REVIEWS: Library and Information Science Research
Electronic Journal ISSN 1058-6768
2003 Volume 13 Issue 2; September
Bi-annual LIBRES13N2 REVIEWS\


REVIEWS
in this issue:

Battles, Matthew(2003).   Library:  An Unquiet History
Reviewed by Elizabeth Malia

Carney, Jessie Carney.  (2003).  Blacks First: 4,000 Groundbreaking and Pioneering Historical Events
Reviewed by Connie Ury

D’Cruz, D.  (2002).  Loving Subjects: Narratives of Female Desire
Reviewed by Wendy Juniper

Gorman, Michael (2003)The Enduring Library:  Technology, Tradition and the Quest for Balance
Reviewed by Barry W. Hamilton

Quinn, John M. OSA. (2002).  A Companion to the Confessions of St. Augustine
Reviewed by Leslie Starasta



Battles, Matthew(2003).   Library:  An Unquiet History.  New York:  W. W. Norton & Co., 2003.  245 pp.  ISBN 0393020290.  $24.95

In the Eighteenth Century, Jonathan Swift penned, “The Battle of the Books,” a satire about a library and its books representing philosophical and ideological differences between intellectuals of his time.  In the Twenty-first Century, we are mired once again in a paradigm shift in library land that sometimes resembles the battle of the old and the new, just as Swift’s satire did.  Matthew Battles has written a well researched and elegantly written history of libraries that illuminates the past as well as the future, serving as a cautionary reminder of the foundations of knowledge and information.  The timeliness of this work may have been incidental, but nevertheless it is important because of the current volatility of librarianship.

Libraries as institutions have been extant for thousands of years.  Mr. Battles explores the beginnings in the form of collections of clay tablets to papyrus scrolls and vellum, not just from a physical description point of view but, more importantly, as part of a culture.  He traces how libraries have been built through time and what purposes they were meant to serve.  Also detailed is the destruction of ancient libraries.  These descriptions coupled with the sociological and cultural backgrounds create a rich tapestry of intellectual endeavor mingled with politics and war.

Battles’ most salient point is perhaps that the more things change the more things stay the same.  This becomes very clear with the description of Swift’s satire as an illustration of a culture redefining itself, and the internecine intellectual argument attendant to that process.  The creation of a cataloging system at the British Library in the nineteenth century is the beginning of the modern redefinition of libraries in the name of efficiency, according to Battles.  He furthers this point as he describes the possibility of a late nineteenth century author  (relatively unsuccessful) who wishes to visit the Reading Room at the British Library after the passage of a hundred years.  The author nurses the hope of finding his name in the catalog and his works heralded from the shelves.  Max Beerbohm, the author of this tale, sees the library of the late twentieth century as little changed, and Mr. Battles makes it clear that little has really changed, until just very recently.  That change, of course, is the digital revolution, the instigation of our current redefinition.

In the twentieth century, of course, there have been no shortages of libraries and books.  Access may have been limited or restricted, and the role of the librarian changed, but libraries and books remain constant.  Just as the library at Alexandria burned, libraries all over Europe were looted and burned during two world wars.  More recently, the Bosnian National Library came under very specific and harsh attack from the Serbs as part of a deadly cultural and ethnic clash.  Mr. Battles seeks here to point out that the library is more than a warehouse, more than a catalog.  It is a symbol, first and foremost, of an identity.  The Alexandrian library was very large according to history, because Alexander decreed that all knowledge should be held in one place, under his control.  The libraries of the monasteries salvaged ancient philosophy to be co-opted by the Church and used to further their own development.  Mr. Swift’s personal library, like Thomas Jefferson’s, represented his own movement away from classicism.  The Utilitarians of England believed that the library was a way to educate men for jobs and to inculcate morals.  Melville Dewey, the father of modern American librarianship and efficiency therein, believed that a library was a moral bulwark.  Librarians of the early twentieth century sought to elevate all readers by offering morally and socially uplifting works only, and through a reader’s advisory, to guide people to an appreciation of culture (Western culture, of course.) 

