Sunday, September 9, 2012

Judging a book by its (wrong) cover

I am a huge fan of the Internet Archive, which, as I have written before, has a lot to teach more recent initiatives such as USP's Brasiliana.  But, despite the overall excellent quality of the materials it digitizes, some of its items present cataloging mistakes (unavoidable, perhaps, in such a large-scale project). One of them is the item cataloged as The social bees of Brazil and their Tupi names, by Hermann von Ihering, which actually refers to a completely different downloadable item--The Head of the Scolopendra (!), by Fr. Meinert (1883). The mistake is repeated by the Open Library, a sister project of the Internet Archive, which automatically imports data from the latter.

Unfortunately, what is clearly an honest, and fairly harmless, mistake, ends up being magnified by the lack of editorial care of commercial publishers.  Ignoring the mistake, several print-on-demand providers, which take advantage of freely-available materials digitized by the Internet Archive, Google Books, and other initiatives, are selling apples for oranges, offering book B as if it were book A (for instance, here).  Even WorldCat, which tends to be a fairly reliable source, ends up spreading the error (the correct entry can be found here).  For those interested in obtaining access to the real book, a useful tip: while Ihering's pamphlet is, according to the WorldCat, around 15-pages long, the wrong title (as printed by Nabu and sold by Amazon, for instance) is 90-pages long.  The portuguese version of Ihering's article, As abelhas sociais do Brasil e suas denominações tupis (Ihering 1904), is indeed freely-available online.

This issue--the lack of editorial seriousness of print-on-demand services such as Nabu, as well as the predatory pricing practices of fairly well-reputed publishers such as Lincom--was discussed a few years ago in the Etnolingüística list.  Readers--and especially librarians, who may be mislead into spending high sums of money with questionable editions of books that are otherwise freely-available--should take notice.