September 30, 2010

On reviews that say a book was “put together quickly”

I am always on the lookout for reviews of books that we have published, and am usually gratified to read them. If there is a complaint in the review, it is most often that the book has typos or needed better copy editing. One recent review of one of our books, and I will not name its author, stated that the book “appeared to have been put together quickly.” I have a comment about that judgment, in that particular review and possibly in others.

First, that reviewer wrote the review already aware that the book was published by my press and that I operate my business as a sideline to my job as a librarian. Other reviewers, though they may not know that I am a librarian, know that Library Juice Press and Litwin Books are very small and new imprints. It strikes me that with this in mind, these reviewers are inspecting the books for signs that they were put together quickly, with less attention to detail than a dedicated publishing house would give it. I suspect this because I happen to know that in the publishing industry as a whole, publishers have cut back their expenses wherever possible and are attempting to reduce their overhead in order to stay alive, and as a result are now allowing typos and proofreading errors to reach the final published editions of their books. Anyone who reads new books is aware of this. Yet reviews of books from major publishers that suffer the same imperfections seldom mention it. It seems to me that reviewers are assuming that I am rushing books to press much faster than a traditional publisher, and that I should therefore not be given a “pass” when it comes to typos. I think it is selective scrutiny.

The error is in the assumption that I am rushing books to press faster than a traditional publisher. I know some things about one academic publisher in particular, whom I will not name, because he has given me a lot of very helpful information and advice. They are publishing approximately 300 books per year, with an editorial staff of nine. That works out to 33 books per year per editor. I think that kind of a ratio between the number of books published annually and the editorial staff may be representative of the industry. I am publishing between five and ten books per year, admittedly on top of a full time job as a librarian. Those numbers indicate that despite operating with a lower overhead, I am not rushing books to press faster than a traditional publisher. In fact, some authors have been disappointed with the fact that the process of getting their book to press has taken such a long time. (One of the reasons it takes a long time is that the books are copy-edited multiple times.)

So, what I am asserting is that the reason a reviewer says one of our books “appears to have been put together quickly” has more to do with a desire to indicate our shoe-string nature than it is a fair judgment in relative terms. Though there may be typographical errors, reviewers should show an awareness of current industry standards if they choose to focus on them in a review of a book published by an upstart press. In fact, a book that it is claimed “appears to have been put together quickly” might not strike a reader that way if she is not already motivated to draw that conclusion. (I think the book reviewed in this particular case looks very good.)

Women in Libraries

Women in Libraries, which for many years was the print publication of the Feminist Task Force of ALA/SRRT, ceased publication a few years ago, but is now back as an online publication. It is part of the larger wiki of the group.

September 29, 2010

Introduction to A Space for Hate

The introduction to Adam Klein’s A Space for Hate: The White Power Movement’s Adaptation Into Cyberspace is now online.

September 28, 2010

Bargain books (error copies at half price)

From time to time here at Library Juice Press we build up a stock of imperfect copies that we can’t sell on the regular retail market. They might be returns with creased covers or pre-publication copies with typos and copy editing issues. We have decided to start selling these at half price through our website. So, it’s a cheap way to get some of our books…

September 27, 2010

Peter McLaren on Academic Repression

September 26, 2010

Inaccuracy in Adbusters article

I am not going to spend a lot of time on this, but I want to point out an inaccuracy in an article on the Adbuster’s website (and maybe in the magazine as well, I can’t tell) titled, “Google’s Flaw,” written by Micah White. I’m not unsympathetic with White’s point about Google, but I have to come to the defense of Sanford Berman and the “leftist librarians of the 70s.” What he wrote will be quite funny who know the people he is talking about:

The idea that search engines can, or should, be neutral can be traced back to a movement of leftist librarians in the 1970s. Led by Sanford Berman, one of the first to bring social rebellion into the library, radical librarians argued that the system used to organize books was inherently biased and racist because it reflected a Western perspective. At that time, and to this day in nearly all public and academic libraries, books were organized in subject hierarchies. Berman believed that this system was deeply problematic. He wrote that, “western chauvinism permeates the [library’s organizational] scheme”. And called for a “disinterested scheme for the arrangement of books and knowledge”. In so doing, he paved the way for search engines.

Berman, and his generation of radical librarians, placed their faith in technology. They assumed that the automation of indexing, what we now call search engines, would provide a “disinterested scheme”. And we see today in the actions of the Texas attorney general, the same flawed assumption that search engines can be “neutral” or “disinterested”.

