This is a slightly expanded version of my column of news, views and snippets from the international literature of books, libraries, and information, which appears in LIASA-in-Touch, the newsletter of the Library and Information Association of South Africa
Maps and perceptions
When I joined IFLA staff in 2005, I found a map on display showing the world upside down. That is, the South Pole was at the top of the map and the North Pole at the bottom – to tell Europeans, Americans and other Northern Hemisphere inhabitants that the way we depict the globe is purely a convention and has no basis in physics or astronomy. For more on this, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South-up_map_orientation. (The importance of the Northern Hemisphere is also exaggerated by the way the commonly used Mercator projection distorts land masses. In it, Greenland (2.16 million square km, 56,000 inhabitants) looms forbiddingly over the rest of the world, dwarfing South America and Australia (7.69 square km). Isn’t it time we Africans also started putting our continent at the top of world maps using an equal-area projection, and placing these in all our schools?) See https://www.businessinsider.com/the-mercator-projection-distorts-countries-2017-6?IR=T. This is to remind readers to look up IFLA’s Library map of the world (https://librarymap.ifla.org/), an impressive source of information. (But it uses the Mercator projection and has North still at the top of the screen.) It shows that South Africa has 7,459 libraries, two-thirds of which are school libraries, and 1879 public libraries – but no community libraries. A matter of terminology?
In 2005 the IFLA Headquarters office also sported a notice saying: “The world will not end today. It is already tomorrow down under”. With that reassurance, I proceed to Australia. In the newsletter of the Conference of Directors of National Libraries in Asia and Oceania (CDNLAO), Kylie Johnson (2019) of the National Library of Australia, reported that Australian digital content since 1996 is available free of charge in the Australian Web Archive (AWA) (https://www.ndl.go.jp/en/cdnlao/newsletter/094/943.html). The AWA contains “snapshots” of hundreds of thousands of Australian websites, amounting to about nine billion records and 600 terabytes, and can be searched full-text via the Library’s online search facility, Trove (https://trove.nla.gov.au/).
Why do this? When I think back to when I was being trained as a librarian in the mid-1960s, just about all reference searches required looking in printed volumes. Bibliographic records were found using printed bibliographies and their endless supplements and cumulative volumes, such as the indexes of the H.W. Wilson Company (http://www.historyofinformation.com/detail.php?id=558). Addresses were found in annual street directories, where you could find out who was living at which address at the time the directory was compiled. (See https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/about-street-directories). That information was useful at the time, but it also has historical value. It enables a literary historian writing a biography of a poet or novelist to trace where her subject was living from year to year by using the annual street directories. She could also get a sense of what else was going on in that neighbourhood. By looking up the advertisements in newspapers of that time, an economic historian can check the price of butter and milk, and a costume designer can find pictures of what women were wearing in the 1880s. But today? All this information is available online – but not for long. If the websites offering such information are not archived, this ephemeral information is lost and we risk entering the “digital dark ages”. (See for example Bollacker (2010); also https://www.pri.org/stories/2018-01-01/scientists-warn-we-may-be-creating-digital-dark-age and https://www.newstatesman.com/science-tech/internet/2019/03/why-we-are-danger-entering-digital-dark-age-losing-huge-amounts-online).
The preservation of digital content – as distinct from the digital preservation of analogue content – has exercised minds in our profession for some time. I first became involved in this problem in the late 1990s, when I was at the then State Library and participated in a working group set up by the Conference of Directors of National Libraries. The Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish national libraries were among the pioneers in the field of archiving websites. Huge technical and logistical problems of “harvesting” (collecting), ingesting, organizing and preserving websites, and providing access to the archived sites, had to be overcome. The pioneers ran into legal problems. Harvesting websites from the Internet could infringe copyright. Legal deposit and/or copyright legislation had to be amended. There were also ethical and socio-economic issues (see for example Lor and Britz 2012). This topic could by itself fill several issues of LIASA-in-Touch. For a general overview, see Corrado and Moulaison (2014). Suffice it to say that we were able to learn from the experience of other national libraries. South Africa’s Legal Deposit Act (No. 54, 1997) (https://libguides.wits.ac.za/ld.php?content_id=5267962) was framed in such a way that current media of all kinds and media not as yet invented, are covered by it. (See in particular the definition of “document” in article 1(iii).) The hoped-for signing of our new Copyright Amendment Act, discussed by Denise Nicholson (2019) in an earlier issue of L-i-T will also help to clear the legal minefield for our legal deposit libraries. But to fully implement the Act, they will need more resources. For more on legal deposit in South Africa, see her Libguide on Legal Deposit at https://libguides.wits.ac.za/c.php?g=145508&p=953042.
