I’m pretty selective about jumping on new technologies. I caught on to email very quickly, because it’s usefulness was immediately apparent to me. I held out on getting a cell phone for a long time, though, and I still don’t use it that often. While I do blog, I haven’t really explored social bookmarking or wikis yet. When I discovered Open WorldCat, though, I immediately had an “Aha!” moment. I think it was because I discovered it by accident while doing a web search.
I discovered something odd, though, when I searched for a book that I know Penn State’s library owns and entered the zip code for Penn State. The first library that shows up is the Mercer County Library in Lawrenceville, NJ, which is probably about a 5 hour drive from Penn State. ricklibrarian writes about how Open WorldCat may be failing rural America. I’m not sure it’s just rural America, though, because while this area is rural, Penn State is no small library. In fact, Open WorldCat recognizes that I am on a Penn State network, and displays a link that will search the Penn State catalog for my book. I wonder if the problem is that Penn State has libraries on multiple campuses, and so it isn’t associated with any single zip code?
I had started to write a post about Thomas Mann’s Library Journal article, Research at Risk, in which he argues that keyword searching is a poor substitute for librarian-created subject headings, and Clay Shirky’s paper, Ontology is Overrated: Categories, Links, and Tags, in which he argues that library subject headings are obsolete and the future of content organization lies in social tagging. I never got around to finishing it, and I scrapped the post. As it turns out in this case, good things come to those who wait, because the Inquiring Librarian has written a response to another similarly-themed Mann paper, Will Google’s Keyword Searching Eliminate the Need for LC Cataloging and Classification?, making the point that keyword searching and subject headings can work together. I would take this one step further and say that keyword searching, subject headings, and tagging can work together. If an item (say, a book) has searchable content, has been cataloged by a librarian, and has been tagged by users, why not search all three? [Inquiring Librarian link via Carnival of the Infosciences #6]
In his Chronicle of Higher Education column Saving Secondhand Bookstores, Thomas H. Benton laments the replacement of secondhand bookstores with online vendors:
Paradoxically, that means I now buy fewer books because I don’t feel the need to buy in anticipation of future needs. I know I can almost always get exactly what I want online within 48 hours.
Previously, Benton noted that online library catalogs and databases similarly take away from the serendipity of browsing a library collection.
I don’t necessarily agree that electronic sources prohibit browsing. Serendipitous discovery is different in the electronic world, to be sure, but it does exist. And I certainly don’t want to advocate for decreased availability; there is something to being able to get the information you need when you need it, and I imagine Benton is grateful for it. But, were it not for a chance encounter in a secondhand bookstore, I would not be reading the book I’m enjoying immensely right now.
Several years ago, my husband
and I happened across a copy of Dave Marsh’s Louie Louie in a bargain bookstore near Pittsburgh. Yes, that’s right, an entire book about the song “Louie Louie”. We thought it sounded weird, too, so one of us bought it (probably my husband, but I couldn’t say for sure). For the last several years, and through two or three household moves, I forgot about the book. Then, recently, I was looking for a book to read and stumbled across it on our bookshelves. If, at the time, we had thought to ourselves , “This is interesting, but we can always get it from Amazon later,” I would not be privy to the sordid story of “Louie Louie” (which, by the way, is a tale of intrigue, copyright, and censorship—perfect reading for librarians).
[update] Paragraph above edited after consultation with my husband, who actually has a memory.
From Mary Minow’s interview with David Dodd, librarian and author of The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics:
This is my third book, and each has carried with it a greater or lesser degree of do-it-yourselfness.
You don’t just sign a contract, turn over a manuscript, and sit back and wait for the book to appear.
That actually makes the process sound more appealing to me, except for the copyright permissions, which do not sound like fun.