The most notorious destruction of libraries in the twentieth century is of course credited to the Nazis.  They looted and they burned.  They were proud of burning books that did not meet the ideals of the Reich.  They also tried to destroy the Jewish cultural markers within books and scholarship as part of the effort to eradicate the Jews.  Likewise, the Serbs attacked the Bosnian National Library because they sought to eliminate all other ethnicities from their society, and the library was a symbol of the wisdom and culture of all the ethnic groups that made up the former Yugoslavia

Libraries are more than warehouses, regardless of all the bean counters who control their funding.  They are not just repositories.  The central concern of modern librarians is whether the Internet will supersede the library (or more threateningly, the librarian).  Libraries represent knowledge and enjoyment; they create access for those who cannot afford to purchase information and knowledge.  Librarians are, and have been for thousands of years, the guardians of that access, the interpreters of the systems, the mediators of the quest.  Quite simply, we organize information and knowledge.  That need has not been eliminated.  The Internet is merely a very revolutionary tool.  Knowledge and the urge to control it will and must live on, regardless of the media used to access it.  The cultural standards and markers that are represented in books and other sources are important and necessary to all societies, all ethnicities.  Mr. Battles has written a solid argument in support of those truths.  He seems to be saying that there is a positive, even necessary, future for libraries. His book should be required reading in all Intro to Librarianship classes, and all graduate research courses, partly for historical reasons, certainly for continuity of knowledge, and for context in which to develop the future.

Elizabeth Malia, MLS
Media Services Manager

Eastern Washington University
emalia@ewu.edu

 

Carney, Jessie Carney.  (2003).  Blacks First: 4,000 Groundbreaking and Pioneering Historical Events.  2nd ed.  Detroit, MI: Visible Ink Press.   ISBN 1578591422. 787pp.

This well-researched volume adheres to strong research guidelines. The introduction demonstrates this in the statement that "all entries had to be documented, using several sources of information, when possible." The scope of the work is greatly expanded over the first edition, with more than one thousand additional individuals covered in this volume.

The aim of the volume is to synthesize a world history of Black achievements. Thus, the author has attempted to address a broad range of interests and subjects, including sixteen chapters covering arts and entertainment; business; civil rights and protest; education; government (state, county, federal, international, and local); journalism; military; miscellaneous; organizations; religion; science and medicine; sports; and writers. Chapters are subdivided into categories of the subjects covered and entries within the categories are arranged in chronological order. Categories include highlighted entries describing important firsts, pictures of selected individuals, and charts mapping trends or related events.  It would be helpful if the table of contents included listings and page numbers for the subcategories, but it is easy to locate information about specific topics using the comprehensive index which includes entries for people, events, subjects, places, organizations, and photographs.

Entries describing individuals include birth and death dates, biographical information, as well as the nature of the individual's accomplishments. Subject entries incorporate facts about individuals in the field or area, as well as important events. Government sections are organized by geographic subcategories. Most entries range in length from a few lines to one-half page. A list of sources is incorporated at the end of each entry. A comprehensive list of sources consulted is included in a separate chapter at the end of the volume.

The author, Jessie Carne Smith, is the William and Camille Cosby Professor of the Humanities at Fisk University (Nashville).   She is also the University Librarian at that institution. She has published several reference works in the field of Black history, which also incorporate biographical information about Blacks.

Connie Ury
Library Outreach Coordinator
Northwest Missouri State University
cjury@mail.nwmissouri.edu

 

 

D’Cruz, D.  (2002).  Loving Subjects: Narratives of Female Desire. New York: Peter Lang.  ISBN 0820458023.  295 pp.

In Loving Subjects: Narratives of Female Desire, D’Cruz examines the expression and symbolic character of female desire within dominant narrative structures.  D’Cruz argues that discourses of female desire are destabilized, even destroyed, by the dynamics of dominant masculine narrative structure accepted and propagated in our culture.  Further, she demonstrates that because female subjective discourse in the male-dominated narrative does not exist, female desire is actually prohibited because female desire is defined as the confluence of the female body and female language (discourse).  However bleak this appears at first, D’Cruz’s goal is to seek out examples of what she refers to as “instinctual female desire” (p.12) that transcend the “insurmountable obstacles” (from epilogue) inherent in dominant discourse.  By seeking these transcendendent discourses of female desire and pushing them into the academic literature, D’Cruz aims to help reposition female desire in the context of female subjectivity to make room for contemplative feminine discourse.

