The Corner

Pixels Vs. Paper

Jonah: Right on. The web, as a research tool, is still in a primitive

state, unless (and in some cases even if) you can afford expensive

subscriptions to services like (in my personal dream scenario) MathSciNet.

The web reminds me of Roget’s Thesaurus: a terrific resource in principle,

but never actually much help in practice. (I think there have been about

three occasions in my life when I got something useful out of Roget.) The

web hasn’t been the same for me since I lost ProQuest. This is a sort of

poor man’s Nexis, which anyone with a NYC library card used to be able to

access free of charge. Then it got chopped in some City budget-cutting

exercise.

Even if you count ProQuest, though, looking back over my own stuff, I think

my best pieces have come from browsing around in actual libraries, or from

the immense amount of random junk in my own head, or from meeting & talking

to interesting people. The web is as yet no substitute for KNOWING STUFF,

LISTENING TO PEOPLE, and READING.

Incidentally, even when there is a decent open-access research source on the

web, it generally has a really crappy search engine. Why is this? Truly

bodacious search engines are there for the asking, with phonetic-match

searches, nearest-spell searches, wildcards, and the rest of it. They are

standard black-box modules, nobody has to write his own search engine any

more. Yet people do, and they are HOPELESS. The one that drives me

craziest is Gutenberg. You have to put

in an author’s name EXACTLY THE WAY THEY HAVE IT ON THEIR DATABASE,

otherwise you’ll get no hit. Grrrr. Abebooks

similar.

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