Wednesday, September 28, 2005

We're back in full swing now, and I'm spending my hours on the reference desk training student assistants and answering questions. The reference muscles are rusty, but they're coming back. It's nice to see the place active again.

I've spent the summer thinking about the privacy/confidentiality issues raised by posting patrons' questions to the blog. The process has been long and there's been a lot of doubling back and forth, looking for some kind of compromise. On the one hand, I don't want to feel I'm betraying patrons' trust. On the other hand, the blog is a legitimately useful training, communication, and PR tool for me and for other reference librarians. I don't have a clear mandate from my library, and aside from a few librarians in the RUSA Hot Topics in Reference Discussion Group at Annual, I haven't heard any negative comments. (And the comments at Annual were constructive, I hasten to add.) I've heard from several librarians and non-librarians who like reading the blog and encourage me to keep doing it.

So I think I'm going to try doing this: I'm going to continue posting questions, but I'm going to scramble them a little in terms of date and order of appearance. One concern raised by folks at Annual was that patrons' anonymity could be compromised if I post a patron's question and someone reads the blog, recalls seeing the patron in the library that day, and puts two and two together. Unlikely, but possible. So as an added measure of anonymity, I won't be posting questions immediately after my shift anymore. Instead, I'll save the draft of the post for a later date, when I'll come back, toss several days' questions into a big bowl, stir them all around, and then post them in a bulleted list as usual.

This doesn't solve the problem of releasing patrons' interests into the world, where others could pick up on them and poach them, but I don't know what I can do about that. Information is becoming so ubiquitous, and communication so permeable, that I'm not sure patrons at a public reference desk really expect that level of secrecy. Maybe they never did.

For the next week or so my reference desk hours are probably going to be taken up with student training and lots of directional questions, but I'll start building up a store of questions to post when I have enough. I'll probably also keep profiling print reference books here and there, since that's fun and helpful for me. If you have comments or suggestions about any of this, I'm always happy to hear them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I'm back at the desk after two weeks' vacation, and while it's a bit of a shock to the system, it's still good to be back. We're on the quarter system, so we won't get the real deluge until next week, but we're already seeing a change in the reference area demographic. The summer users are mostly community members and a few summer students, and there's a lot of emailing and slow, casual web browsing. During the school year, things get a lot more focused. At nine am, we already have several people doing research. So far, though, reference questions are at a minimum.

In celebration of my return, I profile yet another reference book from our collection. This one's got a great title.

Stage Deaths : A biographical guide to international theatrical obituaries, 1850 to 1990.
George B. Bryan, compiler
Greenwood Press, 1991

I picked this one up out of curiosity--I'd never used it before, and the spine title was just Stage Deaths, which I thought might mean it was one of those Extremely Eccentric Reference Books that do things like obsessively annotate every performance in which a death occurs onstage. I was hoping to read some comparisons of various Lears, actually. Then I saw the subtitle, and while some of the thrill of the strange faded, the intended use of the book became more obvious. Thus do our first naive dreams of the world melt and fade.

This is a two-volume alphabetical list of people in theatre, giving their parents' and spouses' names where applicable, their birth and death dates, and their places of birth and death. This basic information is then followed by a listing of sources of biographical or obituary (mortographical?) articles about the person.

If we look up, for instance, Ethel Barrymore, we get an entry that looks like this:

Real name: Ethel Blyth
Father: Maurice Barrymore
Mother: Georgie Drew Barrymore
Spouse: Russell G. Colt
b. 15 Aug. 1879, Philadelphia, PA
d. 18 June 1959, Beverly Hills, CA
TLON: 19 June 1959, 18, 1
NYT: 19 June 1959, 1, 5
LIVES: Barrymore, Ethel. Memories: An AB. NY: Harpter, 1955.

For people doing theatre research outside of their own field, this could be a useful pointer to books and articles. It's also helpful to have the basic facts laid out, IMDB-style. (Although there's also the Internet Theatre Database, which I keep meaning to look at more closely. But which does not, in this case, give very useful information for Ms. Barrymore.)

The listing is highly comprehensive--I don't know much about theatre, but the volumes appear exhaustive. The papers indexed for obituaries seem to be only major American and British ones, and the introduction acknowledges that this is a regional/national guide. "International" in this context appears to mean the US and the UK.

There are no indices of any kind, which seems like a bit of an oversight. Access is by last name only.

Monday, September 05, 2005

I'll be on vacation between now and September 16, so there won't be any new posts during this time.

Thanks for reading, and please check back again mid-month!