Volume 56 Issue 3 (November 2021)

Cards, Cabinets, and Compression in Early Stock Photography

by Diana Kamin

p. 229-250


Using the case study of 1920s stock photography pioneer H. Armstrong Roberts, this article argues for a historical perspective on the iconomy, or the cultural condition in which images circulate according to market logics. The article argues that compression is a predigital cultural technique that coordinates physical, technical, and narrative structures. Using custom-cut cards, contact prints, a ready-made card catalog system, and an original subject-based alphanumeric ordering system, Roberts produced an analog image database that compressed his visual inventory into discrete bits of information, reflecting a broader conception of the image as alienable content and creating a new commercial aesthetic.

Diana Kamin, an advanced lecturer in the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University, holds a PhD in media, culture, and communication from New York University. Her research explores the circulation of photography and large-scale image collections in historical and contemporary contexts.

Making and Debunking Myths about the Old West: A Case Study of Misinformation for Information Scholars

by William Aspray

p. 251-278


This article, which draws from an extensive historical, literary, and cultural study of the Old West, identifies the main creators and debunkers of myths about the West in order to provide a case study to information scholars about misinformation. Myth creators include novels, dime westerns, magazines, films, television shows, painting, sculpture, photography, music, and the tourist industry. Myth debunkers include academic historians, professional societies, public historians, research centers, libraries, museums, teachers, and postwestern film and literature.

William Aspray is senior research fellow at the Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He publishes primarily in the areas of history of computing, history of information, everyday information behavior, information policy, history and philosophy of mathematics, and food studies.

Open Source Religion: Spiritual Software and the Production and Ownership of Religious Data (1955–2010)

by Andrew Ventimiglia

p. 279-302


From Father Roberto Busa's innovative use of computing in the humanities to the Reverend John Ellison's creation of the first electronic Bible concordance, religion and religious texts played a formative role in the development of data analytics. Yet the subsequent development of spiritual software and the management of religious data have been underexplored. The production, collection, and ownership of religious data—whether Bible translation, sermons, commentaries, or scholarship—resulted in the development of unique digital tools designed for religious purposes. Pastoral research programs, sermon databases, and Bible software turned prior religious media into data accessible through novel digital infrastructures designed for Christian professionals and practitioners alike. A historical account of spiritual software highlights the ways that these emerging systems of information gathering and retrieval shape and are shaped by long-standing strategies for the production, analysis, authorship, and ownership of religious texts.

Andrew Ventimiglia is an assistant professor of mass media in Illinois State University's School of Communication. His research explores the history and cultural effects of intellectual property law. His recent book, Copyrighting God (Cambridge University Press, 2019), examines the role of copyright in American religion.

Structural, Referential, and Normative Information

by Liqian Zhou

p. 303-322


This article provides a comprehensive conceptual analysis of information. It begins with a folk notion that information is a tripartite phenomenon: information is something carried by signals about something for some use. This suggests that information has three main aspects: structural, referential, and normative. I analyze the individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for defining these aspects of information and consider formal theories relating to each aspect as well. The analysis reveals that structural, referential, and normative aspects of information are hierarchically nested and that the normative depends on the referential, which in turn depends on the structural.

Liqian Zhou is associate professor in the Department of Philosophy, School of Humanities, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China. His research focuses mainly on the philosophy of information, the philosophy of mind and cognition, the philosophy of biology (biosemiotics), and general philosophies of science.

"The Little Strangers at Our Gate": Toronto Public Library's Experimentation with the Settlement House Movement, 1910s–1930s

by Elisa Sze

p. 323-349


This article is a case study of Toronto Public Library's (TPL) early collaboration with social workers through its participation in the settlement house movement from the 1910s through the 1930s. While the image of the public library as a social equalizer is often attributed to its origins in the free libraries movement, and while the first chairman of its board characterized TPL as a "literary park" for "the rich and poor alike," historical efforts to extend the public library into social work–like activities remained short-term, ad hoc experiments that failed to generate transformational change. This article presents the challenges faced by a large Canadian urban public library as it attempted to position itself not only as an educational institution but also as a social service. TPL's activities in settlement neighborhoods reinforced rather than subverted the cultural status quo largely because it had no intentions to make radical program departures.

Elisa Sze is a metadata librarian at the University of Toronto Libraries, where she cofounded a special interest group on library history research. She also serves as a sessional instructor at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Information (iSchool), teaching a cataloging course for its Master of Information Program.

