— And Burning — Librarians
COMMENT: The response to the combination editorial/book review ["Searcher's
Voice: Don't Burn Books! Burn Librarians!!"] in last month's June issue
started arriving very quickly. Perhaps posting the June issue review of
Mr. Nicholson Baker's book, Double Fold, on our Web site on the
second of May had something to do with the turnaround [http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/jun01/voice.htm].
Still, the fact that one good-sized letter arrived within 10 hours of posting
should indicate that librarians still feel unfairly and inaccurately attacked
by that tome.
Readers might like
to know that Mr. Baker has a copy of our review in hand — with cartoon.
Esteemed colleague — and competitor — Marydee Ojala, editor of Online
magazine, put a preprint in his hand after he finished his address to the
Utah Library Association. Apparently librarians across the country are
now paying dues money to hear Mr. Baker describe their duties to them.
Here is a sampling
of what's come in so far. Some responses are short and sweet, while others
are a bit longer.
U.S. Newspaper Program
for your insightful article. I had read Baker's New Yorker articles
and thought, "What a crank!" But clearly he is getting way too much ink
for us librarians to let him frame the debate. As I read your rejoinder,
I was reminded of Ranganathan's Five Laws, the first of which is "Books
are for use." Ranganathan had to state this "law" first (around 1925),
because so many of his contemporaries were "keepers of the books" in museum-like
closed stacks. Modern librarians are focused on facilitating the continuous
flow of ideas in the books through active access and circulation.
second law is "Every book its reader." We librarians are supposed to build
collections that are useful as measured by average use. To make room for
new and useful books coming in the front door, we have to chuck the ones
not being used out the back.
Some of the
museum libraries of Europe greatly restrict access to better serve preservation
and a carefully screened elite. We Americans place more importance on the
democratizing values of an informed citizenry. This emphasis on open access
and currency is a problem for a few scholars, but we librarians serve our
constituencies better by selecting the best literature plus the literature
most likely to be used, rather than adding to local foci of information
overload that our constituents will neither find useful nor that they will
be willing to fund. We also serve the greater good by putting our holdings
online and accessible through the Internet rather than requiring on-site
access through card catalogs as Baker has argued earlier.
If Baker really
cared about the problem of preserving multiple original copies of older
literature and adding more local annotations to local holdings records,
he would devote his energies to building support for a larger information
infrastructure. Taking cheap shots at our profession probably generates
more controversy and sells more books. He can even claim censorship if
we don't purchase his diatribe! I think we would better serve our constituents
by preserving the wisdom of Edmund Burke than by subsidizing Baker's shallow
and misdirected attacks. I'm not buying his argument.
his book for (hypothetical) use, but he wants it as sacred artifact as
well. He wants to have his cake and eat it, too. He is not the first to
want both. Most of us grow up to the real-world notion of making difficult
choices between two competing goods.
It is possible
to have both access and pristine artifact, but only at considerable expense
— an expense in space, preservation staff, and duplication (land, labor,
capital) that few communities are willing to fund. Rather than face the
real problem and work toward a constructive solution, Baker attacks the
superhero of our story — the librarian living in the real world of limits
— rather than the real villain — our collective social unwillingness to
take the long view of our cultural heritage and preserve it through greater
respect and investment.
Thank you again
for writing such an articulate call to arms. Perhaps the debate will energize
us all to act on a new synthesis where we can have the best of both worlds
of content now and object (and content) forever.
finished reading your review of N. Baker's Double Fold. What a wonderful
job! Alas, excellent though it is, it won't reach 1/1000th of the audience
that Baker's intellectually mendacious polemic will.
In an attempt
at finding a bright side to all of this, I've argued that Baker at least
deserves credit for raising issues: he can serve as the strawman in future
works; he will become useful simply because he can be so readily discredited.
And perhaps more funding will come to libraries because of Baker's work
— though I dread the thought that with the funding will come stipulations
about new acquisitions being maintained in their original format in perpetuity.
Again, a wonderful
review. Thank you for taking the time to write it!
I applaud you on your well-written, precise rebuttal to N. Baker's book!
Many in the community are praising it thankfully.
As you know,
we have been gathering responses to Baker's book from the library and archive
community and posting them on our Web site. We would like to know if we
may have permission from you to post your recent rebuttal? We are eager
to add it to our page. Thank you [http://www.oclc.org/oclc/presres/pubpres/bakerpage.htm].
you for sharing the well-written, enlightened response by Barbara Quint
to Nicholson Baker. As a student, recreational reader, and a "solo" librarian,
I have found the topic of great interest.
the title is archivist, information specialist, or preservationist) usually
do the very best they can with the tools at their disposal. And the professionals
in the "library" have done it successfully for a very long time. Thanks
for reminding everyone of our proud heritage.
I began to read your editorial response, I was overcome by a very emotional
response — why is it only in your own publication? You're preaching to
the choir. Shouldn't there be a response in the NYT? Or some other
equally public forum? If there was, and I missed it, I apologize. Librarians
seem to be very good at "fighting the good fight" among themselves, but
very rarely out where they can be seen.
While I think
Baker had some interesting points to add to the debate, overall I agree
with (you and Edmund Burke) about his place in that debate."
Donna K. Hopkins
a librarian concerned with preservation, and one who works daily with crumbling
paper. I agree with your comments on Double Fold. The real problems
nowadays are the costs and technical challenges of preserving digital media.
