Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians

#178, May 30, 2003

Or why you might want to hire me for speaking engagements or workshops. To see outlines for previous presentations I've done, click on Handouts

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Order My Book

Click HEREto place a direct order for my book, The Quintessential Searcher: the Wit and Wisdom of Barbara Quint

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What IS Ex Libris?

The purpose and intended scope of this e-zine

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E-Mail Subscription?

For a combined subscription to Neat New Stuff and ExLibris, please click HERE, complete the form, and click on "subscribe." To unsubscribe, use the same form but click on "unsubscribe." To change addresses for an existing subscription, unsubscribe from that form and return to the page to enter the new address.

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Highlights from Previous Issues:

My Rules of Information

  1. Go where it is
  2. The answer depends on the question
  3. Research is a multi-stage process
  4. Ask a Librarian
  5. Information is meaningless until queried by human intelligence
  6. Information can be true and still wrong

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Guru Interviews

  1. Tara Calishain
  2. Jenny Levine, part I
  3. Jenny Levine, Part II
  4. Reva Basch
  5. Sue Feldman
  6. Jessamyn West
  7. Debbie Abilock
  8. Kathy Schrock
  9. Greg Notess
  10. William Hann
  11. Chris Sherman
  12. Gary Price
  13. Barbara Quint
  14. Rory Litwin
  15. John Guscott
  16. Brian Smith
  17. Darlene Fichter
  18. Brenda Bailey-Hainer
  19. Walt Crawford
  20. Molly Williams
  21. Genie Tyburski
  22. Carrie Bickner

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Cool Quotes

The collected quotes from all previous issues are at

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When and How To Search the Net

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Wanna See Your Name in Lights?

Or at least on this page, anyway? I'd like to print here your contributions as well as mine. As you've noticed, articles are brief, somewhere between 200 and 500 words -- something to jog people's minds and get their own good ideas flowing. I'd also be happy to run other people's contributions to the regular features like Favorite Sites on _____. I'll pay you the same rate I pay me: nothing.

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Drop me a Line

Want to comment, ask questions, submit articles, or invite me to speak or do some training? Contact me at: marylaine at

Visit My Other Sites

My page on all things book-related.

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How To Find Out of Print Books
Suggested strategies, resources, and finding tools.

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Best Information on the Net
bestinfo/default.htmThe directory I built for O'Keefe Library, St. Ambrose University, still my favorite pit stop on the information highway.

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My Word's Worth
a weekly column on books, words, libraries, American culture, and whatever happens to interest me.

Subject Index to My Word's Worth at

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Book Proposal

Land of Why Not: an Appreciation of America. Proposal for an anthology of some of my best writing. An outline and sample columns are available here.

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My personal page

SUBJECT INDEX to Past Issues

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Neat New Stuff I Found This Week
Hot air balloons, free PERL resources, a guide to tech theatre, and more.

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My resume


by Marylaine Block

You may have noticed the federal government is in financial trouble. How much trouble? It recently had to raise its debt ceiling to 7.38 trillion dollars. It could use a big infusion of cash, but the traditional way of getting it, raising taxes, is unfashionable these days. In fact, the government is actually giving back to taxpayers money it doesn't have, even if it does have to take out a loan from their grandchildren to do it.

It could always sell some of its assets, of course. Hmmm, let's see. We have lots of forests and...oh, yes, that's right, we're already giving those away to the lumber companies for free, and building them roads while we're at it to make it easier for them to get in there and save us from forest fires.

What else is there? I know! There's mineral rights! Oops, guess not -- we already let people lease them for less than 1 percent of the money the mineral rights bring in. (And if they lease mineral rights from Indian lands, they might never have to pay any royalties at all.)

Well, gee, there must be something we have that could bring in some green. Intellectual property, maybe? One thing this country has always been really good at is coming up with ideas.

What? You say we can't patent an idea? That's not what the folks at British Telecom think -- they're claiming a patent on the idea of hyperlinks, and want royalties every time somebody clicks on one. And Jeff Bezos wants people to pay him a royalty for using a one-click system to buy stuff on the net -- his invention, after all, and the Patent Office, which gave him patent #5,960,411, apparently agrees.

So, let's see. Are there any really good government ideas we could patent, and claim royalties on?

Well, yes, actually, our government produced one of the most powerful and remarkable ideas anybody ever came up with. It's called the Bill of Rights. The amazing thing about it is that the men who wrote it could have given themselves unlimited power when they wrote the Constitution. I suspect most men would have seized that opportunity.

Instead, they wrote a list of the powers that ordinary citizens would have, powers that the government could not intrude on. They said, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

They said that government couldn't invade our homes to search and seize our property without probable cause, couldn't jail us without giving us a speedy trial and the aid of a lawyer to protect our rights, couldn't require excessive bail or inflict cruel and unusual punishment. Amazing, isn't it?

And heck, it isn't like we're even using those rights at the moment. After all, the world is a dangerous place these days and we have to protect ourselves, so of course the government needs to find out what people are reading and writing and checking out on the internet. It needs to be able to arrest people who look like they might be plotting terrorism or overstaying their visas or something.

Of course there are rights, and there are RIGHTS, and government's got to be mighty careful about which ones they mess with. We don't want them checking out whether people are buying surface-to-air missiles or explosives or anything, because the right to own guns is really sacred.

I bet a whole lot of people would just love to license our rights, maybe pay us a dime or a dollar every time they used them. Think we could get Bill Gates to write the user agreement for us? We can use a man who really understands how to write and enforce a contract. People might even find out that they'd agreed to pay us before they ever even read the agreement.

Of course the people who are going to be hardest to convince are librarians. You know, they have this thing about public information being free, and the only way to keep government honest and accountable and yada yada yada. But heck, anybody can be bought, can't they? After all, some of that license money could be used for libraries -- at least as big a percentage of the federal budget as they're already getting.

Oh, you say that means we're talking about pennies for librarians, and they don't sell out that cheap. Or maybe not at all.

Well, shucky darn. Back to the drawing board.

Tell me again, why was it we decided that taxes weren't a good idea?

* Yes, the reference to Jonathan Swift is entirely intentional.

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REMINDER: I invite you to write articles for ExLibris. I don't pay for content, but I will give you a forum for whatever issues you'd like to discuss or ideas you'd like to propose in regard to libraries and librarianship, information, the internet, or search technique. If you have an idea for an article, please e-mail it to me.

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Few people think about the noble role that librarians play. Our ability to collect, organize, and preserve the voices and observations of those who came before us is critical to our continued survival as a species. The story of Babel is a metaphor for what later happened at Alexandria; a reminder that we all suffer when we lose our ability to pass lessons to future generations.

It is possible for a single person to memorize the Quran and pass it on to others, but word-of-mouth is not enough to perpetuate the bulk of knowledge that enables the planet to support six billion people today. Without written language and our knowledge stewards, we would have to eliminate many billions of people, because we wouldn't be able to maintain the capabilities that support them all.

Again, the Internet has had a profound impact on our ability to preserve our collective memory, but we are still very fragile. A true librarian has vivid memories of Babel and Alexandria (when we also considered ourselves invincible), and lives the motto 'never again!'. The first lesson of history (that we must learn and never repeat) is that history lost is humanity lost.

Joshua Allen, in Better Living Through Software, January 4, 2003

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You are welcome to copy and forward any of my own articles for noncommercial purposes (but not those by my guest writers) as long as you retain this copyright statement:

Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 1999-2003.

[Publishers may license the content for a reasonable fee.]

Please do NOT copy and post my articles to your own web sites, however. Instead, please copy a brief excerpt and link to my site for the remainder of the article.