Check back here on 4/27 for a summing up of the Workshop.
@jim-connolly many thanks for the excellent summing up, and for all the hard work from you and your colleagues in order to make the workshop a success.
I'm wondering whether sharing potential resources for future research projects might be something you would want to consider as part of this network? One thing that strikes me (and I'm sure I'm not alone here) is that we often come upon forgotten or underutilised archives with circulation records - many of these are themselves in an endangered or precarious state, because of the lack of resources for preservation or digitisation. And often, because of other priorities, or due to funding applications that weren't successful, these can fall by the wayside, when perhaps, a collective effort might be useful.
I'd like to share with you and all the workshop participants information about something I discovered a while ago - the library circulation record cards of the British Institute of Florence. These record cards cover the period from c.1962 until 2003, when the electronic catalogue was completed. It is estimated that the circulating library held some 50,000 titles at the time of the conversion, and that the bulk of the cards have been kept. Each card contains the following information:
- Author of the work;
- Title of the work;
- Dewey decimal number;
- Progress number (not consistent);
- Due date for each borrowing;
- Borrower name, stamped over (‘RESTITUTO’) on return - this can be verified by cross checking with membership records.
- Some cards continue the borrowing record on the recto, and for some books there are also second and even third cards.
I had known about the existence of these cards for a long time (since 2007) but had never actually looked at any of them properly, until a trip in 2017, when I found I had a couple of free days, and I hand sorted and examined half a box of records (c.3600 cards). I estimate there are somewhere between 36,000 and 48,000 of these record cards. The Library of the British Institute of Florence is a very particular kind of library. It is a private, membership only library, serving two specific communities: (a) the large resident British (and American) anglophone community living in Tuscany; and (b) Italians studying literature and humanities in English. Effectively, the circulation records could provide fairly robust information about the borrowing habits of these two Anglophone Florentine communities over four decades. When I last visited in 2019, the cards were still sitting in boxes in the attic; I've no idea if they have still been kept, but I should think this is a valuable resource for anyone interested in library circulation data? It is I think, a prime candidate for a funded project, and I'm happy to provide additional information if anyone wants to follow this up.
Thanks again for an excellent workshop. I'm happy to continue taking part in follow-on events, whether face to face (pandemic permitting) or online.
Shaf--thanks. Yes, we should create some kind of inventory/clearing house for these kinds of resources. That's a great find and we would do well to publicize the opportunity. Frank and I were approached a few years ago by someone who knew of a substantial body of local loan records spanning more than a century in New Jersey. Frank has more details. Maybe this inventory could operate via the SHARP website, or perhaps someone has a better idea.
Thank you, Jim, for this excellent summary. I'd like to pick up on something you mention here, and that came up in the discussion of Kyle's keynote - and that is the capacity to 'triangulate' circulation records with other kinds of document or source for thinking about reading history. Kyle mentioned book reviews in passing in the discussion and I wonder what other folks think about the potential of book reviews for triangulating reading history, and for providing complementary full-text datasets for understanding the circulation and reception of the works we study? It seems to me they are useful in a number of ways: as evidence of individual responses to a work in a particular time and place, but also for the work they do in describing and categorizing works - my sense of 19th C book reviews in particular is that they are much more descriptive than contemporary book reviews, but also that they are illuminating in relation to how the book is situated in relation to the market and assumed readerships (there is often discussion of the kind of reader to whom the work might appeal, sometimes disparagingly so!)
I'm keen to be involved in future discussions via zoom - it seems unlikely that I will be allowed back into Australia if I travel overseas any time in the near future, unless everyone wants to meet in New Zealand.
I'd like to join with others to thank Jim for putting together such an excellent Workshop. I certainly feel that we learned a great deal from each other, and I appreciate the enthusiasm and ardor that has gone into the development of diverse projects based on reading and circulation records. Jim's big questions, "How do we go beyond the most borrowed books?" and "Who are our audiences?" are reflected in the papers and subsequent discussion, and these questions should remain ongoing ones that we can return to in future gatherings, whether on-line or in-person.
