Enough Tupperware
by Leslie Lawrence '72


"There is no prospect of online material

putting libraries out of business. I'm sorry to see you even hinting that this might be possible."


The Big Lie of the Internet
Although Marty Munson's article in the Fall issue was fairly realistic, I was disappointed to see you lead into it with the sub-head "Now that most information is just a click away..." This is the Big Lie about the net: that it contains "most" of what anyone needs.
The truth is that, although there are indeed some useful databases on the net, most of the useful ones are hidden away in obscure ftp sites and are not websites. Furthermore, even if you include everything that's been digitized, it's a tiny fraction of what's useful; much less than one percent, in my experience.
For the past several years, I've been working on an interdisciplinary project that has involved tons of library work. I have an on-line bibliography at http://mintaka.sdsu.edu/GF/ bibliog/bibliog.html that contains well over a thousand items. How much of this stuff was available on the net? Maybe a dozen pieces--usually in such mangled form that I had to get photocopies of the original paper publications to be sure I really had what the author and publisher intended.
The most useful things available on the web for my research are the public-access catalogs of hundreds of libraries, which have allowed me to find where my Inter-Library Loan people can get a copy of something I need. And there isn't anything as useful in machine-readable form as the National Union Catalogue.
How about the classics? You'd think things like Pliny's Natural History would be available. I managed to come up with a short excerpt. Some of what I need was captured on microprint cards a couple of decades ago, but our library has no way to make hard copy from these, and there is exactly one working (if you can call a dim, fuzzy image that) microprint reader in the whole library. Essentially none of those "Landmarks of Science" exists on the net, so I can't even print out the text--forget about the illustrations. There's no indication that even these major works will be digitized any time soon.
If all you want is something published in the last ten years, you may be able to find it--provided it was published in English. But need a 19th-century German classic like Annalen der Physik? It's somewhere on somebody's dusty shelves, not on the net.
And the quality of most of the stuff that is available is (as Munson notes) mostly awful. I recently took someone to task for the misinformation on his website and received an indignant reply saying "I don't have time to check all the facts on my web pages." (He apparently doesn't know that it isn't a "fact" until it's checked.)
Then there's the problem of finding things you don't know exist. It's hard enough, on the net, to locate things that you already know exist somewhere. But the great virtue of libraries is that you can paw through volumes and discover all sorts of stuff you never dreamed existed. I invariably get more from a borrowed volume than from a photocopy.
There's no prospect of online material putting libraries out of business in my lifetime. I'm sorry to see you even hinting that this might be possible
Andrew T. Young '55
San Diego, California

Perplexing Politics
I turned with interest to the article "Backyard Politics" in the Fall issue. After reading it, however, I am perplexed: are all the Oberlin alumni who are active in local politics really only Democrats living in heavily urban areas? Can anyone at Oberlin explain this strange situation?

Roland F. Hirsch '61
Germantown, Maryland