The other day there was a patron in the library sobbing while looking at the cover of Booklist on the Web. It was like life imitating art. A guy with the voice of an airline pilot and the posture of a prince on a white horse approached her. I couldn't help eavesdropping.

DL: Why are you sobbing young lady? Were the reviews of Booklist so saddening about the sappy graphic novels?

SL: Are you patronizing me? Do you try to hit on me because I look so vulnerable? I don't come to libraries to get picked up. 

DL: Oh no. I just wanted to help and show sensitivity. I am a life-long learner studying for  my LIS degree, and a card carrying member of ALA. I am  here to serve. As our association  proclamation says "libraries bring you a world of knowledge both in person and online, as well as personal service and assistance in finding what you need, when you need it". I am glad that you turned to the ALA Web site, fair and balanced, and particularly the Web companion to Booklist which, just a second, I am checking my talking points, which reaches 85,000 librarians, not to mention the tens of thousands of readers who enjoy the informative reviews.

 

SL: Enjoyed, sir, enjoyed. This issue of  February, 2003 with the crying lady on the cover  was the very last one which had the full text reviews on the ALA Web site. Then the powers  that be decided that after the site reorganization no access would be provided to the reviews posted earlier on the http://www.ala.org/booklist site. Is this what you call service orientation?

 

DL: Let me just check further down the web site. You see, theeere they are. Here are those free reviews and some extra goodies. They don't call me Mr. Digital for nothing.  

 

SL: Don't you fool me. There were thousands of full text reviews going back to 1995. Now, it's just a smattering of the past month's reviews and reviews of some best sellers of the past. As for the past reviews  this is all  the advise you get when looking for them on the Booklist Web site..

 

DL: Maybe those who handle user  feedback at ALA and really know the logic behind the redesign can clarify this.

 

SL: You are preaching to the choir. I tried to contact the Webmaster about the reviews from the past 7 years, as "no longer being archived" did not mean to me that those past reviews from volume 92 to 99  (i.e. Sep.

1995 to Feb. 2003),  would not be available either. But you know, English is my second language, and because of that and the differences in cultural heritage I don't always get the euphemisms. I did not get an answer for a week, so I wrote to the central ALA information desk and got a reply (and an apology for not replying earlier). It reconfirmed my worst fears that the reviews are no longer available

 

DL: But  there are annual and semi-annual indexes on the Web to  those reviews published between September, 1997 and February, 2003. Let me just fire up the redesigned search engine and you will be set. Here it is. Search to your heart's content.

SL: Not exactly. Why can't the search engine find at least the index entry to the review of Little Lit, the book by Pulitzer winner Art Spiegelman? You know, the Maus guy.

DL: Well, there are, wait a minute, 150,00 titles published a year. Maybe it was not reviewed by Booklist.

SL: You just  spin me as some  information industry veterans, who don their Sunday best hawkin' their employer's database in the ALA expo halls. Of course, it was reviewed, it got a starred review. I have a picture of it.

 

SL: So tell me again, Mr. Digital, why can't the new ALA search engine find it? The old search engine of ALA, which was ditched during the reorganization, could pull it up.

DL: Well, the new search engine is not exactly known to be the little search engine that could, but it does work some of the time for some of the searches. There are little wrinkles to work out. It needs more time, and more money. 

And remember, when it does find a match for at least one word in your query, it lists in the result the annual and semiannual indexes of the print volumes of Booklist which may have a review.

 

SL: You are telling me. That's what the new ALA search engine brings up on the top when I am trying to find  a review about the Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. This is what I get. You wouldn't call the excerpts in the result list informative and orienting, would you?

Which one should I look at? The 30% relevant or the 29% relevant?

DL: Look at the first one, it has more numbers in the snippet. 

 

SL: Of course,  everything is relative. The annual index for volume 99 has informative excerpts compared to the other volumes. Could you decipher them for me?

DL: I don't think so.

 

SL: Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the gobbledygook snippets. They serve as warning signs not even to think of downloading the 60 page PDF files as many of them are not legible on the screen by mere mortals.

