We live in an age of lists. Every week on line there are more and more lists of everything, including great books (many of them assembled on this site) across a range of genres. But this week, OCLC published a pretty eye-opening literary list—the Library 100, which ranks the library world's most widely held novels of all time, based on the comprehensive data held in OCLC's WorldCat database.
How comprehensive, you ask? OCLC officials say the list was culled from the collections of more than 18,000 libraries which have contributed information about more than 2.7 billion copies of some 447 million titles.
“Libraries provide a unique opportunity to track long-term trends in published literature,” said Skip Prichard, OCLC President and CEO, in a release, adding that the data libraries contribute to WorldCat very likely offers the best view of the world's published record. “WorldCat is a unique resource that can tell us more about publishing patterns and, by extension, cultural patterns,” Prichard says.
So, what is the most widely held novel in libraries around the world? Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, followed by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. As you might expect, the list features a large number of classics, for obvious reasons. Which makes it all the more interesting to see where more contemporary works fall on the Library 100 list, and in some cases, where some other great novels don't fall. I won’t spoil any surprises here (though I can’t believe where Harry Potter ranks).
One other notable thing about this list: the data was gathered from library collections that were mostly selected and curated by humans. Given the rise of algorithms and AI, library lists of the future could look very (and perhaps worryingly) different, as other headlines in the news this week suggest.
Editors Note: The Week in Libraries column will be off next Friday, March 15, due to the London Book Fair. The column will return with the March 22 edition of PW Preview For Librarians.
From Wired, this article examines how Amazon's Algorithms have curated "a dystopian" bookstore. "Once relegated to tabloids and web forums, health misinformation and conspiracies have found a new megaphone in the curation engines that power massive platforms like Amazon, Facebook, and Google. Search, trending, and recommendation algorithms can be gamed to make fringe ideas appear mainstream." The story notes that in Amazon’s Epidemiology category several of the top titles being pushed to consumers are anti-vaccine tomes. Further, "scrolling through a simple keyword search for 'vaccine' in Amazon’s top-level Books section reveals anti-vaccine literature prominently marked as '#1 Best Seller' in categories ranging from Emergency Pediatrics, to History of Medicine, to Chemistry." The first pro-vaccine book appears 12th on the list, and it is "the only pro-vaccine book on the first page of search results."
And from NBC News, this chilling report: "a book that pushes the conspiracy theory Qanon climbed within the top 75 of all books sold on Amazon in recent days, pushed by Amazon’s algorithmically generated recommendations page." For the uninitiated, the Qanon conspiracy theory holds that the world is run by a secret, evil cabal led by Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump and Robert Mueller are secretly working together to defeat it. NBC News reports that the book, An Invitation to the Great Awakening, was a lofty #9 among politics books, and, shockingly, hit #1 among books on Censorship, beating out Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
Via Ars Technica, Democrats have introduced "a net neutrality bill that would fully restore the Obama-era rules that were repealed by the FCC's current Republican majority." The Save the Internet Act "would nullify FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's December 2017 repeal of the FCC order passed in February 2015 and forbid the FCC from repealing the rules in the future." In a statement, ALA president Loida Garcia Febo said ALA was reviewing the bill, but supported the bill's aim of restoring net neutrality. “A free and open internet is critical for equitable access to online information and resources for the nearly 120,000 libraries ALA represents and the communities we serve across America.”
NPR reports that a second federal judge has issued a court order to block the Trump administration's plans to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census. In short, the inclusion of the citizenship question on the 2020 Census threatens the very foundation of our democratic system—and does so based on a self-defeating rationale," Seeborg wrote in a 126-page opinion released Wednesday." Good news for the library community, which has been standing against a citizenship question on the census.
From The Washington Post, a piece on Carla Hayden's vision for the Library of Congress. "Two and a half years into her 10-year term, Hayden is making good on her promise to throw open the doors of America’s 'palace of knowledge' and invite ordinary citizens to join scholars in exploring its treasures."
In other news, the Library of Congress this week announced the launch of "The Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film." In conjunction with the Better Angels Society and the Crimson Lion/Lavine Family Foundation, the annual award will recognize "exemplary accomplishment in historical documentaries" that use "original research and compelling narrative to tell stories that touch on some aspect of American history."
Stop me if you've heard this one before: From The Daily Texan, the University of Texas's student newspaper, comes a story about the high cost of scholarly journals. "Because the libraries can’t keep up with the growing expenses, their ability to collect and provide scholastic material for academic research is in jeopardy."
On the subject of scholarly journals, plenty more coverage in the media this week of the University of California's decision to terminate its subscription deal with Elsevier. Posted just after our story went out last week, came this very enlightening explainer on the University of California web site: "Elsevier made a new, quite complex, but novel proposal to us at the end of January," the piece confirms, but that deal would have "increased the amount of our payments by 80%—an additional $30 million over a three-year contract."
The Atlantic offered it's take on U.C.'s decision walk away from Elsevier: "On one hand, this is a dispute about library fees. On the other, this is a dispute about the future of how knowledge is disseminated."
Vox offered this blunt assessment: "The costs of academic publishing are absurd. The University of California is fighting back."
And from TechDirt, this cogent observation: "What will worry Elsevier more is that the University of California is effectively saying that the company's journals are not so indispensable that it will sign up to a bad deal. It's the academic publishing equivalent of pointing out that the emperor has no clothes."
From the Austin American Statesman, success for school librarians: the Texas Senate on Monday unanimously passed a bill giving all classroom teachers a $5,000 annual pay raise, and added school librarians, who were originally excluded. This part of the story is especially instructive: when reporters asked the bill's sponsor why school librarians were excluded in the first place, even though they are required to have teaching experience, and teach every day as part of their duties, she replied: “I didn’t know that.”
Form The New York Times, a look at how the New York Public Library selects its books.
From the Memphis Commercial Appeal, a story that must be a recurring nightmare for librarians weeding their collections: thanks to an eagle-eyed staffer, the Friends of the Memphis Public Library saved a 1968 first-edition of the Philip K. Dick classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?—and then sold it for $1,250, which paid for all kinds of good stuff for the library.
Wired, meanwhile, points out that something crucial is missing from Zuckerberg's take on privacy for Facebook users: "He said nothing about how Facebook plans to approach data sharing and ad targeting in this privacy-focused future."
And this is some funny stuff: From Good: "Librarians are sounding off on annoying customers and it’s awesome hearing them vent."