However, for present purposes and in order to generate discussion as we round off the present Workshop, I'd like to play the devil's advocate by questioning the extent by which we can, in Jim's words, "connect our projects." He made the point that books can be approached as "nodes", and that, substantially, we have two kinds of data on which we are working, namely (i) the documenting of the experiences of various readers (the prime example here is RED), and (ii) the documentation of particular selections in the library (as presented in the Australian Common Reader project and WMR). Jim then ventured that we should be seeking to make more systematic connections between these two approaches. I nurture some skepticism as to whether that can be done gainfully (except perhaps in the rare cases where we may have the reading diary of an individual, of which Mark's keynote provided us with a fine example, or the journals kept by a small number of WMR readers). In this final part of the Workshop, I'd really welcome some conversation that may help to allay my lingering doubts about what may be gained from a "more systematic" linkage of these two kinds of project!
@jconnoll99 Thank you, Jim and team, for this excellent conference! I look forward to follow-up, in person hopefully but via Zoom as needed.
It has been exciting to hear about everyone's work -- and heartening to know we're not alone in concerns over, e.g. maintaining various kinds of project archives over time, the vagaries of grant funding, difficulties accessing proprietary data, etc.
I have been especially inspired by the uses of network analysis I've seen, something that we have only begun to do at Reading Chicago Reading. One important idea Jim noted -- crucial for all of us in different ways -- is "books as nodes." I'll add, too, "library as platform" (indebted to Weinberger https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=by-david-weinberger ). Network effects, analog or digital, seem to center the experiences of reading and circulation. As I go back through the presentations, I expect additional links to become apparent and I look forward to discussing them with the group and learning updates on your work!
@jconnoll99 Thank you so much for this very helpful summing up, Jim. I watched the presentations with interest and enjoyment, but inevitably I felt more connected to some than to others. You have pulled them all together in a most cogent and productive way. Thank you for including me in the workshop. I admit to being disappointed that we couldn’t meet face-to-face, having enjoyed our previous on-campus sessions so much, but the distance format has worked out better for me than I expected. One of the benefits I recognize from teaching online courses: the relative absence of time constraints on discussion. Online, contributors can comment for as long and often as they want, without feeling loth to hog the conversation. And it seems fitting that given our dependence on digital technology for our research, we should also make such good use of it to communicate with each other. Thank you so much for making it all such a thought-provoking and pleasurable experience.
@jconnoll99 Thanks Jim for the great summing up, for organising this fantastic discussion and for giving us lots of useful things to think about. I love the idea of treating the books as nodes, and while I completely understand Frank's scepticism about the feasibility of connecting up different datasets, I think that we're getting to the point where some of this is much more feasible than it used to be - both in terms of what the technology allows and in terms of the sheer weight of digital projects being carried out. For the c18 projects here, there are certain things which help a lot - the English Short Title Catalogue gives us reasonable bibliographic data and a well-established central reference point for most of the books in our projects, and proprietary resources like ECCO and Early American Imprints potentially then allow us to link those books to full text surrogates. There are then lots of other projects to which we could potentially link - including digital projects on book trade records, auction catalogues, book reviews, book illustrations, biographies etc etc - all of which will hopefully help us in understanding more fully why a particular kind of reader borrows this book and not that one. I'm less certain how far we want to stretch those linkages into other periods (although even writing that, I'm wondering at what point in the 1820s or 1830s I would want to draw the line...), but if this group could continue to be connected in some way beyond this event then it will provide a very useful sounding board for sharing new ideas and reporting back on things that have worked (and things that haven't been worth the while).
Great to hear, Jim, that the discussion is going to be saved for posterity, and also that the site will remain up for the time being - I for one haven't had the time yet to look at all the talks and discussion boards. Very much up for further discussion (via zoom or in person), and if it would be helpful to organise a follow up to this group as part of my project's culminating conference (in Liverpool in summer of 2022), then I'd be happy to arrange that.
@marktowsey et al.
Thanks to all of you. I am quite grateful at the enthusiasm you’ve shown for Like others, I’ve had to duck out, so to speak, and take care of the grading, teaching, etc. that I’ve neglected over the previous couple weeks. Please forgive my omnibus reply. I’ll take them somewhat out of order in the hopes of creating a semblance of logic.
