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

March 14, 2013
Remember how the long tail was going to be the greatest thing ever? How technical innovation would let a thousand flowers bloom? How Silicon Valley’s great visionaries would lead us away from a world of few options and give us a world full of endless choices? That was then. Now it's all about me. 
March 7, 2013
A couple of fairly dorky words seem to be getting a lot of play lately: “curation” and “discovery.” Both of these are words that are familiar to librarians, a part of our professional toolkit, but they are being used increasingly in non-library settings. 
February 28, 2013
I have a friend who is tough-minded, outspoken, and perennially skeptical. She’s not a pushover, and she’s not the least bit sentimental. But last week, with the stroke of a pen, the president reduced her to tears. 
February 21, 2013
I’m finishing up a draft of a department self-study for an external review of our library. It’s the third time I’ve been involved in one of these, and the second time I’ve been primary author. It’s making me feel reflective about this enterprise we are part of, the nature of time, and questions of purpose and agency. Deep thoughts, in other words.
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.

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