Saturday, November 10, 2012

Random discoveries and questions from the week


Discoveries
  • Biggest discovery: that if you have a can of Starbucks Hot Cocoa mix that you haven't been using since you developed a lactose intolerance, you can mix it with just hot water and it is even better than it is with milk. 
  • Second biggest discovery: hearing from a colleague that students really love a class that I have been working very hard at this semester but had worried about.
  • From Vanity Fair, that the New York Public Library has sent/is sending the rest of its books to a storage area in New Jersey "where they would join the two million of the library's books that are already there.  In theory, any book could be retrieved and sent to New York within 24 hours.  A day isn't much if you are working on a two-year research project.  But if you are a student or a visiting scholar who has saved up to come to New York to do research on books you can find only at the New York Public Library, the delay can be critical" (185).  Yes, it could be critical indeed.  
  • That it takes 6.59 minutes for my ancient Vista-based laptop (which I need to use for a specific program for a university function) to boot up and find the wireless but that it has only 7 minutes of battery life if it is not plugged in. For 1 second, it's "Yes! The screen at last!" followed by "Click--battery death." 
  • That I have been totally spoiled by the open-the-lid-and-type speed of the MacBookPro. 
  • That spending 14 hours plus transit time on campus teaching and in meetings makes me fall exhausted into bed where I dream of . .  . teaching and being in meetings.
  • That if your brain is in some sense a production line for writing, the writing part (Production) can't get done until the reading part (Raw Materials) is available.
  • That thinking about a new course and new texts to teach is an enjoyable distraction from thinking about a current course or your writing. 
  • That it's possible to think about adding new texts to a course you've taught before--an online course--until you see all the pages and pages of material, links, and questions you wrote the last time and realize that you would be a total crazy person to reinvent this particular wheel, especially when you realize, after reviewing student feedback, that they really liked the course the way it is. 
Questions
  • If a library or archive had a fantastic online archive with great, close scans of the material you needed to see and there was no doubt about the readability of the online text, would you still feel that you needed to go to the archive?
  • Would you think that people might doubt your conclusions if you did so? 
  • Is there a solid reason for reducing the value of results or conclusions based on an online scan of a text, or is it more about "too easy--you have to earn the research results by going to an archive"?
  • Are the answers different for historians and literary scholars? 

8 comments:

Z said...

Archives: having them online is an auxiliary thing. It means you can call them up in class or at conferences, and to look at them ahead of going in person and afterward. It is great.

Substitute, no. 1. In person you find things you were not looking for more easily. 2. Benjaminian aura: looking at the original in its place is meaningful although I am not sure how to quantify that. 3. Meeting the archivists, seeing the other things there are in the bulding and the neighborhood, going to the related bookstores in person, everything that is good about fieldwork.

nicoleandmaggie said...

I LOVE the way superceded state laws are now mostly available on Google Books. Even the Harvard law library doesn't have a complete collection. I can live without the dust, and I can even live without the creative bookmarks from 200 years ago. Also I can't accidentally rip the pages of online archives. And searchability-- amazing.

I have a project that would have taken at least two fewer years if online archives had been available when I started.

undine said...

Z--that's the thing I fear: the loss of serendipity.

nicoleandmaggie--some creative bookmarks are interesting, but some are --not nice to see or touch.

sophylou said...

As a librarian and a historian I find this a really tricky question. Ideally I think you'd have both, resources available online and in person. Having the materials online benefits scholars unable to afford research travel (like me, though I'm reasonably sure that the stuff I need to travel to see is not going to be digitized anytime soon--copyright issues and probably also sense that the materials aren't that "important" historically/literarily).

And as a librarian I pretty much have to endorse that kind of access (even though as someone who worked in a SpColl library in library school, I know how time- and labor-intensive digitization is).

But yes, you can lose serendipity, you lose the tactile and hard-to-quantify looking-at-real-thingness, you don't have the relationship with the archivist/librarian (hi!). Plus not everything is going to be digitized, so you may miss making a connection between the digitized materials you're looking at, and another, non-digitized collection at the same site. (Though hopefully communication with the archivist can help with that).

undine said...

sophylou--those who digitize materials deserve a lot more recognition and thanks than they usually get. That's a great point about making connections between digitized/nondigitized materials and the collaboration with the special collections librarian. I

Anonymous said...

@undine, I learned all of that from interning in the public services department of a big special-collections library while in library school. My job involved answering queries from patrons about our holdings, and processing reproduction orders -- the behind-the-scenes work taught me a LOT... especially about the value of contacting the archives/special collections' public services/reference staff. They know what they have, or have internal tools that let them dig in deeper on their end. I did a fair amount of archival research for my dissertation, and it was fascinating to be working on the other side.

chicago foodie girl said...

Starbucks Hot Cocoa mix + vanilla almond milk or chocolate almond milk = more awesomeness for the lactose intolerant! :-)

undine said...

Anonymous--that's a great point. Though not in the same position, I learn a lot from looking up questions for others, and I can only imagine what it must be like working in a library for real.

Chicago--I haven't gotten up my courage to try almond milk yet but am working on it.