DL: Le me just set the enlargement for you correctly, and it will solve the problem. Oops, the body of the index gets worse while the introductory text is quite legible. Those naughty fonts, we just had bad luck with this volume. Maybe you want another review from another volume. 

 

SL: Sure, I know of one  legible index,  the one for Volume 99. I could  find in the middle of it the reference of a review to page 1012 of that volume of Booklist. Too bad the library was just closing. When it opened again after the long Easter weekend, I tried to find the issue on the shelves, although I didn't have from the index the issue number. Never mind the issue. As it turned out  the entire volume is in the bindery. It is promised to be back early next year.

DL: Well, you can't blame ALA for that.

SL: I don't. But do you know, Mr. Digital, what the Booklist site used to have before the reorganization? It had the modest but functioning  search engine that could limit the search -among others- to the Booklist site as I have shown earlier. The advanced mode of the new  engine also has limit options to restrict the search to ALA divisions, sections, units, topics and genres, but Booklist and book reviews are not among them.

 

And wait, there is more. I mean there was more. The pre-reorganization Booklist site  had indexes by volume and main entry, title and author indexes to the 6,200+ reviews, and also direct links to their digital reviews. It brought the reviews to the user's screen rather than sending the user to the print version. 

 

DL: Well, it is crying over spilt milk. Pardon, the expression. I am not mocking you. I do feel your pain, but  there is no need for hot-linked index if the 6,200+ reviews are not there anymore, is there?

SL: Not so fast, young man. The reviews are still on the ALA Web site. The message at the bottom of the new Booklist site,  the reply from the ALA Web help desk, and the new search engine are ignorant about this, and leave the members ignorant. It's unlikely that ALA  would knowingly mislead you or wouldn't want you to know about the review archive. But again, the reviews are still there on the ALA site. Not at the www.ala.org/booklist location but at the http://archive.ala.org/booklist/ address which luckily preserved the content as it was before the reorganization, including the entire Booklist review archive. I accidentally bumped into it. The mnogo search engine got crippled, and the new search engine does not search the archive site but ….

DL: …but if the reviews are still there then you can find them  with Google.

SL: Ssssh, don't say it loud. Do you want to push the patrons more  to Google?. They mistakenly believe already that they don't need libraries, librarians and their knowledge of resources & skills of searching. Say, new Yahoo Search Engine, and type http://search.yahoo.com/search?vs=archive.ala.org/&booklist&vp=little+lit . The first hit is the index to the Books for Middle Readers section, and the second hit is a direct  link to the full text review. This is searching through proxy or proxy searching, a convenient method when a site has no search engine, or has a poor search engine. Just replace the search term in the above query, and find any review published on the Booklist Web site prior to the reorganization.

DL: So why were you sobbing if you knew all this?

SL: Because most end-users of the Web version of Booklist don't know it, card carrying members of ALA may not know it, the ALA Web team and help desk members profess not to know it. If ALA's 'mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information" how come that its representatives direct you to the print volumes recommending a lengthy, unreliable, and unpredictable procedure when even the ALA  search engine could be trained to fetch you the digital reviews where you need them and when you need them. Did you say "save the time of the reader", or was it Mr. Ranganathan?

DL: It is not on my talking points list, neither in the press kit, so it must have been that other gentleman. Wait, here is a boilerplate letter from ALA, I just have to fill in the blank, but I don't see nay reference to saving time to the reader.

  

SL: Never mind. By the National Library Week I will post a little search engine which can proxy search the full text of those reviews, even limit the search to the title of the books (and other media) reviewed. That's my way of celebrating the 100th anniversary of Booklist, which is indeed an excellent source that ALA can be proud of. Hey, why are you sobbing, Mr. Digital?  

DL: Because I now feel neglected by ALA. I feel like the cobbler's child. What happens if the ALA Web team reaction will be to remove the Booklist archive? Can you do something really special  as fairies do? 

SL: Don't worry Mr. Digital. I am working on a  Book Review Polysearch engine which will find the reviews -among others- from open access sites to which ALA licensed the BookList reviews, including also the current reviews from Volume 100. No, it is not mentioned anywhere by ALA. I plan to release it in the summer.  Hey, why are you leaving? Here is a Kleenex with my e-mail: jacso@hawaii.edu 

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