Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Seth Godin talks about creating bibliographies

Seth Godin, whose forte is marketing, wrote a post this morning about creating bibliographies. He says:

A young friend of mine needed to create a bibliography for a school project this weekend.

I had forgotten how annoying this task was. I was also pretty sure it was obsolete.

Why, exactly, does a teacher or reader need to know the city a book publisher is based in?

If your goal as a reader (or someone checking for plagiarism or quality of research) is to get to the books that the writer used, you need exactly one piece of data: the ISBN.

He's an intelligent man and an author. Yet he doesn't realize that not every item that might be in a bibliography has a ISBN, nor do all books have ISBNs. Therefore, why specific information is placed in a bibliography so the item could be found later (sometimes much later) is lost on him.

He is not alone. I've seen this problem with high-priced reports sold to corporations in not properly citing where information has been obtained. With them, though, the thought might be that the writer has included all that the corporate reader needs to know. That corporate reader will not need to check the references or want to look at the background materials in more depth.

As information professionals and teachers, we know what to capture about a resource so that we might find it again. Sometimes it is enough to have the URL; sometimes we know we'll need much more. Our reasoning is something that we've evidently failed to communicate to others. Looks like we need to do a better job.


seth godin said...

Thanks, Jill.

I know, of course, that there are sources that don't have ISBN numbers. But every day, that list gets smaller and smaller.

I also know that knowing the city of a publisher is a hundred-year-old anachronism.

The opportunity here is for the education industry (and yes, it's an industry) to take a huge step forward to make sure that MORE information moves into the digital age, not less. The easiest way to do that is to give the sources that don't have ISBNs an identifier so that bibliographies actually become useful.

My guess is that someone is going to figure out that out and profit from it too.

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

Actually, I'd argue that the number of sources gets larger every day with high qulity content being published in non-book format including blogs, podcasts, online journals, and digitized content. Could every piece of content have a unique, trackable, unchangeable identifier (ISBN-like code) that would make re-finding it easier? Yes, but a huge task both to create and maintain. Would someone profit from creating such a system? Only if they could charge somebody for usage (or placing items in the system).

BTW, this is an interesting topic because it touches how we do things traditionally (or how we know things will work well) and how our world is changing to be more quick, instant, and electronic.