Thursday, May 12, 2005

Information, Please

Information, Please. Here is an interesting article from Insidehighered.com. It reports that, "Reference books are the lowest form of scholarship. That makes reading them a guilty pleasure, Scott McLemee confesses." I personally love reference books and buy a new World Almanac and Book of Facts every year for Christmas.

From the site:

Encyclopedia entries are among the lowest form of secondary literature. Very rare exceptions can be made for cases such as Sigmund Freud’s entry on “Psychoanalysis” in the 13th edition of the Britannica, or Kenneth Burke’s account of his own theory of dramatism in The International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. You get a certain amount of credit for writing for reference books — and more for editing them. And heaven knows that the academic presses love to turn them out. See, for example, The Encyclopedia of Religion in the South (Mercer University Press), The Encyclopedia of New Jersey (Rutgers University Press) and The International Encyclopedia of Dance (Oxford University Press), not to mention The Encyclopedia of Postmodernism (Routledge).

It might be okay to “look something up” in an encyclopedia or some other reference volume. But read them? For pleasure? The implication that you spend much time doing so would be close to an insult — a kind of academic lese majesty.

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