What Micah doesn’t realize is that in his concern over the commercialization of knowledge he is writing in the same tradition as the radical librarians who first set to work in the late 60s. Yes, Berman was concerned about the bias in Library of Congress Subject Headings, but his position was not to reject controlled subject vocabularies across the board. He was a cataloger, not a computer scientist, and spent his career cataloging books according to a hierarchical subject headings list that was an improvement upon LC, according to his views. Berman and others’ criticism of the idea of neutrality in LC subject headings eventually extended to a criticism of the possibility of neutrality in any system, including libraries as institutions, and supposedly neutral systems such as the Google search engine. What search engines as neutral tools can be traced back to is the positivist basis of information science itself, which had its birth during WWII and continued to be developed within a corporate/government setting. This history couldn’t be more thoroughly documented. Berman and his fellow radical librarians did not, as Micah has it, place their faith in technology (aside from a few). On the contrary, their group has been the group within librarianship that since the 1980s has offered the criticisms of our over-reliance on technology that Micah White ought to familiarize himself with, often with a focus on the problem of positivistic assumptions underlying our use of technological tools. To assert that not only were they, as a group, supportive of the technological methods that led to systems like Google but that they were the originators of those systems flies in the face of a whole body of work on the history of technology. Yes, it is true that many in the 60s generation were enthusiastic about technology, and went on to found The Well and such, but it was also obvious – at that time – that computer technology was a part of the military industrial complex and that the push for automation in libraries had a huge amount of government funding behind it. If Micah White wants to maintain his claim, he is going to have to supply a lot of evidence, because he is going against a large body of historical work.

I am posting this after contacting White and receiving a reply in which he stuck to his guns about Sandy Berman et al. being the origin of search engines as neutral tools. Perhaps it would be better for me to ignore this, but Adbuster’s is a magazine that I have always enjoyed. I subscribed to it in the 90s and still find their project interesting. But I found their anti-leftist turn less than half-baked when it originally appeared, and still do. This article distorts history in order to take a cheap shot at the library left.

September 24, 2010

Last Words of Notable People

Bill Brahms of Reference Desk Press (a librarian publisher like myself) has just released his company’s second book: Last Words of Notable People. It is much more than a complement to his previous book, Notable Last Facts, and more likely to find extensive use as a part of a reference collection. There are more than 3500 notable people covered. For each entry, the book provides information on what made the person notable, their dying words, and the literary source for those words. In many cases more than one possibility is given, and in other cases erroneous quotations are corrected. I would call the book a big achievement. Kudos to Bill.

September 23, 2010

Seeking Authors

At Litwin Books and Library Juice Press we have a number of projects sitting on back burners awaiting the right authors to get them going. I will list some here, with the invitation for potential authors to contact me.

First, a few books about statistics. Not the science of statistics, but statistical data that has been collected about Americans or otherwise of interest. These books would be for a more general audience than most of our others, and would be Litwin Books titles.

How Dumb Are We? A Statistical Portrait of the American People. This book would be a compilation of information from government-compiled statistics and various surveys, showing where Americans stack up terms of general knowledge. It’s inspired by the recent news that 1/5 of Americans think President Obama is a Muslim, coupled with the general difficulty of attempting to debate issues publicly based on a background of factual knowledge as opposed to myths and manipulated impressions. Is it as bad as it seems? It may be. For this book I am interested, on the one hand, in truths about us that may shock us (or provide relief), and on the other hand, smoothly communicating the rigor and reasoning that is necessary in working with stats responsibly. In addition to studies that show what we know and don’t know, I would like this book to include some interesting correlations with demographic and other data.

Related to the above is a book for which I already have a tentative agreement with an author. I mention it here in case that agreement doesn’t work out. It is a book titled, Red and Blue by the Numbers: Statistics that Describe the Political Divide. This one, like the one above, will have a place in a reference collection but should also be a good read.

A book about statistics in another way is one I would like to title something like, A Skeptic’s Guide to Popular Statistics. The main purpose of this book would be to debunk a slew of popular statistics that are essentially distortions and misinterpretations of research, or based on research with flawed methodology. This book would be entertainingly written, informative in the sense of providing surprising news about how what we thought we knew was wrong, and educational in its clear explanations of the ways in which research is often distorted as it becomes popularized.

In a more serious vein, I want to find an author for a book about the loss of public information as a consequence of contracting out government functions to private companies. The news has told us about the extent to which private contractors are involved in the wars we are presently involved in, but it’s something that has happened throughout government. The issue from a government information standpoint has to do with the question of public accountability. Are government contractors subject to the same laws regarding government information? FOIA? National Archives? Copyright? What does the GAO say about it? What do organizations concerned with good government say about it? This is an important, very current issue that deserve the attention of a good book.

For Library Juice Press, I am interested in publishing a biography of Jesse Shera.

Finally, I have a wild idea that I remain unsure about after several years of thinking about it. Voltaire wrote a play called Fanaticism, or Mohamed. Directly, it was an attack on Islam, motivated by an antipathy toward religion in general, especially the Catholic Church, at a time when attacking the Catholic Church directly was not possible. It was written as a part of Voltaire’s lifelong project of furthering the new scientific, liberal values of the time, which were struggling then and were still held by a small minority of people. It is a short play. There is a 1901 translation that is freely available, and a newer translation from the 1960s that I accessed via interlibrary loan. A new, more contemporary translation is needed. The new translation would be the smaller part of this project, however. The bulk of the book would be made up of at least two chapters discussing the play – one placing it in its literary context, written by an expert in 18th century French literature, and another discussing it in terms of contemporary issue areas of religious pluralism, multiculturalism, and the place of values of the European enlightenment (including intellectual freedom). Finding the right people to translate the book and write these chapters would be the key to going forward with the project, because doing it badly would be worse than not doing it at all. I am still unsure about this idea, but I put it out there in case it inspires anyone.

