Friday, July 08, 2005

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.


Blogger Marshall Kirkpatrick said...

You might consider instead rallying a tagged attention stream. There is a group of people doing that around non-profit technology, using the tag nptech. See

In other words, get everyone to tag desired items online with "RALB" or some such similar tag with social bookmarking tools (like, only is way better IMHO). Then you could just point people to search for that tag, or you could display all the most recent tagged items on a site using:

1. or groups to mesh RSS feeds from Furl, and probably citeulike or whatever services participants are using.

2. RSS Digest via to create a javascript code to display the RSS feed automatically in HTML.

That would display the most recent contributions to the tag stream, then you could include links to the whole set of tagged items in the various social bookmarking services.

If you are interested in this, and I can be of assistance, let me know.

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