First, Frank’s skepticism is certainly warranted. Our grant proposal only promised to raise the issue of connecting these and other projects. We made a point to say we did not expect to come up with an actual plan. We’ll need more money for that! But I’m hoping to discuss the potential for such an endeavor in our white paper and final report and so wanted to pose the question.
I appreciate that Mark, Matt, John, and Julieanne have some interest in exploring these connections in relation to their work. I took a look at the “Library as Platform” article (and have downloaded it for a closer read later). It offers a promising way to conceive of a set of linked resources and I want to digest it more fully (I’ve downloaded it for later, closer reading.) Linking to book reviews alongside other commentary,as Julieanne suggests, is a good idea, perhaps creating a way to assess the relationship of reviews to various popular reading experiences. The Piston, Pen, and Press project of which Mike S. is involved offers one model for what such a platform might look like, even if it is still in development. One of the things it reminds me is that when/if we begin to make more concrete plans.
It may well be that the opportunities for connection are constrained by time periods. It’s hard to imagine a need to link the Dissenting Academies resources to, say, the Australian Common Reader. But there is obvious, already acknowledged potential to link Mark’s project with Matt and Katy’s, and perhaps with Dissenting Academies and Chris Phillip's Easton Library Company database.
Mark’s list of some potential elements of a book-as-node approach is both exciting and a bit intimidating. As he noted earlier in the workshop, it’s a lot of information to organize but it’s something worth scheming about. This is where a face-to-face meeting would be useful, as a means of hashing out these sorts of ideas. Here’s to a time when we can do that. I find Julieanne’s suggestion that we meet in New Zealand is a very attractive option, for any number of reasons. And Mark, let’s discuss the chance to reconvene in Liverpool in 2022 in some form.
One other note: I am glad that John cited the importance of network effects, an approach evident across several projects. That is something I cut from my presentation but it is very much worth noting.
Finally, thanks to Christine and others for their kind words about the workshop. I shared her uncertainty about how well it would go. I’m also pleased with the result, even if on more than one occasion I found myself wishing we could gather in person.
A couple of follow-up notes:
We will plan to leave the site up and open for comments for a few more days so the conversations that are ongoing don't get cut off. I'll send a heads up when we shut down comments.
I'll also be in touch about next steps, probably with some questions about what will work best for each of you.
@jconnoll99 -- thanks for this overview of the projects as a whole, as I'm still working through the presentations. The "book as node" idea is a provocative one, and I'd certainly be interested in further discussions, either online or in person.
Thanks, Jim and the team at Ball State, for putting on a wonderful event. It was productive on its own terms, regardless of the "because covid" reason for doing it remotely. I imagine that I'll return to some of the talks, especially Alex's, and likely direct colleagues to them as well.
Regarding next steps, I remain especially interested in questions of sustainability, and I plan on keeping an eye on The Endings Project, which I first heard about at this conference, and which is so suggestive of how we might wind down (or, better, checkpoint) projects at WashU. I can't wait for their special issue of DHQ!
@jconnoll99 Adding my thanks and apologizing for being tardy in replying. A great summing up. I'd love us all to think about what an open data repository for library data might look like, a one-stop shop where users can download our various data sets and, to take it one step further, have a site akin to what @julieanne-lamond was describing for the Australian Common Reader where folks could start to make visualizations of the data. The exercise of disengaging from the bespoke platform and looking for the overlap in the fields of our datasets might be quite revealing. As many have signaled, the book has longer staying power than the borrower, so it makes a useful node across time and space. As the global turn continues to be explored across so many disciplines, there might be some really interesting things to find across the English-speaking world (which seems to be another common denominator to these projects) by putting these various projects together in terms of the longevity of books. Another conversation might be about behaviors of borrowers, but I'd defer to those who have worked out salient differences between active and occasional borrowers, and issues of gender, class, and race might prove illuminating across these sets.
All and all, very happy to have participated and interested in continuing the conversation. Thanks for all the work that went into making it happen!
Thanks, Kyle. I think there's enough interest in continuing the conversation (over Zoom or F2F) about how to build such an open data repository. That said, Frank's skepticism is worth noting. Further discussion is on my to-do list. More soon on that front.