The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 21, Number 3
Sep 1997


Future Libraries: Dreams, Madness, and Reality, by Walt Crawford and Michael Gorman. Chicago, London: American Library Association, 1995. ISBN 0-8389-0647-8. 198 pp. $25.

Reviewed by Ellen McCrady

Crawford and Gorman have written a reply to the futuremongers who make irresponsible predictions about entire libraries one day being accessible through the Internet without charge, and to those who "in the teeth of reason, peddle the access paradigm." ("Access," they say on p. 131, is a code word for the virtual library. According to this paradigm, when the virtual library user is able to get what he wants from a computer or remote location when he wants it, without the aid of librarians, collection development will become obsolete, because the physical collection will no longer be needed.)

A great many exaggerated expectations like this are brought down to earth by Crawford and Gorman. Some of them are widely held and they do need to be examined closely. Others, mentioned by the authors but not attributed to anyone in particular, seem so ridiculous that I wished the authors had offered convincing evidence that real people have actually accepted these beliefs. Still, as I read through the book, it was fairly easy to ignore the straw men and enjoy the eloquence and sound arguments that addressed real problems.

The book was less easy to read for understanding, though, because it seemed to have been written in a hurry. It is repetitive and not as well organized as it ought to have been.

Information is not Knowledge

They make basic distinctions among data, information, knowledge and wisdom, both as to their nature, and as to what means of storage and transmission works best for each. Books and paper are best for knowledge, they say, and computers are best for data and information.

Under the heading "Some Print Publications That Should Disappear," on p. 54, they say "We spend a lot of money purchasing, storing, and making accessible print publications that would be cheaper, more current, and easier to use if they were available to libraries in electronic form via CD-ROM, imaging systems, or online." As examples, they list ready reference works (dictionaries, indexes, gazetteers, almanacs), statistical compilations, and back runs of little-used serials, government documents and conference proceedings.

The opposite error is to use electronic format for material that is best stored and consulted in book form. Print on paper is, and will be, the preeminent medium for the communication of cumulative knowledge.


Libraries should not be discussing access vs. collection, but determining the correct balance of access and collection. (p. 133) Access in the sense of making remote resources available to library users not only makes eminently good sense but has been a common practice since the early days of libraries. (p. 152) Electronic access should not be rejected in favor of the collection, and the collection should not be ignored or disposed of in favor of electronic access. (p. 153)

The Need for Books and Libraries will Continue

Radio and television, when they first came into use, were each hailed as the communication mode that would displace all existing modes, including the book. The same has been claimed for electronic media, and many librarians have accepted the predicted consequence: disappearance of the physical library in its familiar role, and replacement of librarians by "information specialists." The authors' reaction to this attitude in librarians is best put in their own words: "Perhaps the most distressing group of enemies of libraries are those within the profession--librarians and library educators who devalue the profession and would flee from both the name and the practice of librarianship if their livelihoods did not depend on it. [p. 105]... A profession made up of people who think it is doomed and act as if it is irrelevant is not a good insurance risk." (p. 107)

Crawford and Gorman, after arguing that full-text searching in very large databases is too inefficient to be workable, go on to say, "There are professionals in this country who have developed very effective means of bringing huge quantities of records of information and knowledge under control and making their retrieval possible. That group was one of the earliest to use computers for everyday tasks, and has used computers with increasing effectiveness for at least three decades. Amazingly, given that the group is consistently underfunded and incredibly disparate, they managed to come up with an innovative data management design more than a quarter-century ago, a design that has supported cost-effective systems handling tens of gigabytes of data covering tens of millions of records."

