Archive for March, 2009

Tough Times for the Humanities

Friday, March 6th, 2009

About Timothy Hackman

Librarian for English & Linguistics, University of Maryland Libraries. Member of LES since 2006.

Thought LES members would be interested in this recent piece from the New York Times, “In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth” (Feb. 24, 2009). This is hardly anything new, though perhaps the level of anxiety that humanities folks are feeling is a bit higher than usual these days.

Teaching New Dogs Old Tricks

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

This is a tale to contradict the notion that students will not use a resource that isn’t available “on the computer.”

My institution can’t afford EEBO, but a year or so ago, when another university in the state was able to acquire it, they put their microfilm set of Early English Books up for grabs. It took 15 seconds after the e-mail offer came through for me to stake my claim. It then took me months to convince my administration to let me have this 3,434-reel resource for the cost of a one-day U-Haul rental. I surveyed my liaison faculty — twice. I found free cabinets. I negotiated for space to put those cabinets. I put in a formal proposal explaining the value of the collection, even though I would have thought it self-evident. I had to check every detail about access, labeling, and cataloging with the donating institution, and I even had to submit the number, dimensions, and weight of the book boxes in which the film would be transported. Hoop after hoop after flaming hoop.

I’m happy to report that the set is being used. Some users have no particular research need for EEB but are fascinated by the content. Others are finding it crucial to their work, such as the philosophy professor whose publisher required him to cite from a particular edition of a work of Locke’s, or the MA student who is doing a thesis around a Centlivre play that has never been republished. But to raise interest even more, I decided to make EEB February’s “Resource of the Month.”

This was the first time in my roughly 30 months at Wichita State that the RotM was not an electronic resource. Attendance was surprisingly good and included undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff. Since there is no microfilm reader in the library’s classroom, I had participants gather in a reading room near the film cabinets. There I told them all about Messrs. Pollard and Redgrave and Mr. Wing and gave a brief history of the UMI filming project. I showed them the indexes to provide a sense of the scope of the collection and the diverse nature of the libraries that house the originals, even though not everything indexed was filmed.

Since the documents are all in our OPAC, I happily did not have to show my audience how to use the indexes. But I did draw their attention to the broad scope of available content by passing around pages I’d printed on the subjects of religion, politics, travel, literature, cryogenics (!), and medicine. (That last one was a prescription to cure coughing in children that involved washing worms in wine before drying and crushing them into an ingestible powder.) Then we did a few catalog searches, selected a document, located the proper reel, and threaded up the ol’ microfilm reader.

And everyone agreed that the process was not so hard, and certainly worth the trouble. And that the serendipitous discovery of great stuff on the way to the destination document was pretty cool.

For anyone interested, here’s a link to the handout I prepared for the class and beyond: