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.


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