Fauna and flora
Science is not always only about the very latest information. Biologists need to know what species of plants or animals they are studying, and to refer to them correctly. Organisms have been named using scientific names (basically Latin and Latinized Greek) since the Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus devised the binomial system of biological nomenclature, first published in his Systema Naturae in 1735. (Linnaeus included plants, animals and stones, but his classification of stones did not catch on among geologists.) Biologists also want to know when and where organisms were first found, and by whom they were first described. So the full scientific name of the humble House Sparrow is “Passer domesticus Linnaeus, 1758”, followed by a reference to the book in which it was first described, in this case, the tenth edition of Linnaeus’s own Systema naturae, in 1758. By convention, the first part of the name (the genus) is printed with an initial capital, while second part (the species) with a lower-case initial, both parts in italics. This example is from the seventh edition of Roberts birds of South Africa (Hockey, Dean, and Ryan 2005), a massive tome of 1296 pages, of which we are unlikely to see an eighth edition in print. A multimedia version is available as a cell phone app (http://www.sabirding.co.za/roberts7/android.html). It is unlikely to be preserved nearly as long as the print version.
To get back to the information needs of zoologists and botanists: they often have to refer to the earliest books in which species were described. This can be difficult, because some older books may have survived only in a handful of libraries scattered over the world. To make these sources more accessible, a consortium was formed in 2007 to make taxonomic information openly available through a digital portal https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/. Member institutions of the consortium, based at the Smithsonian Institution’s Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) in Washington DC, have scanned over 147,000 titles, with information on more than 180 million species of animals and plants. George Eberhart (2019) reports that this is greatly appreciated by biologists, to the extent that in 2015 a Hungarian zoologist named a new species of snail Vargapupa biheli, after the BHL (https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2019/06/03/bookend-biodiversity-heritage-library-finding-flora-fauna/). Maybe a fleet-footed organism would have been more appropriate.
Patience and Fortitude
I end with another animal story. This time not about library cats or parrots, but about Patience and Fortitude, the two marble lions that have for more than a century guarded the steps leading up to the New York Public Library. The library is a magnificent example of beaux arts architecture, and well worth visiting. The lions themselves are a much photographed New York landmark. In the New York newspaper amNewYork, Lisa Colangelo (2019) tells the story of how they got their names (https:/www.amny.com/news/nyc-public-library-lions-1.34925124). They were not formally named, but informally known as Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, after the library’s founders. It was only during the Great Depression (1929-1939) that they received their current names. The then mayor of New York, Fiorello Laguardia, thought that to survive the Depression the people of New York needed patience and fortitude, and that is how they got their names. Guarding a library 24/7 through summer heat and winter freeze is not for sissies, and this has taken its toll on the two statues. This summer they are getting a clean-up, using sophisticated restoration technology, to the tune of USD 250,000. A warm-blooded library kitty would have been more affordable.
Bollacker, Kurt D. 2010. ‘Avoiding a Digital Dark Age’. American Scientist 98 (April): 106–10.
Colangelo, Lisa L. 2019. ‘Library Lions Patience and Fortitude to Get $250G Restoration’. Am New York. Accessed August 17. https://www.amny.com/news/nyc-public-library-lions-1.34925124.
Corrado, Edward M., and Heather Lea Moulaison. 2014. Digital Preservation for Libraries, Archives, and Museums. Lanham MD; Plymouth, England: Rowman & Littlefield.
Eberhart, George M. 2019. ‘Bookend: Finding Flora and Fauna’. American Libraries Magazine. June 3. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2019/06/03/bookend-biodiversity-heritage-library-finding-flora-fauna/.
Hockey, P. A. R., W. Richard J. Dean, and Peter Ryan. 2005. Robertsʾ Birds of Southern Africa. 7th ed. Cape Town: Trustees of the J. Voelcker Bird Book Fund.
Johnson, Kylie. 2019. ‘Massive Time Capsule Captures Australia’s Modern History’. CDNLAO Newsletter, no. 94 (July). https://www.ndl.go.jp/en/cdnlao/newsletter/094/943.html.
Lor, Peter Johan, and Johannes J Britz. 2012. ‘An Ethical Perspective on Political-Economic Issues in the Long-Term Preservation of Digital Heritage’. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 63 (11): 2153–2164. doi:10.1002/asi.22725.
Nicholson, Denise Rosemary. 2019. ‘The Copyright Amendment Bill: Its Genesis and Passage through Parliament’. LIASA-in-Touch 20 (2): 16–17.