It is not the custom when reading a paper at an Aslib meeting, as it is in certain other institutions, to introduce one's subject by giving out a text; and I hesitate to think what may be the reaction of my hearers if I do so. But the text I have in mind is so apposite, and forms so fitting a starting point to what I have to say, that I intend to brave the possible disapproval, and begin with it. It comes from the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 12, verse 14: ‘And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end: and much study is a weariness of the flesh’. Now it is a property of Holy Writ, as of all truly great literature, that because it is based on the deepest levels of human nature it illuminates situations and conditions widely different from those for which it was written, and this is no exception. I imagine that all down the ages many people connected with the written and printed word—authors, students, teachers, publishers, librarians, journalists and literary hacks, perhaps even printers and booksellers—must have felt an echo in their own hearts when reading these rather bitter words. I think I first felt it when I took my first exam, but more recently I have seen it in a new light, and now when I read that text I cannot help feeling that the Preacher might have written it expressly for the abstractor. For it is the abstractor, above all, who is in a position to form an opinion of the value of current literature. There is nothing like the process of sitting down to write an abstract of a paper for finding out what an author has to say: at the end you find you have either a good, well‐ordered statement of fact or opinion, or a welter of material, but so badly organized that it is impossible to make a coherent statement of it, or a thin trickle of material which only padding has made appear to be a contribution, and sometimes not even that, but pure wind and waffle of which the abstractor can make nothing. In every case you have an excellent appreciation of the value of the paper. For the past four years I have been applying this test to the writings of my colleagues in the library and information field all over the world, producing abstracts for the Quarterly Documentation Survey in the Journal of Documentation. I have also had the opportunity of applying to them the other acid test, that of practical application, in drawing on them in order to assist Aslib members with their day‐to‐day problems. In both cases, I am afraid I often shake my head and echo the words of the Preacher: ‘Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher; all is vanity’. Out of some 200 journals which we scan regularly at Aslib, we abstract roughly seventy‐five articles a quarter in the Documentation Survey, yet a large proportion of those we actually abstract are of doubtful value as aids to the reader, or else a repetition of what has been said before. We do everything we can to encourage our members to use the library literature, and our bibliographical services are provided to guide them to the most useful papers, but there are times when I must confess that I am not surprised that they do not use it more.
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