Marking time

Marking time in January 2019

Tuesday 29 January 2019

State Library cancels the OED

I occasionally visit the State Library of Queensland at South Brisbane​—​to consult the books, view the exhibitions, or meet people in the coffee shop. But barely a day goes by when I don’t visit the library online. I search the catalogue; I search for and download digital copies of historical photographs, drawings and maps; I connect to various databases and information services (eResources as the library calls them). The card in my wallet calls me a member of the library. I’m delighted to be admitted as a member of that club.

My favourite eResource is the online OED, the Oxford English Dictionary. The other day I couldn’t get the connection to the OED website to work. When I asked for help I was told the library had cancelled the subscription.

I was shocked. I asked why the library would do such a thing. Here is the nub of the answer:

Thank you for your enquiry about the cancellation of the Oxford English Dictionary. After speaking with teams across the library I can provide the following explanation about the process.
      State Library reviews all eresources (which includes databases, online reference tools, online newspapers and magazines etc) annually, or at the time when the subscription renewal is due. Oxford English Dictionary was reviewed by the Content Working Group by considering the content, the usage, the viability, other similar resources and the cost. The usage of this eresource was limited, less than 100 uses per month for users across Queensland. The library also subscribes to the Macquarie dictionary online which has significantly more usage. The Macquarie dictionary was considered a suitable alternative source for users of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Don’t get me wrong​—​I’m a fan of the Macquarie Dictionary. It is my first point of reference. It helps me to select the right words, and spell them correctly and consistently, in line with current Australian usage. I value the Macquarie, but it’s no OED.

The OED has quite a different purpose. It is the principal historical dictionary of the English language (Wikipedia), and the definitive historical dictionary of the English language (Encylopedia Britannica). It is what you need for digging deep into the history of words. As the Oxford University Press blurb says:

The Oxford English Dictionary is the accepted authority on the evolution of the English language over the last millennium. It is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of over half a million words, both present and past. It traces the usage of words through 2.5 million quotations from a wide range of international English language sources, from classic literature and specialist periodicals to film scripts and cookery books. The OED covers words from across the English-speaking world, from North America to South Africa, from Australia and New Zealand to the Caribbean. It also offers the best in etymological analysis and in listing of variant spellings, and it shows pronunciation using the International Phonetic Alphabet.

I am sad to be a member of a library that has so little regard for historical knowledge, but I am pleased to belong to the National Library of Australia which continues to provide online access to the OED.

Postscript 18 February 2020: The pleasure did not last.

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