Monday, July 25, 2005

I've been a little quiet lately because I've been spending spare moments cleaning up the links in the sidebar, rather than posting about print reference materials. I'm getting more interested in finding examples of good online instruction, and in using this blog as a personal website, with links to the tools I use most (so I don't forget where they are, which I sometimes do.)

But I noticed this article about blogging in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education, and I have to say, I found it disturbing. I'm not sure what to make of a faculty hiring committee that appears to be making hiring decisions based on candidates' personal blogs. I understand the distinction between a personal blog and a professional one, and I wouldn't give a prospective employer the URL of a personal blog, but in some cases it seems as though this hiring committee went out and Googled candidates in order to find their personal blogs. They then read them, judged them, and factored that information into their hiring decisions.

I'm disturbed, for one thing, to find this kind of behavior in academe. It seems drastically at odds with the value we place on freedom of thought, expression and association. To cull a candidate because, for instance, he has a blog showing his interest in technology seems radically out of step with culture of the academy. And some of the logic in this rationale--"past good behavior is no guarantee of future good behavior," for instance--seems just plain crazy. On that basis, how could you ever hire anyone? After all, just because someone has been a terrific, energetic teacher and a leading researcher in the field for the last ten years doesn't mean they won't turn into deadwood if you give them your post. Needless to say, I find this a depressing way of looking at the world.

Overall, it seems to me as though this article may be driven by technophobia more than anything else, and that's just a drag. This kind of generalizing pessimism rears its head from time to time, and it never fails to make the pessimist look bad. There's just no dignified way to say that you think that everyone who writes a blog is a self-involved sub-literate. There are too many blogs that prove you wrong.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Explorers' and Travellers' Journals Documenting Early Contacts With Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, 1741-1900.

Bob Bjoring, Susan Cunningham.
University of Washington Libraries, 1982

This is an interesting book, in part because it's a kind of grey literature. It's the product of a Department of Education-funded project done by the Pacific Northwest Collection of the UW libraries in 1982. This piece of the project was a bibliographic list of early travel journals documenting contact with Native North Americans.

The book is interesting from a librarian's point of view, not just as an information source but as an example of the kind of project that we take on all the time in libraries--a homegrown tool to help researchers get at our collections better. It's a reminder that providing access is harder than it looks. and Google have started people thinking that research shouldn't take more than a few clicks, but it does. It always has done. I just finished working on an exhibit with a colleague who literally spent hours combing old newspapers on microfilm to put together captions for a handful of photographs. There are indices for those newspapers, but anyone who's done genealogical research or any kind of local history research knows that an index to a 1926 newspaper doesn't cut the research process down to a few clicks.

Anyway, this is all by way of being a little sanguine and a little woeful about the work that we do. Because I never knew this book (Explorers' and Travellers' Journals...) existed until I wandered into the reference stacks looking for something interesting and obscure to write about. I have no idea how often it gets used, but if I don't know about it, I imagine a lot of our patrons don't either. And that's not surprising--how can anyone know about every little homegrown guide to research that's out there? We can't, and that's why we have catalogs. But catalogs don't always get you where you want to go, and if the book in question is shelved in the reference Zs, what are the chances you're ever going to stumble across it?

All of this musing becomes circular after a while, and boils down to: the researcher who really cares will find the tools, and use them. And maybe it helps a little if the reference librarian knows some of the oddball items in the collection's nooks and crannies. That seems to be what reference librarians are for, half the time. Like Ranganathan said, roughly: match the reader with the book.

So, anyway, for the readers who will find and care about this book:

Explorers' and Travellers' Journals Documenting Early Contacts With Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, 1741-1900.

A homegrown, staple-bound booklet put together by the University of Washington Libraries. Based on the Pacific Northwest Collection of the UW Libraries. Lists monographs describing the encounters of travellers in the Pacific Northwest with Native Americans of the region. Doesn't include periodical articles or formal ethnographies. Some further exceptions apply.

100 titles are selectively indexed, to provide a cross-section of the topics covered by the whole collection.

Divided by geographical regions from Alaska to Idaho, including British Columbia. Includes sections on overland journeys to the Pacific, and on coastal marine surveys.

Entries are alphabetical by author, with a brief annotation for each, summarizing its content.

Selective topical and name index in back.