Public Library, Illinois State Library, and a number of other large libraries
do lend microforms, but would run into insurmountable problems with shipping
newspaper-size volumes on interlibrary loan.
the other hand:
Thanks for writing
it...but you seem to miss his simple points — microfilming is a very poor
substitute for the real item, books do not turn to dust in 50 years, and
attempts to deacidify books have been a disaster. Everything else you write
about OCLC, etc., is totally beside the point.
random note from a reader who picked up your well argued and thought-provoking
piece from infotoday.com thanks to a e-mail librarian friend in the U.S.
for what they are worth:
1. His targets
are libraries and not librarians. Librarians operate under fiscal constraints
imposed from elsewhere. They are forced to destroy whether they want to
or not. You wouldn't have had to bin those German unification pamphlets
without budget targets.
2. The adverts,
graphics, etc., in old newspapers are historical documents just as the
copy is. Coming, as you seem to from the Rand Corporation, you perhaps
ought to know that intelligence is about joining up tiny pieces of seemingly
unrelated and inconsequential information.
you prefer it that the library at Alexandria had not burned down? What
did the librarians there throw out or reject?
dead tree media into digital form is clearly vital but the media itself
is far more perishable than books. Paper does degrade but it can be treated
to degrade more slowly. And if you know how to deal with my 1980s floppy
discs stored in sweaty attics, do tell. I also have a number of old CDs
which appear to lost their data entirely — as in I can see through them.
Baker's attack may seem intemperate but only a strong assault on current
policies will be noticed. We need to leave something reasonably permanent
behind. Paper is such a medium. Put yourself in the position of a future
librarian trying to rebuild knowledge after a new dark age.
While the article
"Playing Twenty Questions to Test Low-Cost, Free, or Subscription Databases
for End-User Online Service" by Nicholas Tomaiuolo in the May 2001 issue
of Searcher was generally useful and covers an important topic,
the article has some inaccuracies.
refers to FindArticles as "the only no-strings attached free service,"
which is simply not the case. MagPortal.com provides a free full-text search
engine that provides links to free magazine articles from many publishers
for a list] and it has been around longer than FindArticles. You can find
a copy of the press release at http://HotNeuron.com/press_releases/pr20000328_launch_magportal.html.
has several advantages over FindArticles. We scan publishers' Web sites
every day and normally have new articles put into our index within one
business day of their publisher putting them online. FindArticles is often
less current because they have to wait for content to come from the Gale
Group. Our search engine output page allows the user to re-order the results
by date (often crucial for research), by category (each article is categorized
by a human), or by publication, in addition to the default quality-of-match
ordering. Also, when you find an article that suits your needs you can
click the similar articles link (a wavy orange equal sign) next to the
article to get a list of similar articles, which is often much more convenient
than trying to craft a search query. You can find instructions for our
search engine at http://MagPortal.com/help/user/search.html.
article also says that FindArticles has been "around for over a year,"
which is not correct. Ms. Quint's June 5, 2000 article on FindArticles
in Information Today said the service would go "live at the end
of June" (it actually opened to the public in early July).
CEO, Hot Neuron
LLC (owner of http://MagPortal.com)
Thank you for bringing
MagPortal to my attention. It is a valuable site and I regret having overlooked
it. I visited www.magportal.com and did a few quick searches. There's plenty
of content on a wide range of topics — from "school vouchers" to "Hollywood
writers' strike" to "Shrek."
launch date, I must be searching too much. It just seems to me that's its
been around for over a year.
Links on the Way
I read with
interest your article in Searcher ["Searcher's Voice: The High Price
of Nothing," http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/may01/voice.htm]
and have sympathy with your frustrations. With reference to your comments
on the lack of links from SLA's Web site which you would like fixed, there
are links to all SLA Units (Chapters/Divisions/Caucuses/Committees and
Student groups) from the Home Page on the left-side Navigation Bar under
SLA Units. We also have a Navigation Bar link to Member Services and Resources.
You are correct
that News division is on a separate server. There is a techy issue we have
to address in that the Full Text Search engine does not search unit Web
sites not hosted by SLA's server. There are only a few such units and News
Division is one of them. This may be one of the contributing factors in
the time it took you to find the news division resource.
I am in the
process of preparing a reference resources page (or some such name) directing
users to the myriad of reference resources on the SLA sites and this will
include SLA chapter and division (unit) sites. I think that it is important
to organize the Web site so that users can find what they want through
logical access, leaving the search engine as an alternative approach.
Thank you for
your comments. Any suggestions are always welcome.
I just wanted
to congratulate you on the May issue of Searcher — it's top notch!
The two articles on search engines will go immediately on my class reading
lists, plus everything else in the issue was interesting.
You may be interested
in a story about Jill Grogg's and my recent
on linking ["Linking to Full Text in Scholarly Journals: Here a Link, There
a Link, Everywhere a Link," November-December 2000]. I was walking in Old
Town Havana, Cuba, last month (I was there for a Caribbean/Latin American
Conference on Health Information), when someone stopped me on the street
and said "Carol Tenopir — here a link, there a link!" (Turns out she works
at the PAHO [Pan American Health Organization] office in Washington, DC,
but it makes a great story!)
School of Information