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 From Now On
The Educational Technology Journal

Vol 8|No 6|February/March|1999

Bookshelf Attacks Museums

When we install information products like Encarta and Bookshelf on the desktops of our schools, we have some right to expect that the information delivered be balanced and reliable. Few schools evaluate these products with the care and attention they might give a science textbook, for example. Unfortunately, it turns out that these resources sometimes weigh in with heavily acidic bias on various topics.
This acid slant came as a surprise to me as I was preparing a speech for Museum Victoria in Melbourne, Australia. Seeking quotations from MicroSoft's Bookshelf on "museums," I was disappointed to learn that all but one of the fourteen quotations were critical assaults on the whole notion of museums.
Yesterday I went out at about twelve, and visited the British Museum; an exceedingly tiresome affair. It quite crushes a person to see so much at once; and I wandered from hall to hall with a weary and heavy heart, wishing (Heaven forgive me!) that the Elgin marbles and the frieze of the Parthenon were all burnt into lime, and that the granite Egyptian statues were hewn and squared into building stones, and that the mummies had all turned to dust, two thousand years ago; and, in fine, that all the material relics of so many successive ages had disappeared with the generations that produced them. The present is burthened too much with the past.

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64)
The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations

The collection of quotations were so heavily biased, one might reasonably ask MicroSoft to consider the damage they are doing to one of our civilization's most important institutions. Even if one sympathizes with the criticisms contained in these quotations, shouldn't museum advocates and enthusiasts be given equal time in a reasonable collection of quotations?
Museums, museums, museums, object-lessons rigged out to illustrate the unsound theories of archaeologists, crazy attempts to coordinate and get into a fixed order that which has no fixed order and will not be coordinated! It is sickening! Why must all experience be systematized? . . . A museum is not a firsthand contact: it is an illustrated lecture. And what one wants is the actual vital touch.

D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930)
The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations

Museums are just a lot of lies, and the people who make art their business are mostly impostors. . . . We have infected the pictures in museums with all our stupidities, all our mistakes, all our poverty of spirit. We have turned them into petty and ridiculous things.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations

Now that schools are busily installing such information products onto desktops, it is time to acknowledge that information technology companies do not always take care to check the balance and reliability of the information they are aiming our way. Schools would be wise to put these "electronic bookshelves" through closer scrutiny.

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