Books on the floor

My question on the WEB4LIB mailing list and some fun answers I got.

I am programming a web based annotated database of internet sites for the use of our librarians.

On the opening page, I want to write : "The internet is the biggest library in the world with all the books on the floor".

Does anyone know to whom can I credit this saying to ?


"The net is like a huge vandalized library. Someone has destroyed the catalog and removed the front matter, indexes, etc. from hundreds of thousands of books and torn and scattered what remains??Surfing? is the process of sifting through this disorganized mess in the hope of coming across some useful fragments of text and images that can be related to other fragments. The net is even worse than a vandalized library because thousands of additional unorganized fragments are added daily by the myriad of cranks, sages, and persons with time on their hands who launch unfiltered messages into cyberspace.?
Michael Gorman, "The Corruption of Cataloging"- Library Journal 120 (15 September, 1995):34

Barbara Burd
Business Librarian
Regent University Library

Hanan, I included the quote in the Libraries FAQ, and I have also tried to track down the author:

According to Copernicus :

"It's like being in a library where someone has scattered all the books on the floor, attached them together with threads and you are in the dark." MorningSide, CBC Radio, May 1995

But then again it may be the ALA:

Or Patrick Casey [1, 2](Associated Press, Oklahoma City):

Or Anonymous:

A couple of venerable Net figures -- Ed Krol and Mitch Kapor -- were quoted along these lines in late 1992 (see below), but I bet someone can find it earlier.

"What we had was a library where all the books were dumped on the floor and there was no card catalogue," Ed Krol, author of "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Internet," said. "Now there's a card catalogue and people are starting to put the books on the shelves."
-- "Getting up to speed on the computer highway," by Joshua Quittner, Newsday, November 3, 1992

Mitch Kapor, the founder of Lotus Development Corp. who is now head of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that "seeks to develop public policies to maximize the social potential of new computer and communications technologies," likened Internet to a library where all the books are dumped on the floor in no particular order.
-- "Arctic one small step for Internet users," by Robert E. Calem, New York Times News Service, Globe and Mail, December 9, 1992

Ken Liss
Editor, HBS Working Knowledge
Baker Library, Harvard Business School

Doing research on the Web is like using a library assembled piecemeal by pack rats and vandalized nightly." -- Roger Ebert

Karen Johnson
Library System Manager
University of San Francisco

I used that in my sig for a while. It's from Ebert's "Critical Eye" column in the Sept. 1998 issue of _Yahoo! Internet Life_, p. 66.

Brian Smith
Assistant Head of Adult Services
Villa Park (IL) Public Library

I'm surprised that no one has yet taken this metaphor to task. The Internet is nothing like a library -- not even one with all the books on the floor or one that has been vandalized. I think I hardly need to explain what I mean to this crowd. So I'm surprised that some of us feel like using this metaphor when it is insulting to all that libraries are. How about "Doing research on the Web is like asking people randomly on the street." Now that's more like it.

Roy Tennant
Digital Library Project Manager
University of California

Except those random people are putting up books, whether printed by big concerns or self published, on the web, or putting up other information which can indeed be found in print in a magazine, book, etc in a library. So in that manner it is like one put together by packrats and vandalized nightly. As with all metaphors and analogies, you can't carry it too far, of course. TTFN,

Systems Librarian, Louisiana Tech University


For years I have used the "kitchen junk drawer" as the metaphor I use to describe the Internet and now web, how it is organized, and how useful the stuff is that one can find there. My kitchen junk drawer has lots of good useful stuff, mixed in with lots of useless stuff that I have no need for but I have kept anyway, just in case! It is not well organized. Things in that drawer get out of date, redundant and obsolete... When I rummage around in there to look for something, I often find something entirely different that is of interest..... When I pull out one item, it sometimes drags other items with it, because they are intertwined..... and so on. I think it is a great metaphor.

Jane C. Neale
Information Technology Coordinator
State University Plaza

Perhaps someone will be able to put together stats on a correlation between Internet users who have junk drawers and their likelihood to use the Web to find information.

Teach a man to use the internet and he will leave you alone.