Everything is Miscellaneous…

and so is this post. I have had a copy of David Weinberger's new book, Everything is miscellaneous: the power of the new digital disorder, checked out from my local public library for six weeks. I finally made myself finish it this week. I know that David has something important to say. However, I could hardly get past the use of the card catalog and Dewey as examples of the second order of order that we must overcome in the age of the third order of order to get through the book.

Yeah, I know his point is that our old school ways of applying control over the ones and zeros zipping around on the series of tubes is in the best interest of no one. I agree that users should be able to tag their content and share their knowledge online. I am a user of Flickr, del.icio.us, Wikipedia, and many other digital disorder tools. I do my best to educate our students and faculty about these tools. However, I wish David would have thrown us a bone and commented somewhere in the book that librarians are finally getting on board. Most librarians will agree that our roles have evolved tremendously over the past few years. I know many are still focused on metadata, but that is a necessary evil when you are standing with one foot in the digital world and one foot in the print world. I would hazard to say that a fair number of academic librarians have embraced the new third order of order, okay maybe not everyone

David writes, "There's something comforting about the sight of cards spooning in a library card catalog. A world of ideas and knowledge, more than we could ever absorb, is waiting for us, carefully indexed in those neat rows of drawers. And yet the second order masks a complexity that the third order confronts head-on: We don't really know what a book is." (118-119) He continues, "card catalogs have value because of what they leave out. Melvil Dewey himself designed the current standard card in 1877…Because it's not very large, catalogers have to make tough decisions about what information to include." (119) David includes yet another reference to the card catalog used by Brown and Duguid in the Social Life of Information, "you can sometimes tell if a card has been heavily consulted by how dog-eared it is." (119)

Seriously, when was the last time you used a card catalog?  For me it was 1988 and it was my local public library in BFE northwest Ohio.  I would have been much happier to see David pick on the card catalog's progeny, the OPAC. Unfortunately, the OPAC is missing and the closest mention is a comment about the "OCLC database of books" (122) being much like a card catalog. I am at a loss as to why he didn't use the name WorldCat or even do some research to figure out the name and that a free version of it is on the web where users can be kind of social and share reviews of books. 

I know, I know…I need to move past the whole card catalog issue. I am sure that Michael Gorman had a hard time reading this book too, but it may not have passed the "scholarly enough" test to land on his desk. David has an entire chapter titled Social Knowing, where he argues that Wikipedia is better than Britannica and provides many reasons why he has taken this position. I can not say that I agree with him totally on this point either, but anything that ticks off the media identified library standard-bearer can't be too wrong.

Karen Schneider's excellent review is on the TechSource blog and additional reactions are available on the book's companion web site appropriately titled, Everything is Miscellaneous.