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Month: September 2010

Maybe Not Something You Outgrow in Four Years

Yesterday I taught two classes pretty much back to back. The first was to senior English majors embarking on their thesis projects, and the second was for first year students taking an English 100 course. At the beginning of the first class we talked about what the seniors were most worried about as they started their theses, and nearly all of them worried about defining the scope of their project so that it would be long enough, short enough, or completable in the given time. The second class was all about picking a topic, but the atmosphere in the room was quite a bit more apprehensive than it had been when I went to teach them about finding sources.

And it struck me that maybe finding a researchable topic that’s of appropriate scope for your aims is one thing that’s only learnable to a point. Maybe it’s just always hard. Maybe there’s something about it that, if it were easy, would actually make things worse. Maybe that struggle is actually one of the central pieces of scholarship — the thing that makes it work in the first place.

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There are Terms of Service and Terms of Service, If You Know What I Mean

There’s a rather fascinating discussion happening these days around licensed content. I mean, it’s technically about using Netflix to extend the library’s collection, but it’s actually about licensing and terms of service and to what extent it’s our professional duty to enforce the letter of the law or, on the flip side, push at the boundaries a little in hopes of effecting change.

I wonder if the conversation would be different if we were talking about some other kind of Terms of Service. It strikes me that we see easy analogies between streaming video and the kinds of content we’ve shepherded since forever even though streaming video is really quite new, and so professional debates that we’ve had about everything from closed stacks to copyright to food in the library all rally around to reinforce the Respect The Content side of the debate, the side that is really quite uncomfortable with the idea of lending these DVDs without explicit permission in the form of a license.

Then there are the Terms of Service that come with tools or platforms rather than content. When those are wacky (or if we read them at all) it seems far more likely that we’ll cry foul and raise our pitchforks at the vendor who created such inhumane and restrictive licenses. Is this because there isn’t an easy analogy with our traditional responsibilities since the days of clay tablets? Or is it because using tools and platforms seems like an easier analogy to the other major piece of our work: the piece that protects our patrons right to do their own thing with whatever content we can (legally) provide? Or is it because it’s easier to tell people they can’t do something than it is to be told we can’t do something?

I think the Netflix thing will work itself out one way or the other pretty soon (probably when Netflix creates a new license). I don’t think the problem of navigating licenses is going away in the foreseeable future.

P.S. The backstory


Getting out of the way

I don’t know if this is “just one of those things” or if it’s something that needs changing, and yet I find myself thinking about it a lot ever since Bethany Nowviskie wrote her Fight Club Soap blog post about the Nature/UC feud.

Most things on an academic campus are set up to get out of the way of scholarship — to make scholarship absolutely as easy and pain free a process as possible. After all, scholarship is the raison d’ĂȘtre of the institution, and scholarship is angst-ridden enough just on its own. It functions best when its practitioners are constantly right up against their limits, right where they’re most vulnerable and facing insidious insecurities. So it makes a whole lot of sense to make as much as possible get out of the way of these endeavors. But there is a cost.

Nowviski pointed out the cost from a licensing and collection development standpoint, but I’m sure that’s only the beginning. For example, newer faculty here often point out that our institution is in much better shape than many they applied to because we were still hiring faculty all the way through the financial melt-down. And it’s true; we did fare better than many other institutions. But what they don’t realize is that we had staff layoffs and FTE reductions and that we continue to lose staff through attrition, and all so that we can preserve the school’s commitment to hiring new faculty and reduce the teaching load across campus. So telling me that I just don’t know how tough it is out in the rest of the academic world where there were real job losses  is both true and not true at all. I really did fear for my job, and the library is now doing more than before but with fewer FTE, as are most other staff departments on campus. But we also do everything we can to make sure this doesn’t affect the faculty and students as they pursue their work.

Sometimes I wonder if a little more awareness would be a good thing. But maybe it’s not. Maybe more awareness would just increase angst, and goodness knows scholarship is angsty enough on its own.


First Week of Classes


  • Printed out signs for the new always-on computers
  • Set up greeting table in the front lobby
  • Sent out a plea to please sign up for greeting shifts (only 6 of the 21 had been filled)
  • Answer about a million emails
  • Take a shift at the greeting table
  • eat lunch
  • answer about a million more emails
  • go to opening convocation
  • skip the post-convocation reception to go back to my office and work, but realize that if I sit down at my desk I’ll explode from overwhelmedness
  • go home… answer about a million more emails


  • Class prep
  • email
  • lunch
  • Reference shift
  • class (The Shakespearean Film Scholar’s version of the library)
  • Greeting shift
  • Fix one of our microfilm machines (turns out the poor library technologist and our IT department had been working on it for quite some time, but I’m the only one on campus who knew the fix. Too bad I hadn’t come over earlier to see what was up.)
  • Plan evening student worker training (yes, that was last minute) and throw together some illustrative stats for them so they can see what they do here.
  • Set up for training
  • Train student workers
  • Snacks with newly trained student workers
  • Dinner with some friends followed immediately by bed


  • email
  • get to work
  • more email
  • class prep
  • course research guide creation
  • greeting shift
  • lunch
  • more class prep
  • Marvel that it’s not Friday. All of a sudden if felt like Friday. I so wish it were Friday.
  • class (The German Literary Scholar’s version of the library)
  • prepare for student worker training
  • Talk to co-worker about her upcoming class
  • more email
  • train student workers
  • snacks with newly trained student workers
  • Go home, keep all the lights off, and watch a DVD of Big Bang Theory in bed. Supper? What supper? Supper requires sitting.


  • Departmental meeting, at which we learned that the network had gone down the night before, which meant that the evening shift librarian had to call the emergency on-call guy and be walked through the process of bypassing fried systems and their fried back-up systems.
  • email
  • class prep
  • lunch while playing Carcassonne on my iPod (lovely brain break)
  • email
  • Course research guide creation (only 3 more requests to fill!)
  • Run around helping people close down the 4th floor computer lab (all the computers in the reference room) because the IT department has to swap them out for the computers in the language lab (long story).
  • Class (team-taught with the media librarian — finding sources on Shakespeare and film)
  • Meeting with an English prof to discuss learning goals for his class and how I can help his students meet them. And plan a course guide.
  • email
  • Research guide creation
  • Wait, it’s not Friday yet? Longest. Week. EVER.
  • class prep
  • Write a thank you note to the library staff for helping out with our greeting project this year
  • Hear that the print management system also crashed this evening — be glad I don’t work for IT
  • Dinner with a couple of other friends — bed


  • Finally. Friday. Whew.
  • Get to work via the detour around a broken gas line and milling crowds of evacuated college staff.
  • Class (importance of scholarly book reviews, finding book reviews, and why citation is more fun than it seems)
  • email
  • research guide creation
  • lunch
  • Evaluating a potential online resource
  • class prep — so tired of class prep… But yay for generous colleagues who take my reference shifts for me so I can prep
  • omnipresent email
  • Pub night with friends! Followed by BED … I think I’ll sleep for the next 48 hours.