"I certainly never write a review about a book I don't think worth reviewing, a flat-out bad book, unless it's an enormously fashionable bad book." --
says, John Gardner in Conversations with John Gardner
Quoted from 'Dictionary of Library and Information Science Quotations'     Edited by Mohamed Taher & L S Ramaiah. ISBN: 8185689423 (New Delhi , Aditya, 1994) p.150. Available @ Amazon.com

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Information literacy books -- Is there a saturation in this genre?

Reading now: Information Literacy Instruction that Works: A Guide to Teaching by Discipline and Student Population, Second Edition by Patrick Ragains (Editor)
Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2d ed. ISBN: 9781555708603. 2013, 342 pages. $85.00 paperback.

Any reader of this Information literacy (IL) book may ask “Do we need yet another book on the best practices in IL?” The answer is not given in the book. Compared to two pages about its content organization, there is no clearly stated objective of this anthology, or a justification for the need of this book, given the fact that there are many competitors today that ‘help the students.’Many librarians struggle to  deliver benefits with a focus on: a) users/readers and b) cost effective. On both these fronts, the book in hand is not a good fit. Considering a ROI is necessary for every one, a fact that must be remembered by every author and publisher is that there are already so many titles in this genre, and an increasing number of competitors today that ‘help the students.’ According to a list by informationliteracy.org.uk there are over thirty books (2008 to 2012), and tends to show the near saturation of the genre.More such lists are: INFORMATION LITERACY BOOKS  / ALA'sTeaching & Learning Information Literacy Skills: Textbooks  /  Popular Information Literacy Books - Goodreads

Assessment of the actual task, the most wanted item by IL librarians, will find it only in the case relating to the disciplines of Psychology (Chapter 12), Engineering (Chapter 16). Whereas, other selected disciplines will have inferences and indirect reference to what works.

Futher, comparative librarianship would expect all the selected studies/caes to be from similar settings (or from one level of institutions within an academic sample). Where as the 17 contributors of this anthology tell a different story--4 are in Colleges and 13 in Universities). More details about the contributors herein indicates another story about the levels of specialization.  The job title, Instruction (per se), is only in the case of one college and two university level librarians. Others are either aadministrators or faculty status holders.  

The strength of the book is in its twenty chapters, with selections-specific discussions  from humanities and social sciences. It is divided into four sections, viz., Planning to Teach; Teaching Specific Student Groups; Literacy in Specific Disciplines; and Teaching Special Topics. A weakness of the book is in its random selection of subjects that are tempered by the availability of contributors.

One single instance, may make this book different from the others. The following quote illustrates this highly desired momentum in all our IL theory, practices and the genre. "There is also an increasing recognition that students must move beyond scientific and technical expertise in these fields and develop an understanding of the cultural, social, aesthetic, and political aspects of scientific issues... This shift reflects the necessity of interdisciplinarity that integrates the social sciences and humanities with the sciences, creataing a holistic approach to scientific research" (Elizabeth Berman, Scientific Literacy, p. 217). Does the entire book reflect this intent or motif, anyways??? Nope. All other discussions sail in the same old boat of disciplinary approaches.

There is no explanation of why included are, stray areas, such as, Patent Research (and why not include standards' search, or how to search primary sources, as well) or subject domains, such as, Engineering (presented as a single monolithic domain, a fashion in 19th century), and why there is a namesake ‘discussion’ of science literacy (again as if science is still a single subject of study). Subjects then missing (even from humanities and social sciences) are sociology, social work, political science, public admin, religion, and philosophy. Hence, it is not a book that can be recommended for every type of library. Nevertheless, this book may be of value in the library of major library schools in  the US, that have a course on information literacy.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Who's Bigger?: Where Historical Figures Really Rank -- Do they? Is this ranking global or local?

Who's Bigger?: Where Historical Figures Really Rank by Professors Steven Skiena  and  Charles Ward.

In identifying the most significant figures in human history the authors measure the impact of opinions. Thus the book, is a quantitative (aka metric) 'study' of opinions. Period. The ranking is based on a sample of the World's selected online resources, based on their format (i.e., web-based). It is not a rank by size of literature produced by a scholarly body or by historical period of occurrence or any other benchmarks of quantitative studies.

Summarily, this book is ranking of figures in human history by way of measuring the impact on opinions. WHEREAS, anyone who values facts, will not go near heresy/opinions/impressions/likes/dislikes, etc. Moreover a select sample of the Web, that includes the Wiki and similar community sources (attributed by academics as by and large anonymous, unreliable, and volatile nature), cannot be a means of a study to rank the sages of the ages. People who are looking at this pseudo-ranking approach, are getting excited that someone gets Top Rank. Is s/he really at the same NUMBER (based on the rule: What You See Is What You Get/vice versa, aka WYSIWYG/WYGIWYS) among the great historical figures??? Think twice, go check FACTS, and don't make historical judgments, based on opinions of Facebookers, Tweeters, clickers, likers, so on and so forth.

Hence, in deciding the place of historical figures, one must be careful. An Amazon's reviewer says: "Please don't buy this book. ...." [source: elmo]. In short,  opinions don't count, it is facts that are supposed to be used for ranking, and I would still recommend, The 100: A Ranking Of The Most Influential Persons In History by Michael H. Hart.

Book Description: 

Is Hitler bigger than Napoleon? Washington bigger than Lincoln? Picasso bigger than Einstein? Quantitative analysts are rapidly finding homes in social and cultural domains, from finance to politics. What about history? In this fascinating book, Steve Skiena and Charles Ward bring quantitative analysis to bear on ranking and comparing historical reputations. They evaluate each person by aggregating the traces of millions of opinions, just as Google ranks webpages. The book includes a technical discussion for readers interested in the details of the methods, but no mathematical or computational background is necessary to understand the rankings or conclusions...

The 100 Most Significant Figures in History (first 25 ranked)
(image courtesy: miketrap.com/bostonglobe.com)

On the same shelf:

  • Who’s Biggest? The 100 Most Significant Figures in History ... ideas.time.com "A data-driven ranking. Plus, have former TIME People of the Year been predictive?" 
  •   The 100: A Ranking Of The Most Influential Persons In History (Arabic Edition) Anis Mansour
  • The Film 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential People in the History of the Movies Scott Smith
  • LIFE 100 People Who Changed the World (Life (Life Books)) Editors of Life
  • The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived: How Characters of Fiction, Myth, Legends, Television, and Movies Have Shaped Our Society, Changed Our Behavior, and Set the Course of History Dan Karlan