04_Reviews_Sherwood

Book Reviews

RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage reviews books, reports, new periodicals, databases, websites, blogs, and other electronic resources, as well as exhibition, book, and auction catalogs pertaining directly and indirectly to the fields of rare book librarianship, manuscripts curatorship, archives management, and special collections administration. Publishers, librarians, and archivists are asked to send appropriate publications for review or notice to the Reviews Editor.

Due to space limitations, it may not be possible for all books received to be reviewed in RBM. Books or publication announcements should be sent to the Reviews Editor: Amy Cooper Cary, Raynor Memorial Library, Marquette University, 1415 W. Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53233-2221, e-mail: amy.cary@marquette.edu, (414) 288-5901.

Laura A. Millar. A Matter of Facts: The Value of Evidence in an Information Age. Chicago, IL: ALA Neal-Schuman, 2019. Paperback, 192p. $44.99 (ISBN 9780838917718).

The postmodern and post-truth world we live in might have reached its zenith. Written for the general public and not specifically information professionals, Laura A. Millar’s A Matter of Facts: The Value of Evidence in an Information Age grapples with the definitions of data, facts, evidence, and truth and how these parts of information are used and abused in modern society. This volume is the first in the Archival Futures series, jointly published by the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and ALA Neal-Schuman, which will demonstrate “how the preservation and stewardship of the archival record is a collective effort that underpins and supports democratic societies and institutions” (viii). Dr. Millar is an obvious choice to lead the series, given her notable career as an independent consultant and her numerous publications on creating and maintaining archives during the last 30 years. Her passion for the field and conviction in the importance of her topic are apparent throughout the text.

Written in a conversational tone appropriate for her audience, Millar makes clear that a respectful, democratic, and self-aware society needs trusted, evidence-based records to function. This is a matter of concern for everyone, given the twin threats of fragile digital records (evidence) and the current post-truth world of “alternative facts.” The first portion of A Matter of Facts focuses on the fundamentals of the latter issue. Millar begins her discussion of data, facts, truth, evidence, and proof by defining these concepts for the general public. She repeatedly states that she is not a philosopher; however, Millar manages to handle the philosophical and social aspects of these concepts with an ease that certainly comes from the depth and breadth of her professional experience. In the middle of the text, Millar moves on to necessity of evidence for individuals and cultures to establish identities, carry out justice, and maintain memory. She ends by examining the present-day threat of manipulation to fact-based evidence as a result of the public’s false assumptions about the current state of evidence and a lack of accountability for those responsible for creating, using, and maintaining evidence. Millar ends by supplying a well-thought-out series of suggestions to combat the current state of affairs.

A Matter of Facts offers a compelling argument for society to embrace evidence-based truth. Millar’s idealistic vision (her words) of a society that is “free, democratic, respectful, and self-aware” is a world I want to live in. In reading A Matter of Facts, it seems that some of the issues (especially relating to digital evidence) that plague society are at least partially due to a general lack of digital literacy and media literacy. Such shortcomings are not addressed in Millar’s work, and taking time for them would have diluted her message. It would be interesting to see future volumes in Archival Futures address these skills, given their significance for using archival records in democratic society.

While not its intended purpose, this volume offers strong justification and support for archival, recordkeeping, and information professions. Millar has researched and provides a plethora of historical and international examples of both the dangers of missing or manipulated evidence and the benefits that individuals and society receive from accessible, trustworthy evidence. This is why her reliance on cases of evidence misuse featuring the current United States President (in accurate and appropriate examples) is disappointing, given her stated audience. Unfairly, too many members of the general public who pick up A Matter of Facts will most likely put it down again entirely too quickly over perceived political slights. This book is likely too provocative for members of the public who do not share Millar’s political ideology, unfortunately.—Laura J. French, Baylor University Libraries



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