Friday, October 21, 2005

The newest crop of reference questions, scrambled and tossed so the dates of the queries aren't apparent:
  • How do I find a print copy of an article titled "Girl Trouble" from Media Week magazine?
  • I can't find this French journal in WorldCat. Where else can I look to see if it exists?
  • Where can I find this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, about funding pressures on research, if it isn't in the microform copy or in any of the databases that index it?
  • Where can I find an English copy of Memory of Fire by Eduardo Galeano?
  • How late is the student union computing lab open?
  • Is the University of Southern California a Catholic institution?
  • Where can I find criticism of Henry James's work?
  • Where can I find books by Gindler? I know I've found them before in this library, but they don't show up this time. (Author's name was actually Eugene Gendlin.)
  • Where can I find the cubic formula? My professor told me it was in the library, and I should come get it for extra credit.
  • How do I cite an article from an encyclopedia in MLA style?
  • Where can I find an encyclopedia about Africa? What about one on more specific concepts, like early hominid evolution and tool use?
  • Can I get a copy of the book Customs in Common from a non-Summit library?
  • Where can I find the birth and PhD dates, respectively, of two academics?

I'll be out of town for the next week, so I won't be updating. But please check back again after November 1st!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Today's reference book of the day:

American Attitudes: Who Thinks What About The Issues That Shape Our Lives, 3rd edition.
Susan Mitchell
New Strategist Publications, Inc.

This is a single volume that shelves in our reference collection next to the Gallup polls and in the general neighborhood of social activism, protest, and action. (HN 90 .P8 M58.) It collates American public opinion on a wide range of issues, some of them fairly standard and predictable (homosexuality, role of government, belief in God) and some of them much more out-of-the-way, unexpected, and interesting.

Opinions are drawn from the General Social Survey of the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center. (The introduction provides context for the research center and the methods used.) Information is presented in tables, surrounded by a clearly-stated question and a narrative describing how responses break down by race, gender, age, and other relevant characteristics.

Some of the more interesting questions that were asked:
  • Doctors always do their best to keep the patient from worrying. Do you agree or disagree?
  • In general, do you find life exciting, pretty routine, or dull?
  • Do you think most people would try to take advantage of you if they got a chance, or would they try to be fair?
  • Life is only meaningful if you provide the meaning yourself. Do you agree or disagree?
  • It is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good, hard spanking--do you agree or disagree?
  • On the average, blacks have worse jobs, income, and housing than white people. What do you think these difference are mainly due to?
  • Did you ever have a religious or spiritual experience that changed your life?
I can see this book being useful for students in a few ways. Undergrads often seem to be looking for authoritative support for popular received notions--i.e., "I'm doing a paper on how the media doesn't show black people in professional jobs, and the assumptions that causes people to make." Alternatively, they often want to find out what people do think about a wide variety of topics, and sometimes they're told to find out what certain groups of people (retired people, people with a bachelor's degree) think about issues. It's also interesting to see how opinions have changed over time--in many tables, findings from previous years are given as well. Students could use Gallup or another poll service to compare similar questions over time if they can't find longitudinal data here.

I'm also a little tickled by some of the questions this survey asks, particularly about abstract values such as happiness and meaning. I'm a little depressed by some of the opinions expressed, but that's neither here nor there.

The book is well arranged for undergraduates--the key findings for each question are summarized neatly in the introductory narrative. There's a topical index, as well as an in-depth ToC for the questions, grouped by general subject area.

ETA: There's a 4th edition out, dated 2004. We don't have it yet.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

I've been busy on the desk lately, training our student employees and answering the usual flood of directional and logistical questions. But here's the first crop of reference questions I said I'd keep posting.

These are questions accumulated over the last couple of weeks, scrambled so the date they were asked isn't obvious. I'm doing it this way in an attempt to further safeguard the identity of patrons using our reference desk. If you have suggestions for another strategy I could use, please let me know.

  • Where can I find articles about the West African Frontier Forces, an African and West Indian wing of the British Army during WWII?
  • How do I get hold of a missing issue of New Left Review from 1977?
  • Do you have any UO catalogs from 2003-2004?
  • Where can I find out more about Stanley Fish's concept of "interpretive communities"?
  • Where are these call numbers?
  • Where can I find a CD by Celine Dion?
  • How can I access Ingi D'Aulaire's manuscripts, which the UO has in Special Collections?
  • Where is the index to National Geographic? (Resolved into: where can I find articles about a region of Utah, between the Salt Lake and the border?)
  • Where can I find lesson plans for teaching Spanish to elementary school students?
  • Do you have any audio recordings of The Odyssey?

I also noticed another disturbing article about how blogs are perceived by the academic community. In this case, an apparently highly-qualified member of the University of Chicago's political science department was denied tenure, possibly in part because he blogs about his interests. It's hard to know exactly what happened here, because the tenure selection process is so secretive, but nobody's denying that the blog had any impact.

I don't understand denying a candidate advancement because s/he shows relevant extracurricular interests. I might be able to understand refusing tenure to someone who posted material that wasn't in keeping with the department's or institution's mission (although isn't academe supposed to champion freedom of speech and thought?) I just can't understand denying it to someone who otherwise meets expectations, simply because they have a blog in which they talk about their field of expertise. Their posts may be reasoned and thorough or off the cuff--it shouldn't matter. That's what blogs are for.

I used to think blogs were no big deal, but increasingly they seem to indicate a widening rift between traditional and new ways of thinking about thinking. Scholars and researchers have always kept notebooks full of scribbled ideas and theories. Why does it make some people so uncomfortable to see those notebooks put online, for other interested parties to read and comment on? To my way of thinking, greater access is a good thing. If the authors are comfortable sharing their ideas, why should departments be concerned? The arguments in this case seem to center around the appropriateness of "publishing" unpolished work, and around the idea that blogging drains valuable time from other activities. I'm not convinced of this, for all kinds of reasons, but it would be interesting to see a study of academics who blog. After seeing two articles about how academe punishes bloggers, though, the survey might not get many respondents.