Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians

#26, September 24, 1999. Published every Friday.



September 24: innkeepers' recipes, famous trials, what people are looking for on search engines, building your own language, and more.

* * * * * * * * *

What IS Ex Libris?

The purpose and intended scope of this e-zine -- always keeping in mind that in response to readers, I may add, subtract, and change features.

* * * * * * * * *

Archive of Previous Issues

* * * * * * * * *


Part 2: What's the Best Search Engine?
Part 1: Clever Government Tricks

* * * * * * * * *

My Favorite Sites on___:

* * * * * * * * *

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

* * * * * * * * *

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

* * * * * * * * *

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, the 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: RE:SEARCHING and Favorite Sites on _____. I'll pay you the same rate I pay me: nothing.

* * * * * * * * *

E-Mail Subscription?

To subscribe to 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 then return to the page to enter the new address.
PRIVACY POLICY: I don't collect or reveal information about subscribers.

* * * * *

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 netexpress.net.

Visit My Other Sites

My Word's Worth

a weekly column on books, words, libraries, American culture, and whatever happens to interest me. For the subject index, click HERE.

* * *


My page on all things book-related. NEW STUFF ADDED in September!

* * *

Best Information on the Net

Still my favorite pit stop on the information Highway. This is a mirror of the real site, which has moved to http://www.sau.edu/bestinfo/.

* * *

My personal page

* * *

My resume

or, why you might want to hire me to speak at internet or library workshops or conferences, or have me consult on building your library page.


Dr. Laura Schlesinger's attack on the ALA is a useful lesson about real world pressures on selection. I don't question ALA's choice of the Alice web site (http://www.goaskalice.columbia.edu/), where medical professionals answer questions from teens about not just sexuality, but also relationships, drugs and alcohol, emotional health, and fitness and nutrition. It meets all the Young Adult Library Services Association's stated selection criteria: it is interesting, useful, accurate, current, and from a reputable source.

Let's think through the selection process these librarians went through for a moment. Does the site fill a need? Oh, yes. Adolescents desperately want information about the strange things that are happening to their bodies and minds and emotions, desperately need to know these things are normal and that they are not freaks. Yet our society regards young adults as children to be protected from sexual information, and makes it difficult for them to get honest answers to their questions. Many parents are reluctant or unable to answer questions about sexuality and the pains of growing up, even when kids can get past the sheer embarrassment of asking, or can bring themselves to reveal their secret self-doubts. Addressing questions by e-mail to a neutral professional who promises to be non-judgmental allows young adults to be completely honest and open about what they need to know.

Since it comes from the Columbia University Health Education program, and since we can independently confirm much of it, it is reasonable for us to trust the accuracy of the information. The site is current, with updates added to earlier posted answers when new information is available.

Is this all we need to ask? I don't think so. I would add some other questions.

  • Is it important? A resounding yes. These doctors have answered questions from kids on the verge of suicide (DON'T DO IT). They have helped kids with all kinds of anxieties: the stress of frequent moving, the pain of divorce, the hell of being the child of alcoholic parents, the worry about a late period or being 14 and never having gotten one yet. Because Alice's professionals can't talk face-to-face with the kids, they tell them where else they can go for help.

  • Is this the only site that performs this function, or is there a comparable site we might choose in its place? Yes, there are equivalent sites. US News for September 27 just reported on several, including MTV's Dr. Drew at http://www.drdrew.com/.

  • Is there a down side to this site? This, I think, is the critical question that may not have been asked in this case. When a site guarantees it will give young adults honest, non-judgmental answers to extremely personal questions, whoever chooses to link it in needs to look closely at a wide sampling of those questions and answers, especially those on hot button issues like homosexuality and abortion, to see if they like the way such questions are handled. Many librarians have said NO, have in fact asked ALA if it is out of its mind.

    Keep in mind that what happened to ALA could happen to any of us. Picture your local TV station running a story about your library recommending a web site that explains certain non-standard sexual practices in detail, and ask yourself whether you and your staff are prepared to go on camera and defend your selection of it. If so, go ahead and link it. (It wouldn't hurt to prepare a written web site selection policy in advance.)

    But the other problem with a site like Alice is that the content changes all the time. If we say, "Here, use these wonderful sites," we need to go back and look at all our chosen sites from time to time, not just to check that the links are current, but to see if we still endorse the sites' content. Another cautionary tale: Like many other librarians, I linked in an outstanding page on disabilities. When it unexpectedly shut down, its domain was then purchased by a porno site. We were very glad WE discovered this before local TV news crews, or our bishop, did, on a page that represented a Catholic university to the world.

    Library endorsements of web sites are extraordinarily public. Our web pages will be seen by people who have never taken their kids to story hour, never asked us to look up addresses for Christmas cards, never walked out with an armful of videos and murder mysteries, never had us teach them research methods, never had any previous reason to rely on our judgment or think kindly of us. That's why we have to keep them defensible.

    I would have chosen Go Ask Alice myself, despite some discomfort with a small number of answers. Not only am I willing to defend ALA for choosing it, I think I'm doing a substantially better job of it than ALA is. But I will NOT defend ALA for being blind-sided by Dr. Laura. They should have been prepared, because in our current political climate, such an attack was utterly predictable.

    In case you're interested, I have written a column on Dr. Laura and web filters: That Little Old Smut Peddler Me http://marylaine.com/myword/protect.html



    My subscriber list and web use statistics show that I have lots of readers in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada, and several other countries. I would love to have you write articles for Ex Libris explaining how libraries and library systems work in your country. Even if you don't want to write entire articles, I'd like it if you would just dash off answers to some basic questions I have, such as:

  • Funding: Is it national or local or some of both? Is it adequate? Has it been increasing or decreasing?
  • Control: Is it national or local or some of both? Who do you answer to?
  • Censorship: Do you face some of the same pressures we do here, from politicians or religious groups or "political correctness"?
  • Resource Sharing: Do you have good library consortia, interlibrary loan systems, mutual borrowing arrangements with other libraries? Do you share costs for databases or circulation systems or reference service?
  • Service to Distant Users: What kinds of services do you supply? To whom? By what means?
  • Comparisons: What do you think you do uniquely well that libraries in other countries would benefit from adopting? What might you like to adopt from other countries' libraries?

    I look forward to hearing from you.


    NOTE: I always link the current issue in twice, under both index.html AND its permanent URL. If you ever want to cite something that appears in a current issue of Ex Libris, here's how to figure out its permanent location: the stem address is
    The file name will be xlib followed by the issue number and .html. The issue number at the top of this page is 26, which makes the file name xlib26.html. Thus the permanent URL for this issue is:

    You are welcome to copy and distribute or e-mail any of my own articles (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.