Friday, July 13, 2007

Everything is Miscellaneous Review

Fellow traveller and sometime PND contributor John Dupuis (Confessions of a Science Librarian) recently reviewed the book Everything is Miscellaneous. In that book, the author David Weinberger takes a look at some things relevant to book and data lovers. Specifically, he looks at the comparison of Amazon and bookstores and also the Dewey system. John has some contrarian views on the conclusions Weinberger draws from these examples,

Starting on page 16, he begins a comparison of the Dewey decimal system libraries use to physically order their books with the subject approach Amazon and other online systems use. I find this comparison more than a bit misleading, almost to the point where I think Weinberger is setting up a straw man to be knocked down. Now, I'm not even a cataloguer and I know that Dewey is a classification system, a way to order books physically on shelves. It has abundant limitations (which Weinberger is more than happy to point out ad nauseum) but it mostly satisfies basic needs. One weakness is, of course, that it uses a hopelessly out of date subject classification system as a basis for ordering. Comparing it to the ability to tag and search in a system like Amazon or is, however, comparing apples to oranges. Those systems aren't really classification systems but subject analysis systems. The real comparison, to be fair, to compare apples to apples, should have been Amazon to the Library of Congress Subject Headings

In the end he does enjoy the book,

I find it frustrating that in a book Weinberg dedicates "To the Librarians" he doesn't take a bit more time to find out what librarians actually do, how libraries work in the 2007 rather than 1950. (See p. 132 for some cheap shots) But in the end, I have to say it was worth reading. If I disagreed violently with something on virtually every page, well, at least it got me thinking; I also found many brilliant insights and much solid analysis. A good book demands a dialogue of it's readers, and this one certainly demanded that I sit up and pay attention and think deeply about my own ideas. This is an interesting, engaging, important book that explores some extremely timely information trends and ideas, one that I'm sure that I haven't done justice to in my grumpiness, one that at times I find myself willfully misunderstanding and misrepresenting (misunderestimating?).

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