Searcher
Vol. 9 No. 7 July/August 2001 
SEARCHER  
CORRESPONDENCE
Multiple reactions to bq's denunciation of Double-Fold
more free magazines online; linking to SLA and Carol Tenopir
Table of Contents Previous Issues Subscribe Now! ITI Home

Burnt And Burning Librarians
EDITOR'S 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.


Thank you.

Robert Harriman 
Coordinator, U.S. Newspaper Program 
Preservation Directorate 
Library of Congress 


Thanks 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. 

Ranganathan's 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. 

Baker wants 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. 

George McGregor 


Just 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!

Richard Bleiler 
Humanities Reference Librarian 


May 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].

Lisa Wright 
Marketing Communications Assistant 
Preservation Resources 
A Division of OCLC 


Thank 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. 

Librarians (whether 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. 

Marcia Spater 


Great!! 

Blaine Waterman 
Audiovisual Center Librarian 
San Francisco Public Library 


As 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 
Engineering Librarian 
Folsom Library 
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 


As 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. 

However Chicago 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.

Lyle Benedict 


On 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.

Steve Fesenmaier


A 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. 

My thoughts, 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. 

3. Wouldn't you prefer it that the library at Alexandria had not burned down? What did the librarians there throw out or reject? 

4. Rendering 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. 

In conclusion, 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. 

Simon Fluendy 


More FREE!! Magazines

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. 

The article 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 [see http://MagPortal.com/help/user/which_mags.html 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.

MagPortal.com 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

Mr. Tomaiuolo's 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).

Bill Dimm 
CEO, Hot Neuron LLC (owner of http://MagPortal.com)
 

AUTHOR'S RESPONSE:

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." 

Concerning FindArticles' launch date, I must be searching too much. It just seems to me that's its been around for over a year. 

Nick Tomaiuolo 
Reference Department
Elihu Burritt Library
Central Connecticut State University


SLA 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. 

John Latham 
Director, Information Resources 
Special Libraries Association (SLA)


Off-Shore Searcher

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 Searcherarticle 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!) 

Carol Tenopir
Professor 
School of Information Sciences 
University of Tennessee 

Send correspondence to:

Searcher
932 11th Street, Suite 9 
Santa Monica, CA 90403 

E-mail: bquint@infotoday.com

Table of Contents Previous Issues Subscribe Now! ITI Home
© 2001