Great Moments In the History of Technical Services

Greatest History Ever:

537 B.C.
The National Library of Babylon, finally switching to papyrus, ceases maintaining its clay tablet shelflist, but is unable to discard it for nostalgic reasons. Two years later, under seige by the Persians, the city finds a new use for the old tablets and manages to inflict severe losses on the beseiging army by pelting them from the ramparts with large quantities of shelflist tablets.

43 B.C.
First attested use of an ISBN (for the special collector’s edition of Caesar’s Gallic Wars with an introduction by Marc Anthony): IXIVVIIXVIIIVIIIVIVII.
81 A.D.
Second gospel of the Christian New Testament becomes the first document written in MARK format.

Via Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Making Light.

Proust’s Hat

Via Making Light, I’ve just discovered the Language Hat, a blog full of entertaining digressions on language and words and possibly hats. Anyway, the Author is making his way through Proust (and subjecting it to his wife as well) which struck me as interesting (if a bit sadistic), as I vainly started reading Swann’s Way some time ago and just recently reached page thirty, where little Marcel is forced to take the long walk up the well varnished stairs, sans his mother’s goodnight kiss, which is followed by a four page digression as to how this makes him feel like, well, an awful lot of things, really.

The weird thing about Proust is that I don’t really feel qualified to offer an opinion (like it’s going to stop me, though!) I think this has to do with the density and aura of literariness that Proust’s work has gathered about it. There’s a certain amount of investment to be had when starting a seven volume novel. It’s not something you can just plow through in a long weekend, though Jane Smily thinks you can read the whole lot in 70 days,* which might be possible if you did nothing else. But for those of us with jobs and families and a half written novel to finish, that’s pushing it. Maybe as I read more of it I’ll feel more comfortable commenting. Seeing as how I’m still doggy paddling around in the shallow end of Volume 1, this may go on for some time. Perhaps if I resolve to make a weekly post about it, updating my progress, that’ll help. If anything, it’ll be a nice counter balance to all the Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who blogging of late. Come for the Pop Culture, stay for the French Literature! And cat pictures (returning shortly; the little buggers have been camera shy of late). If I’m feeling really industrious, I’ll follow the example of Fred Clark’s superb analysis of the Left Behind Series. Only, this will be shallow analysis of a good book, rather than in depth analysis of a piece of crap (which is still fascinating in that it gives a critical view of the inner workings of evangelical end timers and their cultish fixations).

Besides discussions of Proust, Language Hat also features fascinating discussions on words and their origins and meanings. Well worth checking out if that’s your kink.

Proof That The Internets Are Truly Grand

Via Warren Ellis, via Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing, and for your Sunday morning reading pleasure, comes the amazing story of Karl Rove’s father’s solid gold cock ring:

Louie loved his piercings, they made him smile. People who are pierced will understand.So there on the floor in his library, amid teaching videos on piercings and piles of [Piercing Fans International Quarterly], I listened to one man’s account of his travels through the Los Angeles piercing community in the 70’s and 80’s — the “piercing parties” with folks getting pierced on coffee tables in private homes, nurses that helped, and a guy named Jim. I knew about Jim. I had both my nipples pierced at The Gauntlet.

Louie and I exchanged gifts over the years. He really liked those stainless ball weights and I like gold jewelry … so I have a 14 karat gold cock ring that once belonged to Louie, and he had a bunch of ball weights that belonged to me.

So who cares about one man’s journey into piercing? For me it is not about a gossipy story, though some people will take it that way. It is not about telling secrets or things left best unsaid; it is about a little piece of history. Perhaps in telling this story someone else will be able to tell a better one another day.

The “Jim” in this story is the Jim Ward who started the piercing industry. Louie is Louis Claude Rove whose adopted son’s first name is Karl. Louie died quietly in Palm Springs as his very secular, not-believing son ran President Bush’s campaign for President of the United States that energized the Christian evangelical base around the wedge issue of gay marriage…

On a tangential note, I read Warren Ellis’ new novel, Crooked little Vein on the plane ride to Sweden and it is the greatest filthiest most fun detective story I’ve ever read. Karl Rove’s Dad’s solid gold cock ring should be in the sequel.

Three Cheers For The Average User

Emily over at Library Revolution brings up a point that relates, tangentially, to something I mentioned recently in regards to Michael Gorman and his fear of a user-contributed world:

My husband and I recently took our son to the Bronx zoo, where we were in for a treat – se got to see an Okapi up close and personal. Apparently, even in the zoo it is rare to see an Okapi up close – they usually hide in the back of the exhibit. But that day the Okapi was interested in being social and was right there up by the glass.
After talking to one of the zoo guides about this interesting and unique creature and the fact that it is unusual to get such a good look, I was curious. So when I got home I took a few minutes to look up the Okapi online. I just wanted to get a little bit information, so I ended up on Wikipedia, of course. There I learned a few facts about its habitat and behavior, including the interesting fact that they like to eat the burnt wood left over from a lighting strike.

And that was enough for me. It’s all I wanted or needed to know.

So when I have conversations with librarians concerned that people are using the internet to get fast, basic information instead of coming in to the library for “real” research, I have a hard time thinking that is always a bad thing.