The main goal of the book seems to be to capture accounts of pre-contact Native American cultures, and to provide a means of finding some of the more ephemeral materials not well cataloged by LC classification (i.e., travel diaries, etc.)

Friday, July 08, 2005

Radical periodicals in America, 1890-1950 : a bibliography with brief notes. With a genealogical chart and a concise lexicon of the parties and groups which issued them.

Walter Goldwater, ed.
Yale, 1966 (revised edition.) 51 p.

An annotated list of English-language periodicals published in the US, "of a 'radical'--i.e., Anarchist, Communist, or Socialist--nature" (vii) during the dates mentioned above. Doesn't include daily newspapers, trade-union publications, local publications, literary magazines, or special interest publications, such as those appealing to women, Protestants, or, as Goldwater says, "members of the staff of the New York Public Library"(vii.) Some exceptions apply.

Includes a list of references important to the study of American radicalism and Communism.

Includes a well-organized genealogy of radical parties and groups in the US, with their approximate dates of birth and death. The Socialist Labor Party, for instance, was extant in 1890 and survived the 1950s, the cutoff for Goldwater's work. The Workers Communist League (an offshoot of the Communist Opposition), was only around for a few years in the early thirties. Scanning the chart gives you a good bird's-eye view of American radical political activity in the first part of the twentieth century.

Includes entries on the many groups involved, giving names of key members and brief histories of the organizations.

Does not give locations of extant copies, but suggests university libraries which have substantial holdings of radical periodicals.

Based on the Union List of Serials, which no new librarians are ever taught to use anymore.
Thanks to those who responded to my last post, mulling issues of patron confidentiality and posting reference questions online. The issues involved here are still confounding me, I have to admit. For the moment, therefore, I'm going to stop posting reference questions on a regular basis. I may start again in the future, but the summer is probably a good time to back off and consider some of these issues, since the desk schedule is slower anyway.

In the meantime, I've been considering some of the other possible uses of this blog. Two things have occurred to me, and I'm pretty sure I'm not up to one of them. That's the option of creating a Real Academic Library Blog (RALB), a blog that aspires to be a highly central, highly current hub of links and articles relevant to the issues that affect American academic libraries at the macro level. This strikes me as a pretty daunting task for an overworked reference librarian, which may be one reason why there currently is no RALB. (Or so some say; I'm not sure I agree.)

It would be great to feel more like I had my finger on the pulse of the profession, like I was on top of every new development, every new piece of legislation, every new digitization initative and instructional technology. But the fact is, I'm a reference librarian. I'm responsible for at least seven subject specialties in my university, depending on how you slice them. I teach credit and non-credit classes, I work on the desk, my day is already cut up into a million tiny kisses of committee meeting and student supervision and making web pages and chasing down professors. Some days I barely get to look at the newspaper, let alone catch up on my Kinja. For the moment, I think I'm a spoke, not a hub. And I'm okay with that. Mostly.

So the second thing I thought I might use the blog for, since I'm (at least for the moment) a reference librarian, is as a reference training tool. I recently walked through our reference area and noticed an unshelved book on one of the counters. It was a flat red book, circa 1960-something, with modest gold lettering on the cover. The title was: Radical Periodicals in America, 1890-1950. Date of publication: 1966.

I've been trying to think of ways to do more focused development of my reference skills, particularly in the print collection. There's such a huge amount of information in our reference books, and I know I only use a small amount of it on a regular basis--but how to get better? How do I even know that we have Radical Periodicals in America, 1890-1950, much less remember to go to it when someone wants to know what Communist periodicals were published in the US in the thirties?

I still don't have a particularly good answer to that question, since I think the only real answer is: experience. But the best way to build experience is to practice with the tools. So for a while I'm going to try using this blog as a record of the odd, the unusual, and the intriguing in our reference book collection. Just books, and just the books that I don't already use often and go to without a second thought. I may never need to use Radical Periodicals in America, 1890-1950, but then again, I may. Either way, I like the thought of using the blog to revisit these quirky, specialized books and recirculate mention of them on the Web. The next time someone's Googling for "communist periodicals america," maybe they'll find the archived entry and go check out the book in their library. New life for old books!

I'm also going to check in with my library about the confidentiality issues surrounding patron questions on the Internet. More to come on that.