple things we can do to increase literacy:

Just Who Destroys Books & Libraries?

a-universal-history-of-the-destruction-of-books-from-ancient-sumer-to-modern-day-iraqAfter reading So Many Books: Reading & Publishing in an Age of Abundance, I was delighted to serendipitously discover a copy of A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern-day Iraq, by Fernando Baez (translated by Alfred MacAdam), staring me in the face from the “new arrivals” display at the public library.

I’ve always wondered just who would destroy books and libraries — and why. Here was my chance.

The book’s Introduction sums it up best:

It’s common error to attribute the destruction of books to ignorant men unaware of their hatred. After twelve years of study, I’ve concluded that the more cultured a nation or a person is, the more willing each is to eliminate books under the pressure of apocalyptic myths. In general, biblioclasts are well-educated people, cultured, sensitive, perfectionists, painstaking, with unusual intellectual gifts, depressive tendencies, incapable of tolerating criticism, egoists, mythomaniacs, members of the middle or upper classes, with minor traumas in their childhood or youth, with a tendency to belong to institutions that represent constituted power, charismatic, with religious and social hypersensitivity. To all that we would add a tendency to fantasy. In sum, we have to forget the stereotype of the savage book destroyer. Ignorant people are the most innocent.

You could take that at face value — but I preferred to continue reading how Baez came to that conclusion.

In the Note for the English Translation, Baez suggests the following:

I suggest not reading it beginning-to-end because, in its way, this book is an anthology of possible books. The reader, with no remorse, can start reading anywhere. So, dear reader, you are invited to embark on a circular, but, I hope, intellectually stimulating adventure.

Intrigued, I tried to randomly jump around — which is as unlikely as it sounds. Not only an oxymoron & unorthodox, but honestly, after six out-of-order chapters, I found myself desiring the book’s beginning to end layout which (mainly) mirrors a linear progression of time. Not only was this contextually refreshing, but, as a student of US public schools, I enjoy reinforcing what little knowledge of a time line of history I currently possess — & expanding new nuggets of information into such a stately progression was helpful too.

Along with the usual suspects in the destruction of books (natural enemies, such as fire, water, bugs, sunlight, etc.), there’s plenty of discussion, exploration, & historical documentation of those who applied the destruction on purpose. Book burning and book eating may result in the same thing as books on a sunken ship, but these actions usually had very different intents, so Baez covers the many ways to destroy books — accidental & by design. Censorship, on individual & public scales, may seem simple, but Baez exposes the stories behind the persons, passions, politics, prosecutions, and procedures.

Unexpected delights (in terms of chapters or topics — because the whole book is full of both the unexpected, the delightful, and the delightfully unexpected — even the losses are bittersweet for at least I’d heard of them now) included the chapter, Books Destroyed in Fiction.

This book not only affirmed my love of books & libraries, but reminded me how little I know… Including ignorance to relatively current events.

Like while I was very aware of the looting of museums in Iraq (especially after attending MPMA conferences), I never knew about the destruction, looting & losses libraries in Iraq suffered.

And how did I not know there was a fire at the Los Angeles Central Library in 1986 — in my lifetime? Not just any fire, but a deliberately set fire; a fire that must have been fueled with irony for it was both “the single worst library fire to take place in a nation where the most modern mechanisms for the protection of libraries exist,” and a fire started on April 28, 1986, just six days after the international Day of the Book.

Now that A Universal History of the Destruction of Books: From Ancient Sumer to Modern-day Iraq has made me aware of just how ignorant I am, I’ve set Google Alerts for library news.

Museums Need Your Help!

Did you know that the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) provided $210.5 million to libraries in 2006, while museums received only $36.5 million? Why the difference? Federal formula grants given from IMLS directly to the states accounted for $163.7 million of IMLS’ library authorization.

As a member of the Mountain-Plains Museums Association (MPMA), I was shocked to discover this through my most recent member newsletter. Hey, I’m all in favor of the libraries getting money — but I want museums to get funds too.

