Re: Commentary on Eco: "Authors and Authority"

From: David Goodman <dgoodman_at_PRINCETON.EDU>
Date: Wed, 13 Mar 2002 17:01:24 -0500


It is not evident that your categories are universally appropriate, and
I give a few examples from your own response:

> > G. Origgi: "... Now you can just type
> > Astrophysics with Google and see what you find as a result."
> S. Harnad: "And once the full peer-reviewed astrophysical corpus is online, freely
> accessible, and reliably tagged as such, the user will be in at least
> as good a position as when consulting the collection of the best
> terrestrial library on the subject -- except that even then merely the
> keyword "astrophysics" would not have served him too well. (An
> encyclopedia might, after all, be the better choice for that.)"

I just now actually typed "astrophysics" into Google, and the top item
on the list was a link to the home page for the Astrophysics Data
System. This is the fastest way of getting there of any method known to
me. It does remain, as you say, to make all the contents of that system
freely accessible.

> > G. Origgi: ... "These days, I am looking for a online
> > course for learning how to design dynamic webpages with Dreamweaver
> > software..."

> S. Harnad: "Now, on to Dreamweaver software: I ask, timidly, whether, for example,
> consumer questions should be conflated with scholarly ones, any more
> than babble with scribble? Does it help to baptize as one generic
> "problem" the problem of finding scholarly sources for "holoenzyme...
> gracilis..." or educational sources for "holy grail" or gastronomic
> sources for recipes for hominy grits?"

As a reference librarian, I know from experience that people -- even
academics -- do
not in fact necessarily distinguish between these types of questions.
They will indeed sometimes want a specific genre of information, such as
a scholarly article or a recipe, but sometimes they want to first see
what there is on a subject and then look for an appropriate genre.

Your 3 specific examples do not completely hold up: The question on, I
"holoenzymes" in "gracilis" is not meaningful. The 21 references I found
in Biosis just now deal with at least 6 different unrelated enzymes and
3 different unrelated organisms in different kingdoms. They are all from
peer-reviewed journals, of course, but from journals of very different
levels of quality. I cannot imagine a situation where any one person
would want all of them. Google, by the way, gave 3 references, including
one conference abstract and 1 scholarly article that Biosis missed. If
a patron came in with the information you presented, I'd guide him to an
encyclopedia, not the scholarly literature.

You specify "educational sources" for "holy grail." Do you have in mind
its literary aspects, and if so, medieval or modern, or the religious
concept, or its role as a myth, or do you want information on Wagner's
opera? And how do you distinguish, for any of these, "educational"
sources from scholarly sources?
The MLA Bibliography gives 242 items; they include Ph.D. theses,
scholarly articles, and books, in at least 5 languages, and of varying
degrees of physical and intellectual accessibility. ERIC, the standard
education index, gives 24, of which all but 3 use it as a metaphor.
Using Google, the first 4 listings were relevant web sites for the
subject, including some very appropriate basic educational material and
also links to scholarly material. That the web sites were of good
quality could be told objectively by anyone accustomed to working with
and evaluating such material.

Google also worked nicely for "hominy grits"-- the first item, and many
others, gave several recipes (I can't evaluate them, as I hate the
stuff.) America: History and Life gave 2 scholarly articles and many
book reviews of an interesting academic book. Agricola gave 5 scholarly
articles. There are specialized indexes as well, but my university
doesnt't have them.

It may not hold in your subject, but in librarianship--and at least some
areas of biology -- the lower level of so-called "refereed journals"
contain material indistinguishable from babel. On the other hand, some
of the material in this forum, and I specifically include much of
yours', is equal or superior in quality to any formally published work
on the subject.

I do not think that you or I or Google or anyone has the answer to
intellectual access, especially universal intellectual access. (I could
easily have given questions that would totally defeat Google.) I do not
think traditional methods or categories are necessarily still relevant.

I do think that for the problem you are primarily addressing, which is
of providing physical access to a very important group of material, you
have an excellent solution.

Dr. David Goodman
Research Librarian and
Biological Science Bibliographer
Princeton University Library
Princeton, NJ 08544-0001
phone: 609-258-7785
fax: 609-258-2627
Received on Wed Mar 13 2002 - 22:21:00 GMT

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