The context in which D’Cruz describes female desire as being located is based heavily on the works and critiques of Sigmund Freud, Julia Kristeva, Jacques Lacan, Susan Stanford Friedman, and Honora McKitrick Wallace.  D’Cruz relies on the work of Luce Irigaray to develop her thesis and accomplish her goal of showing that it is possible for female desire to be integrated with female subjectivity in narrative discourse, and in the temporal (real) world.

Loving Subjects is a compilation of nine analyses of literary works written by women. These nine analyses are divided into five distinct sections.  In each of the five sections of the text, D’Cruz focuses on one particular relational aspect of female desire, the context of which is described in an essay at the beginning of the section.  The particular order of the five sections illustrates well the progression from male subjective narratives of female desire to female subjective narratives of female desire in literature.  In each section, D’Cruz offers competing or coexisting views of female desire with her choice of texts.

Parts 1 and 2 focus on female desire in the context of heterosexual relationships.  In Part One, titled “Deconstructing the Father as Lover,” D’Cruz inspects the Oedipal father-daughter relationship and its assumptions of female desire as depicted in Antonia Whites’ four autobiographical novels: Frost in May, The Lost Traveller, The Sugar House, and Beyond the Glass.  Part 2, titled “Motherhood and Desire” examines the relationship between women and men in the production of the family, through the characters in Rosamond Lehmann’s The Ballad and the Source and Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

The three analyses in Part 3, titled “Lesbian Sexuality,” illustrate the prism of competing theories surrounding the phenomenon of female homosexuality.  For example, by depicting sex as a constructed, rather than natural dichotomy, Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit supports the idea of a sexless society, in which lesbianism does not exist in definition.  Depicting another theory of lesbianism, in the essay about Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, lesbianism is a mirror of traditional heterosexual desire.

In Part 4, “Single Women and Disruptive Desires,” D’Cruz describes society’s perceptions of single women throughout history. Marilynn Robinson’s Housekeeping depicts women overcoming the past male-dominated order to replace it with the unknowable, yet preferred, subjective.  In Part 5, Luce Irigaray’s Elemental Passions takes this transcendence even further.  D’Cruz analyzes this text as depicting a relationship where the complete union of a heterosexual couple occurs in perfect equilibrium.  This utopian relationship provides open space for women to express themselves as subjects, not objects, of their desire.

The impressive bibliography and extensive notes section are two of Loving Subjects strongest points.  The heavy reliance on Irigaray’s writings tends to make some of the book seem more like description than analysis.  However, D’Cruz explains her reasons for basing much of the book’s theory on Irigaray’s theories, by stating that “no one has been as relentless and as thorough as Irigaray in contemplating a way towards the remaking of sexual relations without the entailment of sacrifice” (15).

Loving Subjects, along with Suzanne Juhasz’s new book, A Desire for Women: Relational Psychoanalysis, Writing, and Relationships Between Women, helps to fill a need for new critical literary theory in women’s studies.  D’Cruz’s attention to using the most detailed and accurate language possible occasionally seemed to work against the text by obfuscating rather than elucidating meaning.  However, the topics covered in the book require an advanced vocabulary.  The complexity of theory and difficult language relegates Loving Subjects primarily to faculty and graduate researchers in Women’s Studies, Literary Criticism, and Psychology.

Wendy Juniper, MLS
Reference & Public Services Librarian

Moravian College
wajuniper@moravian.edu

 

Gorman, Michael (2003).  The Enduring Library:  Technology, Tradition and the Quest for Balance.  Chicago, IL:  American Library Association.  ISBN 0801867045.  $42.00 (pbk.)