That group, professional librarians, tends to be ignored by the "computer wizards," and even seems to be unaware of its own achievements. (p. 77)

Cost of Conversion

"It is hard to imagine any entity or combination of entities putting up the mega-billions of dollars necessary to convert, say, 50 percent of extant documents (textual and graphic). Even futurists must come to terms with the idea that many things never will be in electronic form, particularly while they are in copyright." (p. 90)

"To put the [costs of] storage into perspective, two years of PC Magazine will take more storage than the Research Libraries Group's primary databases! A complete run of the magazine through 1994 would require 2.8 terabytes. A terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes, so we are talking about almost three trillion characters. Three terabytes is much more than the disk storage at OCLC--just to store a 13-year run of one magazine." (p. 92)

But the estimates from Future Libraries are based on scanning with high-resolution true-color images of all pages, including advertisements. OCLC's July/August 1997 Newsletter announced a new service for its members called "Electronic Collections Online," which gives an updated picture. Since the journals offered can be easily searched and since there are so many of them in OCLC's electronic collection (500 titles by the end of 1997), perhaps they are not in full color or high resolution. They will be archived in perpetuity, the newsletter says. OCLC is experienced in archiving electronic records--they have archived and upgraded their own records since 1971.

This information does not entirely contradict the Crawford/Gorman point about the expense of digitizing, because OCLC's costs are spread among its 25,108 members, and Crawford and Gorman were describing single libraries digitizing their own books, clearly a very expensive task.

The Intelligent Use of Technology

Librarians are not reluctant to move with the times; they are usually among the first to adopt new technology. Now, however, they are expected to embrace digital technology without integrating it into existing library functions, and feel they should respond to that expectation. Instead they should resist such pressures, even though they may come from library administrators and municipal authorities, and use technology sensibly by:

Walt Crawford is senior analyst for the Research Libraries Group, where he has held several positions, including programmer/analyst and manager of the production batch group. He was also programmer/analyst at the University of California, Berkeley.

Michael Gorman is dean of library services at California State University in Fresno. He was formerly director of technical services, then director of general services, and then acting university librarian at the University of Illinois Library.

Promoting Preservation Awareness in Libraries: A Sourcebook for Academic, Public, School, and Special Collections, edited by Jeanne M. Drewes and Julie A. Page. (Greenwood Library Management Collection) Greenwood Press, 1997. 368 pp. $75.00. ISSN 0894-2986.

Reviewed by Ellen McCrady

The need for a book like this has been felt for years by librarians, for whom outreach is often a natural activity, and preservation a worthy cause. Forty authors contributed chapters describing approaches used in their own libraries--a cooperative effort that resulted in a wealth of new ideas. Some of their names are familiar to readers: Harlan Greene, Merrily Smith, Patricia Palmer, Normandy Helmer, Nancy Carlson Schrock, Lorraine Olley, Elayne Bond, Kenneth Lavender, Charlotte Brown, and Karen Jones.

The use of an ISSN number, rather than an ISBN number, shows that the publisher treats each book in this series, the Greenwood Library Management Collection, like an issue of a serial publication. The twelve previous single-topic "issues" in this "serial" cover video collection development, physical processing of nonprint materials, academic accreditation, the national electronic library, and facility siting and location, among other things.

The chapters are grouped into seven sections: three general sections (basic concepts, creation and evaluation of preservation education programs for staff and customers) and four that cover preservation education in school, public, and academic libraries and in special collections and archives. All but the first chapter in each section are case studies; many of them have endnotes and bibliographies.

One of the appendices is basically a chapter on effective graphics for display and handouts, with text, illustrations and annotated bibliography; another has an annotated bibliography on books for children, teachers and parents; another had a bibliography on videos for general preservation education; and just before the index there is a 37-page annotated bibliography of books and articles. The index is thorough and professional in quality.

In fact, the entire book is thorough and professional in quality: The paper is alkaline, sections sewn through the fold, layout clear and helpful, and text well edited and proofread. The boards are covered in film-coated paper, not cloth. I wonder whether the price of $75 is justified, in view of shrinking acquisitions budgets.

Promoting Preservation Awareness in Libraries can be ordered on a credit card by calling 1-800-225-5800.

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