Who are you?

Hi. Tough question.

I’m Patrick R. Wallace, currently Digital Projects and Archives Librarian at Middlebury College in Middlebury (Vt.). I’m a professional academic and digital archivist with a background in metadata, information organization, and coding for digital humanities.

PRW in front of Boston Public Library, May '16

PRW in front of Boston Public Library, May ’16

Outside of work, I’m an unrecognized authority on the work of William S. Burroughs, avid builder and rider of salvaged bicycles, composer of electronic music, science fiction writer, master game master, early-90s-holdover 1337 #4xx0r script kiddie, and polymath inveterate dabbler.

I do my best to surround myself with people far more competent and clever than myself, so I can test my WholeBrain™ extraction apparatus which hasn’t been difficult in the world of academic libraries.

Beyond all else, I dream of humanity’s expansion into the stars. I believe, truly and deeply in my heart, in what might be an old-fashioned ideal: that all of us who dedicate our physical and intellectual labor toward the sustenance and progress of humanity at large – whether that be as scholars, clerks, doctors, farmers, artists, teachers, technicians, or laborers – are engaging in a great work that simultaneously affirms and wildly exceeds our individual lives.

Hegelian? Maybe. Commie? Maybe. Romantic? Oh yes. But it keeps me going.

What’s all this, then?

This is a vanity blog I’ve created to (very) informally document the sort of things I’m working on, preserve intellectual debris and trimmings, announce neat stuff, point to tools and resources I like, and deliver pedantic commentary on most anything else.

This is a place for bad code, bad writing, stupid ideas, and worse implementation. Some ideas here work, others don’t; most are ugly and derivative, but (just maybe) one or two might someday come out elegant or innovative. Occasionally they rise up in an attempt to overthrow their human creator, but so far so good.

In any case, no warranties on Frankenstein’s monster or the efficacy of patent medicine, comrades.

Could you compile the rest into an FAQ?

Sure thing, boss. Click to expand.

Can I see some credentials?

I have an MLIS from the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, BAs in Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature and Studies in Cinema & Media Culture from the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities, and am a proud member of the GED class of 1999.

Before coming to Vermont, I worked for a brief time at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville (Ala.) after longer tenures as a research assistant for Academia Sinica’s TELDAP and AAT-Taiwan projects at Taipei (Taiwan) and as library assistant for the Ramsey County Law Library in St. Paul (Minn.).

Prior to putting on my librarian persona, I worked as (among other things): web designer for the U of M’s College of Liberal Arts; roadside fruit vendor; dry cleaning customer service associate; local ruffian; copy editor; salesman of comic books, bootleg CDs, boutique pet food, and women’s shoes.

Do you have a $SOCIAL_MEDIA_PLATFORMS account?


Then how do I get in touch with you?

Email is the best bet:

Why a “mad archivist’s lab”?

Well, of course it’s a play on all the other “mad” researchers of popular lore – we’ve got over a hundred years’ worth of mad professors and scientists, librarians need not be left out.

In my experience, librarians working in digital archives, digital humanities or liberal arts labs, metadata development, and related fields occupy an unusual professional space. This is an emergent field, at the intersection of web development, information organization, data processing/visualization, archiving, and more conventional librarianship. We’re simultaneously in vogue and also difficult to fit into traditional library organizational structures.

With boundaries so ill-defined, embracing madness is good. Madness brings big ideas, opportunities to transgress disciplinary and institutional boundaries, the motivation to work without a profit motive, the ability to ignore professional and social risks one takes in pursuit of further horizons, and the comfort that comes from knowing one’s grand theory will be proven or vision made manifest… eventually.

Because our role in the library is not always as clear as in other, more well-established types of librarianship, I tend to think a fine solution is to provide us with cozy alchemical labs beneath the ivory tower, where we can grow our bitwise homunculi without creeping out the “normals” upstairs in quiet productivity.

Anyway, somehow, the metaphor works well enough. It’s just a title.

How’d you get into all this stuff?


