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Month: November 2010

Spelunking in the Library

Running out of space to shelve in reference means a push to weed in reference, and now that I’ve made a first pass through the actual reference shelves in my care, I’m doing a quick look at the stacks just to find reference-y titles that might have been moved there but that we don’t need any more.

I’m finding the best stuff.

Friday I found a bibliography of bibliographies. Then I discovered a couple more bibliographies of bibliographies. I think I’ll compile a bibliography of bibliographies of bibliographies.

Sunday I found this (and be sure to take a look at the chapter titles).

Today I found an unopened bottle of Smirnoff Ice, appropriately shelved in (ok, behind) the PGs. I weeded that right outta there.

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How do you say “Dictionary” in Hungarian?

Collection development is kind of like the study of philosophy, for me: I know just enough to be dangerous, it’s not a big enough part of my job for me to get enough practice to improve, and I’m pretty sure it’s at the heart of a lot of stuff I care about, but it’s a bit of a mystery to me.

Well, this year we ran out of room to shelve new books in our reference collection, which is the only part of the collection my department selects for in any systematic way (and I, for one, have neglected my piece of it rather shamefully, particularly given my penchant for teaching there). Not being able to shelve new books is a pain, so we decided to weed. I’ve been meaning to do that since I got here. Every summer it’s on my summer projects list. Every summer other things squeeze it out. Every Fall I get back to teaching and hope that nobody notices. “I’ll be sure to get to it next summer,” I tell myself. “This time I really will.”

Well, now I am. And it’s kind of fun.

It’s also kind of funny. I’m the liaison for literature and languages, so the Ps are my kingdom, and I can tell just how foreign a foreign language is by how many dictionaries we have for that language. We have a fair few for English what with the etymology dictionaries and the representatives from the big name dictionaries and the OED and the slang dictionaries and the dictionaries for regionalisms and… you get the idea. We have a similarly useful complement of French and Spanish dictionaries. Then we have several shelves of Russian dictionaries, and shelves upon shelves of Asian language dictionaries.

And I know why! You can’t just sit down, pick up a book, and say, “Oh, an etymology dictionary — we need one of those. Oh, three thesauri — we only need one of those.” You have to do a whole lot of work just to figure out what it is that you’re holding. And then a whole bunch more work to see how it compares to the other things you’ve got. And I’m still not at all sure how to figure out which dictionaries are the “important” ones beyond seeing how many WorldCat libraries hold that title. So the inclination is just to leave them all there unless they’re damaged.

But if you actually start doing some of the sleuthing, you find interesting things. Like several multi-volume dictionaries where we only own the first third of the alphabet, for example. Or indexes to sets where we don’t own the actual set. And so my shelves are slowly but steadily thinning out after all.

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I need to stop being such a librarian

We’ve nearly finished the first term of the new first year seminars, and I’ve worked with a whole bunch of them now, and they’ve all been totally different. Sure, they’re all required to give students practice finding, evaluating, and using information, but just as we suspected, there are lots and lots of ways to work those things into a course. Some courses have taught The Research Paper, others have concentrated on teaching students to build context for what they’re reading and hearing in class.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, though, it’s been that I am not there to teach the students how to find, evaluate, and use information. I tried that with a couple of courses, and it failed. Miserably.

No, I’m there to do two things: to give the students a couple of skills they need right now, and to spark their imaginations about what could be possible if they decided to make a habit of this research stuff.

This clicked for me the other day when I thought about what it would look like if the college decided that all first year students have a foreign language component in their first year seminar, or a biology component, or a stats component. The guest lecturer from French or Bio or Econ would never be expected to teach French or Bio or stats in half an hour or an hour. Instead, they’d get the students interested in their fields of study by providing just enough basic knowledge to make some interesting, higher order process make sense, and then they’d concentrate on making that higher order process interesting and engaging for the rest of the half hour or hour.

You can’t inoculate students in one easy session and expect that now they know French.

Note to self: There’s no way to teach it all, anyway, so think harder about things that are both practical and imagination-sparking, and then teach those things more consistently. These students like to be intellectually engaged — that’s why they’re here — so go with that. Be a guest lecturer.

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Shooting ourselves in the foot? Again?

It boggles my mind a little that loss of interlibrary loan services is so detrimental to academic library services that it can be cited over and over in an anti-trust complaint as a means of coercing business, and yet we haven’t made more of a stink about the non-lendable nature of the digital collections we’re all building with abandon. At my library well over 90% of our journals are electronic, as are a smaller but growing percentage of our books, and most of these things are not lendable. And we haven’t even gone as digital as a lot of libraries have.

What gives? Is it just because this is all so cool and future-y that we bend over and take our lashes like good little co-dependent gate-keepers? I guess we haven’t learned our lessons yet.

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