Friday, 14 October 2011

Cutting Out The Bull & Smelling The Books

I've always been a supporter of Libraries and I've deemed them a highly useful and important part of our lives, yet rather shamefully, I've only recently re-joined after many years of not having a public Library card. I say recently, when I actually mean... this week... yeah, that's pretty bad, at least in my mind anyway.

You see, I'm one of those people that absolutely loves books. Ever since I was little, I've loved reading and being read to. I'll spare you the fully detailed flashback with my own voice-over and a reconstruction with actors, as I know I'm not alone when it comes to such an experience.

Basically, I love books. I always have and I always will. I'm also a great fan of the internet. It's a fantastic tool when used properly and an utter arse-walrus when it isn't. But, like MP3, digital photos etc, you can't beat the physical presence of an object. The weight of it, the feel, the look, the smell. That is the second biggest important thing to me about books after their content - the smell. You can't beat it. Old or new, it says in a soft, warm voice "read me. Dive in..." And as stupid as it may sound to some people, that is the main reason why I'm not sold on e-books. Ok, so a device such as a Kindle gives an e-book a physical presence of sorts, but the feel and smell are not the same. I'm not saying such devices or concepts are total crap. They do have their uses, of course, but I can't see myself buying one. I probably will in time for one reason or another, but give me a physical book, printed on paper any day.

Your local Library and indeed any Library is a great place for carrying out research - something which I am doing at the moment. Lots of books of interest that are either no-longer in print or you don't really need to buy. Of course, all Libraries now have an area full of computers, so that people can use the internet for a designated amount of time and/or a small fee and in some cases, they have wi-fi hotspots, so you can bring your own device along if you prefer. I don't have a problem with that, apart from the fact it has seemingly introduced a certain amount of noise above that of someone farting, sneezing, coughing or a pile of books being dropped, followed by a hushed, but audible "shit" from the mouth of the dropee... if that's even a word.

Noise aside, it's nice to see that Libraries have embraced the modern world in such a way. The problem that I have, is that since the internet really exploded, an alarming number of people and companies now use it as their main research tool. Yes, I know it's fast, constantly updated and gives you so many options that skimming through the index of a book can't, but it's these advantages that are a massive part of the problem. A problem that way too many people easily forget: anyone can write what they like, when they like, for no good reason and people take it as gospel.

A few years ago when I was still in college, we had to write individual essays for one subject about old traditional dance styles. Our tutor booked some computers for us to use for researching and writing the essay during lesson time, so that she could help fill in any blanks. Of course, we adopted the usual research pattern (well, those of us who didn't go straight to the porn, football or gossip sites, anyway) of "Googling" the subject, then clicking on the first Wikipedia entry that came up. So, there I was, reading the article on Morris dancing, hoping it was a genuine, faithful article and indeed it seemed that way as various facts I had already learned came up in the opening paragraphs. Then about half-way in, one paragraph opened with an unusual sentence...

John Smith is a gay twat.
(Name changed)

That was it. The entry carried on as normal after that. Now, I know that it is all too obvious that someone other than the original author(s) had added that to the piece, as anyone can freely do to Wikipedia entries (though of course, examples such as that often get removed quickly). It sticks out like a decent programme on ITV 1, so you can discard it as someone pissing about. The problem is, some people re-edit such articles, or indeed create them from scratch in order to purposefully fool people or to make them laugh. In other circumstances, people just write these things without doing any proper research. As a result, you get a combination of people lazily copy and pasting from error-laden articles or poorly-trained journalists picking the first suggestion that Google throws up, grabbing anything that looks interesting from it and weaving it into what they are working on, rather than finding more than one source to verify important points. As a result, there is an alarming amount of dodgy "news" stories out there, that people think are 100% true because it's the news and it's on the internet. I'm not saying that every journalist is like that. I do happen to know a fair few and they do their jobs properly.

You just don't get that with books. I'm not saying that books are completely bullshit-proof, but someone can't wander into a Library, pick up a book and re-edit the text within. At most, they could scribble crude messages on the pages in pen or draw cocks in the margins (and I'm not suggesting anybody should do this), but because they are crudely added in biro ink by hand and not through professional printing methods, it's blindingly obvious. So in a nutshell, re-editing Wikipedia articles is the modern-day equivalent of drawing a cock in a book, only it's a little harder to spot... if you don't put the effort in.

I think if people looked at Libraries as a physical internet, rather than a Dinosaur, not only could we help save such services, we could be cutting out a hell of a lot of bullshit.

And smelling the books.

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