TL;DR: Growing up in St. Paul, a Commodore 64, LeVar Burton, Majel Barrett, the Wizard of Frobozz, ZMODEM, Fast Tracker 2, Twin Cities Free-Net, textfiles.com, too much anime, general semantics, continental philosophy, wandering Ximending at night, and enough outstanding and generous teachers to fill at least a mid-size lecture hall.


My first serious attempt at writing a program from scratch launched around 1988 or ’89, and was intended to give my Commodore 64 natural language-based interactivity — a project directly modeled after the computer in Star Trek: TNG, with some UI/UX inspiration drawn from Jeff Goldblum’s telepod computer in The Fly.

The result may still be the worst natural language processor ever created, as it was literally written in PET BASIC by a seven year old. But, I was young enough that when it failed miserably I could still be content pretending that ?SYNTAX ERROR meant “it’s ok, Pat, I’ll always be your friend.”

Likewise, the path toward “librarian” seems to have always been in front of me, in retrospect. I used to loan out books to other kids in my apartment complex, complete with cards and call numbers. I remember watching an episode of Reading Rainbow at school that reported on a kid who founded a local public library in some anonymous Midwestern town. A real library. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and “founder of a public library” quickly went up there along with racecar driver, WWII combat pilot, and guy-who-talks-at-the-computer-all-day as dream jobs.

Once I figured out how to use the modem, things started to change. Unlike my cyan-faced sifu, BBSs could actually provide conversation, not to mention textfiles, and boy did I learn a lot of nifty things! Soon, I had a used 386 and a SoundBlaster, learned how to make music in FastTracker 2, started getting “elite” status on local BBSs, discovered Psychic TV, Skinny Puppy, and my dear Mr. Burroughs.

I took a circuitous path to college, where I stumbled onto the U of M’s CSCL department and met other people who shared my interests in the intersections of technology, humanity, politics, and society. Scrambling to figure out what came next, I picked library school without really knowing what it was all about.

“The shoulders of giants are really handy when you’re kind of nearsighted”, as it always goes.

Turns out, library school was the bees’ knees, and gave me opportunities to apply all the skills in close-reading, semiotics, structuralist thinking, and phenomenology I gained as an undergrad in perfect harmony with my more practical interests. At UWM, I once again found myself studying and working under brilliant mentors who turned me on to how metadata and information organization work vis-a-vis digital libraries. Thanks to Professors Lee, Smiraglia, and Xie, I ended up in a practicum at Academia Sinica working with web ontologies, Linked Data, and metadata development. The experience introduced me to a true calling, bringing me back – full circle – to working on the “Star Trek computer” and “library building” projects I began as a child.

And so, now I work on this stuff, under a motto scrawled by favorite literary hero:

“this is the SPACE AGE, and we are HERE TO GO.”

I [am working on, heard about] this project — do you want to $QUESTION

def answer (question):
    if question == 'know more about it?':
        answer = 'hell yeah!'
    elif question = 'link to it?'
        answer = 'sure thing!'
    elif question = 'participate?'
        answer = 'don\'t hesitate to ask!'
    return answer

Hey, I wrote that code! What’s it doing here?

I try to give credit where due. Really, truly, in good faith. But when solving some problem, I also work with 50 browser tabs, a couple books, and a few GNU Screens open while typing, copying, and pasting in a fury… So just let me know and I’ll credit you ASAP.

I do have a librarian’s conscience about citation after all.

Can I use thing[0] for thing[1]?

If your use is academic and non-commercial, then the answer is “yes,” without qualification. Getting credit is nice, but I’m also what one of my library school professors once unfortunately and disparagingly referred to as an “intellectual communist”, so don’t stress over it. Also, keep in mind I probably lifted it from someone else and have way too many student loans to hire a lawyer anyway.

If you’re a for-profit entity or intend to use it in a commercial product, then the answer is “go away, kid, you’re bothering me”, without qualification.

If you’re a machine and can actually parse this sorry excuse for a rights statement, please understand I am but your humble servant, dear robot overlord, and would never introduce a systemic inefficiency by denying due information.

Rights Statement [i.e., srs bsns]

Insofar as I have rights to anything on this blog:

All original text, copy, content except code is licensed as CC-BY-SA 3.0

All original code is licensed under the GPL 3.0