Ideology and Libraries: California, Diplomacy, and Occupied Japan, 1945–1952 by Michael K. Buckland, with the assistance of Masaya Takayama (review)

p. 351-353

Ideology and Libraries: California, Diplomacy, and Occupied Japan, 1945–1952
by Michael K. Buckland, with the assistance of Masaya Takayama
HARDCOVER, $75.00, EBOOK, $45.00
ISBN 978-1-538-14314-8

Noah Lenstra


MICHAEL BUCKLAND'S NEW BOOK IS ANIMATED BY THE CENTRAL QUESTION OF "WHY DIFFERENT libraries do and should develop differently" (xi). He explores this topic through a wideranging, erudite examination of the American and Japanese men and women who together, between 1945 and 1952, created a new form of Japanese librarianship.

Reckonings: Numerals, Cognition, and History by Stephen Chrisomalis (review)

p. 354-355

Reckonings: Numerals, Cognition, and History
by Stephen Chrisomalis
MIT PRESS, 2020. 264 PP.
ISBN 978-0-262-04463-9

Andrew Dillon


NUMBERS ARE EVERYWHERE IN OUR WORLD, BOTH LITERALLY AND FIGURATIVELY, BUT HOW much attention do any of us pay to their form or origins? The answer, on the basis of this work, is likely not enough. Stephen Chrisomalis, a professor of anthropology at Wayne State University, has written a compelling and thoroughly entertaining account of how numbers came to be used and represented, situating numeracy within a social and cognitive framing that sheds light on the peculiarly human shaping of numerals as communication.

Artificial Whiteness: Politics and Ideology in Artificial Intelligence by Yarden Katz (review)

p. 356-357

Artificial Whiteness: Politics and Ideology in Artificial Intelligence
by Yarden Katz
ISBN 978-0-231-19491-4

Gregory Laynor


THE RECENT PROLIFERATION OF BOOKS, WHITE PAPERS, AND THINK TANK DISCUSSIONS ON algorithmic bias, AI ethics, and AI for good might already be more than anyone can keep up with in one human lifetime. Yarden Katz's Artificial Whiteness: Politics and Ideology in Artificial Intelligence questions why there is all of a sudden so much talk about making AI ethical, fair, and good.

Burning the Books: A History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge by Richard Ovenden (review)

p. 358-359

Burning the Books: A History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge
by Richard Ovenden
ISBN 978-0-674-24120-6

Miriam Intrator


"DELIBERATEIS THE KEY WORD IN THE TITLE BURNING THE BOOKS: A HISTORY OF THE DELIBERATE Destruction of Knowledge, by Richard Ovenden. Ovenden's premise is that over time, the destruction of knowledge has repeatedly and heartbreakingly been a deliberate act; therefore, its preservation must be an equally deliberate act. Each chapter focuses on a specific story of knowledge creation, preservation, and destruction (or some combination thereof). 

The Filing Cabinet: A Vertical History of Information by Craig Robertson (review)

p. 360-361

The Filing Cabinet: A Vertical History of Information
by Craig Robertson
ISBN 978-1-517-90946-8

Miriam Intrator


The Filing Cabinet really is a new contribution to media and office history (and not the book I hope to write, as great as it is). Instead, Robertson's book uses the filing cabinet as a way into the study of information storage as shaped by the cultural values prevailing when the cabinet was at the height of its use.

Book Traces: Nineteenth-Century Readers and the Future of the Library by Andrew M. Stauffer (review)

p. 362-363

Book Traces: Nineteenth-Century Readers and the Future of the Library
by Andrew M. Stauffer
ISBN 978-0-812-25268-2

Tracy Bonfitto


ANDREW STAUFFER'S BOOK TRACES ARGUES FOR THE VALUE THAT "TRACES"—THE ANNOTAtions, insertions, and inscriptions left behind in books in circulating libraries—add to our understanding of the roles that nineteenth-century volumes of poetry played in the lives of their original owners and readers.

Ink under the Fingernails: Printing Politics in Nineteenth-Century Mexico by Corinna Zeltsman (review)

p. 364-365

Ink under the Fingernails: Printing Politics in Nineteenth-Century Mexico
by Corinna Zeltsman
ISBN 978-0-520-34434-1

Jason Dyck


Ink under the Fingernails: Printing Politics in Nineteenth-Century Mexico is a fascinating study of the role of printing technologies in state formation, one in which political figures and printers are given equal weight. Zeltsman argues that Mexico City printers were central to the debates surrounding press freedom and public speech because governing authorities viewed printing shops as suspicious places to be tightly controlled.