Barbara Fister

I'm a librarian who works at the Folke Bernadotte Memorial Library, Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota and and a writer of blog posts, articles, grocery lists, columns, twitter posts, and mysteries

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The content of the Library Babel Fish blog is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. I'm grateful to Inside Higher Ed for being so open-minded and progressive about these things. Feel free to share, reuse, and remix. Attribution would be appreciated.

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Most Recent Articles

February 14, 2013
It suddenly seems as if suing librarians is the new business model for some publishers. There are a lot of reasons this seems unwise. For one, pissing off your customers is likely to cause your market to dry up.  For another, it’s going to result in a lot of publicity, but not the kind you want. But most importantly, we grownups have better ways of dealing with criticism.
February 7, 2013
We are all, in some sense, curators of our cultural lives, and always have been. Commonplace books were a popular means of arranging nuggets of valuable material selected by the compiler. Marginalia is another time-honored form of highlighting and annotating texts, personalizing them and noting the most meaningful bits. In a digital era, this activity is social. But "anthological copying" that libraries claim can be a fair use is something three major book publishers find illegal and indefensible.
January 31, 2013
This month, students in my January course have been reading about books and culture. This week, as we’re wrapping things up, they speculated about what the world of books might look like in ten years, and came up with some intriguing scenarios and proposals. As I left the building where the class meets I chatted with some humanities faculty and mentioned what we’d been talking about. They seemed at first apprehensive, then surprised and relieved that students predicted a future for books.
January 24, 2013
So, I’m teaching this course on the rather absurdly broad topic of books and culture. It’s not that easy to discuss the book industry (or, more properly, industries) with students who are 18 or 19 years old and don’t have a big stake in it. It’s all pretty new to them, but they know what they don’t know - unlike many seasoned scholars.
January 14, 2013
I was shocked and saddened to hear of Aaron Swartz’s death. He was a bright, creative, and principled young man who helped build tools I use every day. He helped start the Open Library, helped defeat ill-conceived legislation that would limit freedom on the Internet, and courageously set public information free.
January 10, 2013
I’ve just started to read Catastrophism: The Apocalyptic Politics of Collapse and Rebirth by Sasha Lilley, David McNally, Eddie Yuen, and James Davis, which is a short book about our tendency to frame political and environmental issues around impending doom. It’s hard to do the work of change; so much easier to point out problems and wait for the collapse. And when faced with impossibly big problems – the economic crisis, global warming – we feel so small and helpless. The only equally big thing on offer is total ruin.
January 3, 2013
The last cliffhanger episodes of Democracy Theatre: 112th Congress have been disappointing to say the least. With these shenanigans, it’s hard to believe that government ever works, but sometimes it does. Today I’m remembering a man who could make it work really, really well.
December 17, 2012
Like many academic librarians, a major piece of my job is helping students find their way around information they might use for course assignments. This fall I met a few times with a class full of smart, curious first year students who were quick to grasp their course content, quick to pick up on ways of finding out more, quick to follow leads into odd corners of the library, and wonderfully articulate when asked to reflect on what they observed. But when asked to write a modest paper using at least one primary and one secondary source, they seemed suddenly insecure and anxious.
December 13, 2012
Mita Williams, of the University of Windsor, recently posted her slides from an amazing talk that she gave last month. Anyone who follows me on Twitter might have noticed my ALL CAPS enthusiasm for what she had to say. It was a wide-ranging talk, but it projected the kind of future we can have if we pay attention to what’s going on and keep hold of one important idea: the future of the academic library is free.
December 3, 2012
Over the weekend I had a fascinating conversation over Twitter with Aaron  Tay, a brilliant young academic librarian at the University of Singapore. (I’m not the only one who thinks he’s smart; Library Journal named him a Mover and Shaker last year.) We were discussing Library Journal’s recent report, covered right here in Inside Higher Ed, about students’ views of academic libraries.

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