Andy : March 2008 Archives
Other times... well, people just want to narrow their options down from the millions of things in the pile to something, well... less universal. And, thankfully, there are all kinds of folks out there who put together all kinds of lists.
For example... If somebody asks, "Can you recommend some good kids' books?" you can put together your own list, sure. Or, if you want a nice, safe, high-quality and (let's face it) easier answer... point to the classic ALA lists of Newbery and Caldecott winners. Somebody else has done the hard work. You just need to have a way to list the lists.
Clearly, this is another plug for the list making function in WorldCat.org. In this case, lists that already exist... somewhere. My point here is that it's really handy to have a single URL that can point people to content that's already passed through a screen like the ALA or the Mystery Writers of America, who provide The Edgars, a list of great mystery novels.
See... when we say, "there's this great list..." we mean that there's the list itself... but then there needs to be a place to put it. In the past, we might have arranged recent Caldecott books on one shelf in the library for a display, or handed out a flyer with the list printed out.
Now, once we've put the lists into WorldCat.org, we can share lists of lists with very little effort. And because the click-path is so easy (open the email, click on a list link, click on a link to the material), it shortens the distance between all the effort that when into reviewing, editing and recommending materials, and the end of a search.
I'm sure you're familiar with the game, "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon." You know, the one where you think of any other actor and try to work your way back to Kevin via movies with combinations of actors. So... Rutger Hauer has a Kevin Bacon Number of "3," because he was in "Blade Runner" with Daryl Hannah, she was in "Splash" with John Candy, and John was in "JFK" with Kevin. I've enjoyed this game for years, and have speculated that the single best reason to have an Internet at all is as a host for IMDB, which helps scratch this itch when you just can't quite figure out on your own how to get back to Kevin.
Well, WorldCat has a feature that I tend to refer to as the engine for playing "Six Degrees of Francis Bacon." Officially, it's called WorldCat Identities, and its built into WorldCat.org.
Let's say you're looking at the record for a work by Mr. Bacon; Essays and New Atlantis. If you click on the "Details" tab, you'll see an "About the Author" section with a link to Francis Bacon. Click there, and you go to the "Identities" page for him. Take a look... the page has a timeline of publications by and about Bacon, links to his most popular works, and a tag cloud of related subjects. The purpose of WorldCat Identities is to have just such a summary page for every name in WorldCat.
The game portion of our program comes into play with the "Related Identities" section near the bottom. These are people and/or characters that are closely related to the identity you're viewing. So, of course, Shakespeare is related to Bacon. Click on the link to Shakespeare's page, and you'll see a list of related identities. Now... only the top 10 Identities get shown. So I tend to start working on my own at this point.
You can go to a main search page for all Identities here. And I know that Shakespeare wrote about the historical character Cleopatra, so let's see what her Identities page looks like. Interesting... Elizabeth Taylor! So Liz has a Francis Bacon Number of "3." (Taylor to Cleopatra to Shakespeare to Bacon).
Being able to connect millions of authors, characters and groups (like the Beatles) through their links into library materials is a different and (for me) fun way to explore subjects I'm interested in.
Two days ago, (Ernest) Gary Gygax, the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons, died at the age of 69. If you've ever played a fantasy role-playing game (RPG) -- or any other RPG, for that matter, live or in a videogame -- or enjoyed the recent films of the Lord of the Rings, or (I'd argue) if you are a fan of the Harry Potter franchise... you owe a debt of thanks to Gary.
Gary was known to credit "The Veldt" by Ray Bradbury and Robert E. Howard's "Conan the Conqueror" as early influences that pushed him towards fantasy and science fiction in his work. The disposition of characters into "alignments" of good/neutral/evil and lawful/neutral/chaotic was influenced by Poul Anderson's "Three Hearts and Three Lions." The mythology of D&D was taken from a wide variety of historical and literary sources, including two now famous dragon gods, Tiamat and Bahamut. While the final D&D figures are quite different than their historical namesakes, it is obvious that Gary and Dave Arneson, the game's other co-creator, had done some serious pre-reading for their creation.
Personally, I know I would not have become as involved in reading (and writing) fantasy and science fiction had I not been able to "live" the part of characters (and game masters) in stories. Whether live, around a kitchen table with hex paper and polyhedral dice scattered among pizza remnants, or in email with friends in three states creating play-by-text worlds and adventures or in video game lands like World of Warcraft... lots of time, lots of creativity, lots of friendship, lots of fun... all thanks in part to Gary's work and leadership.
I won't resort to game-linked references for a pithy closing. I'll just say, "Thanks, Gary."
- Gary Gygax's WorldCat Identities page.
- Fantasy game materials in WC
- Role playing materials in WC.
- GURPS Lite and D20, both free (or open source) role playing systems