Thursday, November 20, 2003

Creating the Digital Peasant

If anyone had any vision in this godforsaken city, they'd order the main branch of the Free Library at 19th and Vine streets gutted. Pull up a fleet of dumpster trucks to the front and throw in all the passe books written by the long since dead and decayed--books that nobody looks at anyway.

Once loaded, the fusty tomes would be transported to Altoona or Erie or North Gipip--someplace where they could be stored for cheap.

No one's saying the books should be set on fire or anything. In fact, they ought to be made reasonably available to the two dozen or so contrarian throwbacks who still get their kicks opening up crusty volumes of outdated prose. Let's just get all them the hell out of harm's way so the building can be put to some real use.

No this isn't Adolph Hitler's cryogenically frozen head or even Captain Beaty from Fahrenheit 451. It's Tim Whitaker, writing in the Philadelphia Weekly. Mr. Whitaker seems to think that now that Amazon allows you to scan the text of books for free, that libraries (and librarians by association) are obsolete. Like a modern day Theodosius, he suggests gutting the Libraries of the Western World (starting with the venerable depository in Philadelphia), replacing books with iMacs and handing over the keys to IT people. That's right because IT people know where to find everything! They are the new Gods of this Brave New Digital World!

Let me say for the record that TimWhitaker is an idiot.

Have you ever tried to communicate with someone from IT? You'd get more sense out of a half rotten pumpkin. Here at the University of Maryland we have our own Office of Infernal Torment, staffed by the most socially degenerate and uncommunicative people this side of Tiger Ridge.

As he points out, Amazon has limited the search to 120, 000 books and then only excerpts. But surely that's enough to do any sort of research Tim can imagine, therefore it should be good enough for everyone!

Now I'm not poopooing the Amazon Free Search. As a Student Librarian, it's a great idea and very handy for finding some of those quotes in books that I'd otherwise have to order through Interlibrary Loan (poor Tim's head must surely implode at the notion of Librarians shipping whole books to one another, paper and all. You mean, no little ones and zeros zipping over a telephone wire?). But it's not the New World Order it's hyped in this article or by others who can't wait for the demise of the printed word. The Amazon Free Search is little more than what academic databases have had for years, the ability to search text of journal articles. And if you use ERIC or Worldcat you can even search the whole journal article not just excerpts, making this Amazon Free Search a second string resource, at best. If this is alitterate mankind's savior from the tyranny of print, I say good luck to you, bub. You'll need it.

As a secondary thought I'd like to address this creeping alitteracy that seems to be spreading like the plague through our country. I can't speak for Europeans, Mexicans or Canadians but in the Good Old US of A, half the population gets all of its Information from a handfull of networks owned and operated by Draconian Neocons who gleefully stifle dissent and smash Dixie Chic records by the bushelfull. If ever there was an argument for not just keeping the Libraries open but expanding them, it is this. Unless you like your peasants stupid AND poor. And what Dictator doesn't?

I've just touched briefly on this matter here. Once the semester is finished and I have more free time I'll elaborate on this matter further.


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