Friday, February 23rd, 2007

Not the Ninja!

I’m loathe to take the last post, When tags work and when they don’t: Amazon and LibraryThing, off the top. It got a *lot* of attention*, and I owe the commenters a follow up.

The Shifted Librarian found this YouTube video “put together by Steven Reed’s students at Wilmington High School.”

It’s a fun video, no question. It’s an *amazing* demonstration of what kids can do these days. My highschool had the best Super8 program in Massachusetts, and this level of professionalism would have been way past our capabilities. The book-throwing is great. The editing is quick and professional. The kids get an A. They rock.

But I can’t leave it at that. The kids are rock stars, but the message is all wrong—and it’s wrong in a very telling way.

The situation is completely false. I don’t mean the ninja—they’re increasingly common in libraries of all sizes—but the contest and its results.

Type Capital of Russia into Google and you get this:

You don’t even need to GO to a page—the answers are in the page titles themselves. Face it, the Web is *great* for this sort of thing. You’re not going to “defend” books by claiming they’re better for looking up trivial facts. They’re not. Breathe deep and repeat after me: They’re worse.**

The second false idea is that libraries and the web are rivals, two competing ways to get the same thing (which is mostly factoids). This is all too often how popular culture sees libraries, and it’s a disaster. If libraries are just low-tech search engines, they are bad ones. They should be defunded and closed.***

I’m not going to launch into a defense of libraries and books. Of course I love them. I started LibraryThing because I loved them so much. But I don’t love them because I hate computers, or because books are better than computers.**** I don’t see them as rivals. The web has supplanted a few things that books used to do, but not the important ones. And libraries can do things with computers they are only just starting to explore.

People who love books need to fight against these ideas. They’re a trap. They’re wrong, and they’re very dangerous to the things we love.*****

Yeah, I know, lighten up, Tim!

*Alexa is under the impression LibraryThing’s traffic doubled the day the post hit. That’s total nonsense and a great proof of Alexa’s failings. It makes me wonder how much they rely on new link creation, not traffic.
**Where did guy find the books? Does he have the shelving memorized, or did he consult and OPAC to find Countries of the World?
***And don’t tell me it’s about not everyone having a computer. If so, libraries should be just computer centers.
****For starters, books are worse at email, worse at social networking, and they are hands-down a lousy way to blunder upon shocking new types of pornography.
*****Can anyone help me find a quote? I think it was from random sci-fi movie or show, taking place in the near future. The quote was something like “Would you have wanted to shut down the internet just to keep the libraries open?” Don’t even try to Google it. (And I recommend not going to the library either.)

Update: This ninja movie has a good message.

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