Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Who does the library serve?

Although I enjoy books myself (more non-fiction than non-fiction) I am an early uptaker for the fun of internet research. That doesn't mean I don't like traditional resources. I loved it in the old Reading Room at the British Museum (it wasn't the same when it moved, and then I moved, and the relationship faded).

We're all doomed!
So, for balance, I will read Andrew Keen's "The Cult of the Amateur", which appears to hate the evolution of blogs, wikis, and other Web 2.0 projects, which he (judging by the blurb) thinks is leading to a lack of respect for 'authorities' and a narcissistic love of one's own feeble output, rather than savouring the joys of the 'great artists', etc. This does sound a rather conservative position to me, but we need some conservatives in the world.

I don't have a great attraction to Facebook and such, myself, as I am too old to flirt, too 'clever' to spend much time in idle chit-chat, too introverted to need the approval of a new circle of friends (I already have wide circles of friends, thanks) - but I like the possibilities of how people might use them, eventually. And I obviously like blogs! I don't want to become all McLuhan about it, but the internet seems to me a neutral tool, like the telephone, and you may use it idly chat, for business, to hustle and spam people, to call emergency services, to offer Samaritan support, to prevent wasted journeys, etc.

The snobbery implicit (a position still held by many in libraries) in preferring Britannica to Wikipedia arises from some weird kind of ignorance.

Of course, a user-created reference will contain differences of opinion, (otherwise known as 'inaccuracies') as opposed to one single authoritative 'fact' - but in the modern world, where do you find an expert who just 'knows' what 'is' true? Dr House is portrayed as an expert, but he doesn't know anything for sure, and uses a think-tank of others to hone his ideas.

Comparing for myself

The first thing I did was pick an area of expertise of my own, and then look it up in each. Curiously enough, mine was 'juggling'. When I started, back in the 70s, the OED still had that defined like a magician, only more recently has it included 'throwing and catching objects', although that's the way everyone I knew thought of a juggler as being/doing.

Britannica? 289 words (OK, OK, I am using the online edition, but that's how much space is apportioned to the subject.) Now try Wikipedia on Juggling - and you find close to 3000 words, which I read with an expert eye and couldn't fault. (Well, I corrected one number, for an event I happened to be at).

• 1 Origins and history
o 1.1 Ancient to 20th century
o 1.2 20th Century
• 2 Popular forms of juggling
• 3 Juggling world records
• 4 Venues
o 4.1 Circus
o 4.2 Variety Theatres
o 4.3 Renaissance and Medieval Fairs
o 4.4 Street Performance
• 5 Juggling notation
• 6 See also
• 7 References
• 8 External links
o 8.1 Organizations
o 8.2 Resources
o 8.3 References

Now, for authoritative histories of kings, and political events, etc - you might still want some 'authority' to tell you with a degree of certainty - but for specialist interests, niche markets, etc - Wikipedia wins hands-down.

Quality Control?

Having recently completed my second novel (written in a month's marathon, along with thousands of others at NaNoWriMo) and knowing full well it isn't very good, I resent the idea that I shouldn't try. That I mustn't enjoy my own fantasies and creativity. 120,000 of us wrote one and a half billion words in November, and about a fifth of us completed the 50k target.

"[expletive deleted] you, Mr Keen!"

The arts, I imagine, he sees as only for people who like Beethoven, opera, and Shakespeare, or whatever (When I have actually read it, I might post a review on Amazon, and on this blog, just to annoy him, even if it turns out a positive review!) heh heh

Does he think that people with 'no talent' shouldn't try (I kind of agree when it comes to Pop Idol, and other attempts at celebrity without apparent talent - however, they do seem IMMENSELY popular).

The truth remains that the British public love Dan Brown, and Mills & Boon romances. After WWII and the paper shortages a huge industry arose of cheap, hastily-written, paperback novels which were consumed in their millions - "The mushroom jungle : a history of postwar paperback publishing" Steve Holland - but reference to which hardly appear in any books on English literature. Sheer snobbery...without the American equivalent we might never have heard of Kurt Vonnegut or Philip K Dick, to name but two.

Are libraries educational? Do they merely entertain? Should we just have 5000 copies of Harry Potter, so any child can get their hands on one? A complete range of Mills & Boon? Do we steer quality towards people? Who judges that quality - those unreadable people at the Times Literary Supplement?

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