Tell me why…

wikipediaA colleague once noted that her then teen-aged son had a complaint about the rules at his prestigious day school. Wikipedia, that on-line tool designed to make Britannica and other storied names from the days of Denis Diderot to the near present obsolete, was forbidden as a source. His complaint boiled down to, “Instead of always building something new on the Internet why don’t we fix what we already have so it can actually  be used?”

I thought about that while linking items in the last post. As this space evolves, and I encounter more young people, I realize just how much of what I believe should be common information actually isn’t. So I’ve taken to linking most proper names as well as any pertinent sources on the web in the hope they persist. I use Wikipedia as a destination for all sorts of anodyne things. A good example would be linking the name of any city or state.

The benefit of the wiki approach is arguably that by crowd-sourcing the content of an item the most accurate and robust entry will result. Perhaps it will. In the meantime the lack of a responsible editorial authority is apparent.

Laureates of the Lewd Gore Vidal, John Updike and Phillip Roth as rendered by Edward Sorel in 1993. The closest these three probably ever were. Copyright held by Edward Sorel.

Laureates of the Lewd
Gore Vidal, John Updike and Phillip Roth as rendered by Edward Sorel in 1993.
The closest these three probably ever were.
Copyright held by Edward Sorel.

Or at least it is on the page for Phillip Roth. For some inexplicable reason, someone (there’s always a someone, even in a collectivist environment) has decided to separate out the novels into categories. And though the character of Nathan Zuckerman wanders in and out of many of Roth’s novels, only the four with Zuckerman in the title are listed under that heading. The rest are collected under a lovely descriptive heading: ‘Other.’

John Updike, Roth’s contemporary and WASP-y literary twin, has more than one of his own series.Yet the treatment is completely dissimilar. The Rabbit Angstrom titles are collected under a heading that includes the word ‘novels.’ Bech, Buchanan and those lusty women in Eastwick are categorized as books. And Updike, being prolifically Updike, there are also short story and poetry listings.

What I’d like to know is why there isn’t one one common organizing principal for similar information? In a library as conceived by Borges one might expect such disorganization. In a purported reference tool it’s more than just annoying, it’s irresponsible.

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