In this visionary essay, Michael Gorman redresses the assaults suffered by librarianship by the supposed ‘digital revolution.’  As a matter of fact, Gorman challenges today’s technological hubris with the principle of the Copernican revolution—that nothing special marks the current state of affairs.  Contrary to a professional literature replete with dire predictions for traditional libraries and librarians, Gorman restores a sense of balance by placing today’s rapid technological changes in historical perspective.  Surveying the history of communications technology, he demonstrates the precedent of technological change and contends that today’s ‘revolution’ pales in significance when compared to such inventions as modern photography, the telephone and the phonograph.  As Gorman states in the introduction, his fundamental premise “is that in order to understand the impact of technology on society and libraries, we need to have a clear view of the history and evolution of communications technology.”  Armed with this understanding, librarians can “deal with the present rationally and face the future without fear” (p. xiii).

In Chapter 1, “The Way We Live Now:  Libraries Today,” Gorman itemizes the major problems that confront libraries and invokes his “Copernican Principle”—that these problems do not represent more acute circumstances than any other era and certainly does not signal the collapse of libraries and librarians.  He assesses the current situation as merely another transitional moment in library history:  “It is more logical to assume that we are merely at a given point in the steady evolution of libraries and human communication, with much change behind us and much change yet to come.”  Thus librarians “can relax and deal with our problems coolly and on the basis of analysis and logic—evolutionary times call for evolutionary responses.”  His prescribed response is “the incorporation of computer technology and digital communication into library services in a balanced and practical way” (p. 3).  Chapter 2 surveys the historical development of communications technology since 1875 and points out that, in many cases, “our cutting-edge technology is the logical and natural outcome of ideas that are decades, even centuries, old” (p. 18).  Gorman thus prepares the reader to accept his contention that today’s ‘revolution’ is in fact ‘evolution.’  In Chapter 3, he wrestles with the widespread inclination to embrace technology as preferable to traditional media such as books.  Gorman urges librarians to “resist these strong forces” and “seek balance in the expenditures and attention devoted to different kinds of library materials.”  If librarians maintain a proper historical perspective on today’s technological developments, they will strive for “balance and harmony” in the selection and management of library materials.  This means that librarians must resist pressures to focus exclusively on digital technology and must advocate the ‘real,’ physical library’ as an enduring institution (p. 36). 

Librarians must also dismiss the extravagant claims made for bridging the ‘digital divide’ as a socioeconomic panacea.  While Gorman agrees that the ‘digital divide’ is real, he minimizes its importance in comparison with the widespread lack of sanitation in developing countries, as well as “underfunded public education, economically straitened libraries, low levels of literacy, and a debased culture of lowbrow entertainment” (p. 37).  As Gorman further contends, “There is a divide, one that is far greater than the digital divide, of longer standing, and of far more import, but it is a societal divide—one that discriminates against minorities and the poor in terms of education, health care, housing, employment opportunities, literacy, and all the other factors that are vital to learning, empowerment, and the pursuit of happiness” (p. 38).  In Chapter 4, Gorman addresses the profession’s concern with ‘information literacy,’ placing it in the context of larger social concerns. Simply providing Internet access won’t resolve the problems of literacy and other issues; rather, Gorman advocates nurturing the ‘love of reading’ into children, particularly the type of sustained reading that comes with book-length texts.  Some readers might take offense at his defense of traditional library materials, but Gorman is not a ‘Luddite.’  Rather, his argument insists that an all-digital library robs its patrons of full-orbed interaction with recorded history.  Libraries as enduring institutions, in Gorman’s vision, offer a rich variety of materials—in multiple formats—to encourage ‘true literacy’:  “enabling people to become learned through reading” (p. 49).  Chapter 5 analyzes the impact of the Internet on libraries and demystifies the ‘Web’ whose importance is overemphasized by “hyperventilators” who regard it as the “Second Coming of Gutenberg” (p. 53). 

