Gloriana St. Clair: A brief appreciation

The organizer of today’s Ada Lovelace Day, a day to celebrate women in technology, says that women need female role models they can emulate.  I’d add that men can use female role models as well.  There are at least two obvious reasons. First of all, we get a wider range of inspiration when our role models aren’t limited to half the population.  But also, people can be rather clueless about groups of people that they don’t normally see much, and that cluelessness can hold people back needlessly.

I don’t recall being consciously sexist when I entered grad school in computer science, but I wasn’t the most clueful person either.  When I noticed that there were only 4 women in our entering class of 36 (a ratio unfortunately not too far off the one I saw in undergraduate computer science), one of the first things I blurted out to one of those women was something like “gee, there’s going to be a lot of romantic competition for you four,” thinking about them more as potential dates than as fellow computer science colleagues.

I was fortunate, however, to have multiple female role models to learn from in my time as a graduate student.  Mary Shaw inspired me and many others to gain mastery over all kinds of challenges, from software engineering to bicycle trekking, through systematic and rigorous information gathering and analysis.  Jeannette Wing contributed some of the key technical  foundations to my own dissertation work (in her work with Barbara Liskov on type substitutability), and as a member of my dissertation committee repeatedly challenged me to write more clearly and logically, helping ensure that my ideas were sound and understandable.  And I don’t have the space here to enumerate, or express full thanks for, what I’ve learned from Mary Mark since I met her.

I also found another role model who I’d like to talk about today: Gloriana St. Clair, dean of libraries at Carnegie Mellon.  Unlike the other women I’ve mentioned above, she has no “technology” degree, but she’s played very important roles in bringing together technology and librarianship, to the benefit of both.

She has long emphasized the importance of digital technology to the future of libraries, featuring it prominently in strategic plans and library organization, and cultivating people with the skills and knowledge to design and improve the digital library.  (And not just her own staff; she encouraged me, while still in the computer science department, to get out to library conferences to find out more what people were doing and thinking, and even gave me a ride to a CNI forum in Washington, DC.)

She’s also helped educate technologists about the important roles that libraries and librarianship play in managing information.  While at Carnegie Mellon, I got involved in a computer science-led project to build a massive digital book collection, where much of the early thinking seemed to assume that the problem was largely a matter of committing enough technology and funding.  I was very happy to see Gloriana get involved and show how sound librarianship could make that project, as well as other digital library initiatives I’d dabbled in previously, much more effective, usable, and preservable than a purely engineering-oriented project would have been.

She’s also been unafraid to take a leap into a new area or initiative when called for.  Not content to settle for an MLS degree as a librarian, she went on to get a PhD in literature, and an MBA that she’s used both to help manage libraries and teach others about library management.  And when a commercial publisher bought the library science journal she edited and raised its prices, she organized a mass exodus of editors to a new, lower-cost journal founded under the auspices of SPARC.

My own career jump, from a computer science department at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh to a library at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, was made easier in a number of ways by her help and example.  Indeed, after I got more acclimated to library culture, I  gained a better appreciation of how well she accomplished one of the great functions of librarians: to build bridges and spread knowledge among a variety of different disciplines.  I also grew to appreciate the importance of building such bridges for librarianship itself.  Librarians can be another set of folks that many faculty and professionals don’t see much of, and that they can be correspondingly clueless about.  If libraries and their users are not to be held back needlessly, we need to build better bridges between each other.

I’m not alone in my appreciation for Gloriana.  Just a few weeks ago, the Association of College and Research Libraries named her Academic/Research Librarian of the Year.  To their award, I’d like to add my own personal and professional thanks.  And thanks as well to the many other women in technology who have, knowingly or not, given me knowledge, inspiration, encouragement, and some helpful clues.  I hope I can make a suitable contribution in turn.

Neil Gaiman wins Newbery medal; more Newbery honorees go online

I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Denver for ALA Midwinter.    While I was there, they announced the winner of this year’s Newbery medal: Neil Gaiman‘s Graveyard Book.  I’ve been hoping to get around to this book– but if it’s anywhere near as well-written as Gaiman’s other juvenile titles (like Coraline), the Newbery committee chose well.  (You can hear an interview with Neil, and an excerpt from the book, on NPR’s website.)  Congratulations to Neil, and to the other authors who won Newbery honors and ALA’s other awards for children’s books this year.

When I blogged about last year’s Newbery awards, I noted that most of the 1922 medalists and honorees were online, and that about a dozen later Newbery honorees were also out of copyright and could go online.  Since then, my partner-in-bookery Mary has found and digitized many of those later books for a special Celebration of Women Writers exhibit, “Newbery Honor Books and Medal Winners by Women, 1922-1964“.  You can also find these and other online prize-winners from my Prize Winning Books Online page.

(As I mentioned in a previous post, I went out to ALA Midwinter to give a couple of talks on the future of library catalog interfaces and data.  I’ll have a post with pointers to slides and notes for those talks shortly.)

New Newbery and Caldecott winners announced; Old Newbery winners go online

One of the highlights of the American Library Association‘s Midwinter meeting (which just concluded here in Philadelphia) is the announcement of the winners of the Newbery Medal, the Caldecott Medal, and ALA’s other book prizes. The Newbery is one of the oldest and best-known awards for children’s literature, and winning it can guarantee substantial sales, and keep a book in print for decades.

They’ve made some interesting picks this year. This year’s Newbery Medalist is Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices From a Medieval Village. It’s not just one story; it’s 22: a connected set of vignettes told by characters who inhabit an English village in the year 1255. Author Laura Amy Schlitz (who’s also a librarian) wrote them to be performed by 5th graders at her school. Newbery committee chair Nina Lindsay calls the end result “a pageant that transports readers to a different time and place” through “varied poetic forms and styles offer[ing] humor, pathos and true insight into the human condition.”

The Newbery Honor books this year are:

The Caldecott medal usually goes to short picture books for young readers, but this year’s winner is different. It’s a 500+ page graphic novel by Brian Selznick called The Invention of Hugo Cabret, and tells the story of an orphan in early-20th-century Paris living inside the walls of a train station, trying to finish an invention left by his father. The ALA Caldecott site says “the suspenseful text and wordless double-page spreads narrate the tale… which is filled with cinematic intrigue.” Sounds intriguingly steampunk to me.

The Caldecott Honor books this year are:

I’m also happy to report that some of the earliest Newbery awardees have been put online. The early medal-winners have been up for a while, but the honor books can be just as interesting, though often much harder to find. Mary just posted Cornelia Meigs’ 1922 Newbery Honor Book The Windy Hill today to her Celebration of Women Writers, and the Open Content Alliance has recently scanned most of the other honor books from that year. (I’m still seeking a copy of Cedric the Forester, but all the others are now online.)

While Newbery medalists often stay in print indefinitely, lots of other good children’s books are published every year that quickly fade into obscurity. Even most of the early Newbery Honor Books are now out of print and hard to find. But perhaps not for long. Might some of the rightsholders to the older books, particularly the out of print titles, be willing to let them go online so kids can read them again? Or are some of them already fair game? In some initial investigations, Mary’s found more than a dozen post-1923 Newbery Honor Books, and two post-1923 Newbery medalists, whose copyrights appear not to have been renewed at all, and would therefore now be in the public domain.

You can read the online Newbery winners (and early winners of the Nobel and Pulitzer prizes as well) from the Prize-Winning Books Online exhibit of The Online Books Page. We hope to add more titles to this exhibit in the near future. If you’re interested in clearing copyrights or digitizing any of these books, I’d be very interested in hearing from you.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading these newly honored and newly digitized books!