As always, we are interested in book proposals on topics within our editorial scope. Visit our website to see what we have published.

September 22, 2010

“Nonpartisan” …. nonplussed

In teaching students and other library users how to evaluate web pages and other published information for the presence of bias, we direct them to look for a number of cues that reveal whether the producers of the documents are more interested in accomplishing a goal in the world or working toward impartial truth-seeking and education. One cue that many organizations hope that we interpret incorrectly is the word “nonpartisan,” as in Such-and-such organization is a nonpartisan group working in the public interest. Organizations want us to view the word nonpartisan as a synonym for unbiased, neutral, or impartial, but they are usually using it in its more technical sense, which means not working with a political party. They can be working on something that one party would like and another would not like, but as long as they are not affiliated with a party in any formal way, they can safely and truthfully call themselves nonpartisan. Most of us have noticed this, I’m sure. I’m just putting it out there in case anybody is instructing students to look for the word “nonpartisan” as a cue to a lack of bias… but also to worry about the larger implications.

I like to think, what more valuable lesson to students than to show them this example of the way in which things are not necessarily the way speakers want to make them seem? But our students are already distrustful and cynical, having grown up in a world full of people claiming to be “nonpartisan” when they obviously want something from you, so why should they believe that we only want them to think for themselves? I don’t blame them for wanting to tune out all debates and just work on stuff that results in a product of some kind. I’m not sure how things got to be this way. It’s easy to blame Edward R. Bernays but important, also, to look at the way the idealistic 60s generation actually made use of the media once they took the helm. Does the word “nonpartisan” make me want to throw up? Usually, yeah. Do I want students to grasp that it is B.S.? Yes. But, do they already understand that it is? Yes, I think they do. Would they listen to me talk about how to discern truth anyway? Mostly not. So, I’m not sure where that leaves us as information literacy instructors.

Organizing personal info in an age of change: Tickets to a Pavement concert

An item in the New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” section in the last issue is about the difficulty of keeping track of a valuable information object over time: a concert ticket. How do people remember where they put it? This one has to do with a long awaited reunion show by Pavement, in Central Park. It’s what I would call a Gen X information experience.

Automated commerce in action

I have commented on problems stemming from automated reasoning as capitalism shifts to an AI foundation. Here is a juicy example of what I am talking about.

The Mad Men of the FBI

I thought the FBI had been shamed out of spying on pacifists long ago, but check this out. Incredible. Greenpeace, Thomas Merton Center, Catholic Worker, and other anti-war activists got put on terrorist watch lists and were the subject of 200 page reports. It’s almost funny how much the reality matches liberals’ paranoid fears post 9/11. Watch out for the FBI! They seem to think they are in a spin-off of Mad Men.

September 19, 2010

A Google trick for staying ahead of AI

Increasing use of AI means smarter-than-average searchers constantly need to learn tricks in order to counteract the AI that assumes a user base of average consumers. Here is one for Google:

Presently, if you search german modernist collage, the search results will be full of hits that assume you meant to type “college” rather than “collage.” It doesn’t give you a “Did you mean?” option, or even a “Displaying hits for german modernist college,” with an option to go back to your actual search. It simply gives you results as though you had typed “college.” In order to counteract Google’s dumb smartness, you need to search this way: german modernist collage -college. Though that search will give you some things you want, it is obviously far from perfect since pages that have the word “college” in them will be weeded out. I am not sure how to fix the problem in a better way, other than starting with completely different search terms that won’t trigger a more common word in the Google dictionary.

The smarter the systems get, the smarter you need to be in order to get them to do what you want. Unless you are a dumb shmo looking for ways to buy products advertised on tv or the celebrities being used to advertised them. Then you’re golden.

Ephemera from UVa Library’s computing past

            Computer Literature Searching (1984?)

From an early pamphlet advertising a bibliographic database, found among the ephemera saved at the University of Virginia Libraries:

“Why use a computer search? Consider the time it takes to search manually through the many issues of printed indexes. The computer searches these indexes in seconds; the search is faster, more comprehensive, and often more precise, as there are more subject access points and greater flexibility in combining terms in a computer search.”

More info at Scholars’ Lab.

September 8, 2010

Props to ALA on 9/11

Leonard Kniffel, editor of American Libraries, the American Library Association’s house publication, write in his blog:

Book burning is the most insidious form of book banning, and just as the American Library Association is preparing to celebrate the freedom to read during Banned Books Week, along comes one Rev. Terry Jones of the 50-member Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. The good reverend’s idea of world outreach is to commemorate the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001 with a public burning of the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book.

The reverend would do well to use his matches to ignite the pilot light in his brain. Have you ever actually read the Qur’an, Rev. Jones? If you really want illumination, I respectfully suggest you spend Saturday reading instead of burning.

Read more…