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portal: Libraries and the Academy 4.2 (2004) 307-308

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Net Effects: How Librarians Can Manage the Unintended Consequences of the Internet, ed. Marylaine Block. Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc., 2000. 380 p. $39.50 (ISBN 1-57387-171-0)

This is a very practical book. Its premise is that the Internet has created unexpected approaches to information and services that we need to integrate into our creative practice. Administrators might call these effects "opportunities," McLuhan mavens see them as enhancements or "retrievals," and learning technologists treat them as "affordances." For librarians, they are the ongoing challenges of adapting to and adopting the consequences of life online. As editor, Marylaine Block, well known for her popular e-zine ExLibris,, presents a chapter-by-chapter approach to ten critical Internet consequences that face librarians today: (1) control over selection, (2) rescuing the book, (3) user training, (4) "shifted" or mobile librarianship, (5) improving access, (6) paying for technology, (7) continuous retraining, (8) understanding net-related legal issues, (9) data survival, and (10) planning for the future.

This volume incorporates both public and academic library perspectives to help librarians deal proactively with these issues. Each chapter includes an introductory thought piece outlining an essential problem, followed by several "solution" pieces from recent popular and academic library literature found in print and on the Web. Along with documents from Web sites that are periodically updated, the bulk of the articles are from 2001 and 2002; Mary Minow's analysis of filters and public libraries (First Monday, 1997, seems to be the earliest in the collection.

Some critical topics of today can be seen in their incipient state, for instance, in Peter Suber's paean to the free online scholarship movement, recently redefined as open access publishing; in Jenny Levine's "What is a 'shifted' librarian"; and in Darlene Fichter's explication of blogging as a tool for focused information dissemination. Other issues, such as the ubiquitous "how to stay compatible with technology," have long been staples of the literature; and, in this regard, the selections offer recent insights concerning the growth of interest in open source software development.

There are notable discussions on using technology to renew the value of books and reading; staying current with resources outside of library literature, represented by Steven Bell's description of a "keeping up" professional reading plan; understanding digital copyright, the USA PATRIOT Act and acceptable use; disappearing public information; and library "futuring." Block maintains an excellent Web site that keeps the book updated at An appendix of URLs, a list of contributors, an inclusive bibliography, and an index of concepts and names complete the body of the text. [End Page 307]

Marylaine Block has done us a favor on two fronts: she collects critical representative discussions of issues that affect the daily lives of librarians; and simultaneously, through these real world examples, she reminds us of the relationship to an underlying philosophy of media, interactivity, and the dynamics of networked access to information. Although a discussion of the media philosophies of theorists such as Marshall McLuhan and Vilém Flusser are beyond the intent of the book, readers will appreciate this opportunity for reflection while considering solutions to significant issues of the day.

Cyber(a)cy is clearly one of our major cultural vectors. This requires an interpretive stance based on engagement rather than blind adoption of new technologies. Although some of the technorati among our ranks might be impatient with solutions that appear too cautious or obvious, there is no doubt that informed proactive efforts can go a long way toward resolving complex issues. This work is really a compendium of interpretive points of view, practical resolutions, and links to ongoing discussions of critical issues that continue to stimulate our understanding of how best to enhance our access to information and knowledge.

Randal Baier
Eastern Michigan University



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pp. 307-308
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