Friday, July 24, 2009

Goodbye to some books at

Alas, some old friends have disappeared from one of my favorite free online reference sites...

The "Welcome to" page now carries this note:
"Due to financial and usage considerations the reference works licensed from Columbia University Press and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt have been removed as of June 2009."

The word "usage" is ironic: My favorite among the missing items is The Columbia Guide to Standard American English by Kenneth G. Wilson, who I knew first as a wise, frank and good-humored professor at the University of Connecticut. He was vice president when I was a reporter covering the campus, and I just noticed that his career at UConn spanned 38 years, a "school spirit" you don't see often. He passed away in 2003.

Oops, that should be "whom I knew," shouldn't it? I'm mortified.

Fortunately, Wilson's 6,500-entry book about the language is still available as a searchable electronic edition for card-holders at subscribing libraries, including our McConnell Library at Radford.

And continues to publish other mostly copyright-free, but still useful, resources for students, writers and researchers... as long as they can tolerate pop-up ads (with audio) telling them they have won $1,000 giftcard from a discount retailer. (I didn't see a quick place at Bartleby to look up the Latin "caveat emptor" or Tom Waits' more contemporary line, "The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away.")

Included on the long list of titles are the Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction, the Cambridge History of English and American Literature (18 vols., 1907-21) and The Oxford Shakespeare. Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford -- not bad pedigrees, if you don't mind lurking in the early twentieth century.

For American English, Bartleby still has Strunk's The Elements of Style (1918, not the later edition expanded by E.B. White) and Mencken's The American Language (1921), and for that other kind it has Fowler's The King's English, up-to-date... as of 1908.

Oh, there's also Gray's Anatomy... the book, that is... 20th ed., 1918, where you can look up pictures of body parts they don't show on the television version.