is no prospect of online material
libraries out of business. I'm sorry to see you
even hinting that this might be possible."
Big Lie of the Internet
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
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
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
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