Don’t get me wrong. Students need to use good, reliable sources for their research, and a quick Wikipedia reference just isn’t going to cut it. Medical questions, financial questions, and other really important topics should be handled carefully and researched in much more depth. There are plenty of times when there is just no replacement for good, solid library research with the help of an information professional.

But this wasn’t one of them. And there are lots of instances when basic information gained quickly is more than sufficient. I didn’t need (or want) to delve into great tomes of zoological knowledge to learn detailed Okapi facts. I didn’t need to access scientific journals via complex databases or double check the citations and cross references for multiple sources.

This is an important development that often gets overlooked, not just by librarians but by most people in general when discussing the web: people know how to use it to find basic facts and figures that they otherwise wouldn’t. They may not be expert searchers but– and this is the real kicker– they don’t have to be. 9 times out of 10, people use the Internet to find out some basic info on Okapi, or the name of that actor, the one who plays the Lead Tenor in ‘Springtime for Hitler” in the Producers. He looks really familiar, but what’s his name? It’s easy to find out– grab the laptop, jump on line and go to IMDB. (He’s John Barrowman, better known as Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who).

Ten years ago, this answer would have been a lot harder to find out. Sure, you could wait for the credits to roll and pause the VCR, squint and go, “John Barrowman? Well great, I know his name, but what else has he been in?” You would have then had to have gone to the library, asked for a movie guide and hoped they had an up to date one, which they probably didn’t. Now, a few clicks of the mouse and you’re informed. Maybe it’s trivial information but you now know something you didn’t before and more than that, you know where to find information like that, again. Most information needs are like this, which is the dirty secret reference librarians don’t tell you. I do five hours a week on the reference desk and most of my questions are: Can I borrow your stapler? Where are the periodicals? and Why doesn’t my login info work on this computer? Every once in a while though, you get a meaty little research question. I had one recently that made my pulse jump because it was actually interesting: Are their any manifestos about Earthworks and nature installations? A student was writing a paper on Earth Art, like the Spiral Jetty or the Gates and wanted to know if there was any document that laid out the reasons and theories that motivate artists to create these works. She was interested in the history of them as well but wasn’t sure where to draw the line. Did Earth Works go back only to the Sixties or should she include ancient works like the Nazca Lines or Stonehenge? This is the sort of question that involves doing complex searching on databases and looking for books on the topic, a job that requires searching skills. Finding out about John Barrowman’s acting career? Not so much. Knowing the difference between the two types of information is important but recognizing that most people these days can find the easy stuff on their own — that’s huge.

Doctor Solomon and his Secret Library

I received an e-mail yesterday from Doctor Solomon, an author of several fascinating books on diverse topics such as “How to Find Lost Objects” (1993), “Japan in a Nutshell” (1997) and “How to Make the Most of a Flying Saucer Experience” (1998). What’s even better than learning a tried and true method for locating misplaced objects, is that three of his books are free for download as PDFs.

Gorman Rants, Again

Updated below.

Michael Gorman, self appointed Poobah of the Kranky Old Geezers of the Library World * has a new rant up about how the Internet and blogs are making us stupid at, of all places, the Britannica Blog. He starts off with a straw man so huge, the denizens of a small island off the coast of Scotland have already gathered around it, stuffed it with Edward Woodward and are fetching the torches as we speak:

The life of the mind in the age of Web 2.0 suffers, in many ways, from an increase in credulity and an associated flight from expertise. Bloggers are called “citizen journalists”; alternatives to Western medicine are increasingly popular, though we can thank our stars there is no discernable “citizen surgeon” movement; millions of Americans are believers in Biblical inerrancy—the belief that every word in the Bible is both true and the literal word of God, something that, among other things, pits faith against carbon dating; and, scientific truths on such matters as medical research, accepted by all mainstream scientists, are rejected by substantial numbers of citizens and many in politics.

Cartoonist Garry Trudeau’s Dr. Nathan Null, “a White House Situational Science Adviser,” tells us that: “Situational science is about respecting both sides of a scientific argument, not just the one supported by facts.” This is satire, of course, but hardly too broad in a time when school boards aim “intelligent design” (creationism with lipstick on) at the minds of schoolchildren and powerful interests deny the very existence of catastrophic human-caused global climate change. These are evidence of a tide of credulity and misinformation that can only be countered by a culture of respect for authenticity and expertise in all scholarly, research, and educational endeavors.

For a man opposed to Burst Culture, he sure doesn’t waste time with any long winded preambles. But take a gander at that frame: it’s so gaudy it should be around a Da Vinci painting. “Citizen Journalists” (us bloggers) are in the same category as Barber Surgeons, Flat Earthers and Creationists. Nice, huh? How he thinks Bloggers or the Internet are to blame for Intelligent Design/Creationism or the popularity of Alternative Medicine is a mystery, one he doesn’t bother to explain. These have been around far longer than the Internet, as long as his beloved “Expert Culture” has, if not longer. If the freekin’ Enlightenment didn’t drive them away what makes him think the Internet can? Or that it should?

Continue reading “Gorman Rants, Again”