Reflecting its origins in multiple earlier articles, The Enduring Library covers several aspects of library work, including reference, cataloging, and the future of libraries (Chapters 6 through 9).  Gorman aims at several targets in this book, and readers must keep in mind his overarching purpose—to defend traditional libraries as a viable social institution that will stand the test of the ‘information revolution.’  Certainly, he presents his readers with an astute grasp of today’s challenges as well as a compelling vision of librarianship’s inherent value to modern society.  One of his most salient points is his defense of reference work in Chapter 6 as a person-to-person relationship—one in which “a skilled human being (a reference librarian) is needed to give guidance and assistance in using the bibliographic architecture of organization and to act as a guide, philosopher, and friend to all who use library materials” (p. 72).  Perhaps his most practical section is Chapter 10, “Information Overload and Stress,” where Gorman offers suggestions for dealing with the increased on-the-job pressures of library work today.  While his proposed solutions for other contemporary problems (such as scholarly journal publishing or his statements concerning the Dublin Core) may engender disagreement, Gorman should be commended for his advocacy of the library profession as well as his creative strategies for resolving its challenges.  For example, Chapter 11—“Seeking Harmony and Balance”—provides a splendid exposition of the American Library Association’s Code of Ethics as correlated with the Eightfold Path of Buddhism as “a way of looking at the world that will bring harmony and balance in library life and the rest of life” (p. 135).  Gorman concludes his essays with a plea for the library profession to consider its stewardship of the human record and its responsibility for the common good.

Most readers will likely applaud Gorman for providing historical perspective and a positive vision for the future of the profession.  Some may even call him ‘courageous’ for speaking up for traditional libraries that have ‘endured’ prophecies of impending doom.  All would doubtless agree that his book is a timely word of encouragement not only to those entering librarianship, but also to all ‘enduring librarians’ who serve faithfully for the sake of the human record and the public good.  Highly recommended. 

Barry W. Hamilton, Ph.D.
Northeastern Seminary

Hamilton_Barry@roberts.edu

 

Quinn, John M. OSA. (2002)A Companion to the Confessions of St. Augustine.  New York: Peter Lang.  ISBN 0820424064.  $95.95

A Companion to the Confessions of St. Augustine provides a detailed chapter by chapter exegesis of the Confessions.  Quinn describes his purpose in writing as a “point-by-point commentary on all chapters” which serves as “an intellectual partner enabling one to make headway through the underbrush as well as the more open pathways of Augustine’s masterpiece” (preface).  Quinn succeeds in his stated purpose, but many readers will find they need to consult a dictionary or theological handbook in order to plumb the depths of this work.

Quinn does an excellent job of distilling other works on the Confessions into this single volume.  Each section, which corresponds to the books with the Confessions, has extensive, informative end notes which are 10-18 pages in length.  In addition, a lengthy bibliography is provided.  The outstanding characteristic is Quinn’s use of other Augustinian texts to exegete the Confessions.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

This volume is not intended to be read in isolation but jointly with the Confessions.  Each chapter unpacks the meaning of the text in a few succinct pages.  As A Companion is designed to be read in tandem with the Confessions, this volume would be more useful if Augustine’s text was included to facilitate both ease in reading and a common translation reference.  One assumes that this was not pursued due to the volume’s already extensive length of 967 pages.  In the absence of the printed text, this volume would increase in usefulness if Quinn had directly quoted from the text more frequently as a reference point.

As each chapter directly corresponds with a single chapter from Augustine, A Companion may be utilized in several different ways.  Individuals undertaking a detailed study of the entire text or who are reading the Confessions meditatively will find this work to be a wonderful guide to the nuances of the entire work.  On the other hand, individuals desiring to focus on a particular passage from the Confessions will find A Companion a wonderful starting place which will point to a plethora of additional resources.  However, this volume is not intended for the casual reader as Quinn often refers to doctrines or specific heresies, such as the Manichees, that are only familiar to students of church history or theology.  For these reasons, A Companion to the Confessions of St. Augustine is recommended for academic libraries with large theology or philosophy collections.  Many students of Augustine will desire their own copy in order to utilize it to the fullest extent.

Leslie Starasta, MS
Information Services Librarian

Lincoln Christian College & Seminary
lstarasta@lccs.edu