Sep. 3rd, 2009

It's also true that on the same evening I was reading Google Books: a Metadata Train Wreck, I was also reading Lindsey Davis's latest novel, Alexandria.  As you might expect, it's set in Alexandria, in Roman times.  And, of course, much of the plot and action center on the Library.  You know, approximately the first major attempt to gather together all the world's books.  (Many of which were apparently obtained by piracy, but I'll attempt to avoid implying any parallels on that particular score.)

Anyway, I particularly liked this bit, about duplicates and picking the best one (starts at paragraph 6), and (especially) this bit, which is of course in Lindsey Davis's inimitable style, but, I believe, still a pretty good summary of the situation:

"'Well, you know what happens with copying, Marcus.  Some scribes make a bad job of it.  At the Library, the staff examined duplicates to decide which copy was the best.  In the main, they assumed the oldest scroll was likely to be most accurate.  Clarifying authenticity became their specialism.  .... People who feel strongly say that a bunch of ignorant clerks are making ridiculous alterations to works they just don't have the intellect to understand.'"

It was almost uncanny, actually.  (Oh, and I'm deeply impressed that Davis and her publishers are allowing any access at all.  Go them!)

(I will also note that the scholars of the Library would be APPALLED by the word "metadata", good Greek-speaking, Latin-despising learned folk as they were.)



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