August is recess time for elected officials — and that means it’s a great time for you to contact your members of Congress to tell them to support comprehensive reauthorization of IMLS for museums; remaining silent is to communicate complacency.

What we — you & I — have to do is persuade Congress about a new appropriation for museums. We need to convince our Congressional leaders to support a new grant program for museums when IMLS is reauthorized (which could happen as early as this fall). The new grant program, called Federal-State Partnership Grants, would allow IMLS to provide grants to each state which would then distribute funds based on needs determined by individual states.

But museums can’t get these funds until Congress has included the Federal-State Partnership Grants in IMLS’ reauthorization. That’s why it’s important that you tell your Congressional leaders to support IMLS reauthorization and the Federal-State Partnership Grants.

If you ‘get it’ and agree, all you have to do is go here, fill out your information, and then click either “edit/print your letters” or “edit/send email” (editing is optional). Simple! And needed.

If you’re still confused, then keep reading…

I know this post is long; I wish I could just link to all this information, but, possibly because they are grossly under-funded, museums are sorely lacking in text web pages (opting, instead, for PDFs & files most people are too lazy to open & read). So, doing my bit for museums across the USA… Here’s what museums want:

Reauthorization Congress reauthorizes the Office of Museum Services (OMS) at the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) every five years. The Federal-State Partnerships Coalition supports an incremental increase in OMS reauthorization to the level of $95 million (from current $38.6 million) over the next 5-year reauthorization period, scheduled to begin FY 2010. The Office of Museum Services at IMLS is the primary source of federal support for America’s 18,000 museums. With nearly flat growth at OMS over time, attendance has increased and museum services to school and communities are needed and wanted more than ever. The Federal-State Partnerships Coalition supports growth at IMLS through:

  • Strengthen Existing National Program to provide a significant increase (minimum of $45 million) for existing programs that have been insufficiently funded for years.
  • State Needs Assessments—Once appropriations exceed $45 million, up to $2 million per year appropriated for states to conduct needs assessments with museums. The needs assessments are an important first step toward establishing a federal-state partnership program through federal formula grants to the states.
  • Conservation, Traveling Exhibits, and Helping Smaller Museums as appropriations rise above $47 million to $72 million, establishing new grants for conservation and traveling exhibitions, as well as programs that will make it easier for small museums to compete in the national grant pool at IMLS.
  • Federal-State Partnership Grants to States, a federal-state partnership to be appropriated once OMS exceeds $72 million. The IMLS Director would have discretion to provide up to $20 million of any annual appropriation in excess of the $72 million mentioned above. Once appropriations reach $92 million, the IMLS Director would have discretion to provide up to 50% of all excess funds toward the federal-state partnership.

Appropriations for FY 2010 – The Federal-State Partnerships Coalition supports the Office of Museum Services at IMLS at the level of $50 million for FY 2010 – a $15 million increase over FY09 and provided through the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill.

For more information, see the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH); the AASLH serves as the Coalition Administrator for a network of state, regional, and national organizations — the Federal-State Partnerships Coalition.

Now, send those letters!

For more on this issue, see also:

Representatives Paul Tonko (NY-21) and Louise Slaughter (NY-28) circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter on this issue, prompting Whoa! A Letter Reveals The Need to Cultivate Congress at ArtsJournal.com.

The IMLS’ Connecting to Collections developed a video to underscore the importance of collections held in museums, libraries and archives throughout the U.S., and to inspire communities to take action.

Have You Been… To The Smithsonian?

The Smithsonian Institution was founded on this date (August 10th) in 1846. Named for British scientist James Smithson, who willed his fortune to the U.S. to establish the institution, today the Smithsonian is made up of 19 museums (including the National Air and Space Museum — the most visited museum in the U.S.), the National Zoo, and nine research centers. The Smithsonian houses more than 136 million items in its collections, earning it the nickname of “the nation’s attic.”

north-facade-smithsonian-building