Teaching New Dogs Old Tricks

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: http://library.wichita.edu/reference/images/PDF/EarlyEnglishBooks.pdf

3 Responses to “Teaching New Dogs Old Tricks”

  1. Thanks for a great post, Liorah! I can only imagine the hassle of getting this resource into your library, so I’m glad to hear that it’s being put to good use. I’d be curious to hear more about this “Resource of the Month”–how did it get started, and what sorts of things does the library do to publicize it? (Obviously there’s a workshop involved, but is there advertising around campus, email alerts, etc.?)

  2. Liorah Golomb says:

    The Resource of the Month falls under the aegis of the Collection Development manager, who maintains a website: http://library.wichita.edu/colldev/ResrcMonth/RotMCurrent.htm and an archive: http://library.wichita.edu/colldev/ResrcMonth/RotMArchive.htm. It goes back at least until Fall 2005, which is before my time. Its purpose is “to highlight some of the library’s new, interesting, under-used, large, unique, or otherwise noteworthy collections and resources.”

    I doubt that anyone stumbles upon the website and it isn’t easy to find from the library’s home page. We advertise by placing it on the university’s events calendar and by having it announced on the university’s daily e-mail blast (but that only goes to faculty and staff). And we put up signs and handouts by the library’s Help Desk. I don’t know if everyone does this, but I also e-mail potentially interested faculty and ask them to share the information with their students. I’m aggressive that way. 🙂 For these workshops the signage got noticed by student journalists who filmed me for a segment on the CATV. And a reporter from the student newspaper showed up!

    It’s usually the subject librarians who conduct the workshops, make the handouts, etc., but occasionally that’s not the case; for example, the Electronics Resources librarian has done them. Last year I did one for Literature Online. We’re not required to do them, but I’ve found that the preparation helps me to better understand and teach the resource. Plus, it looks good in the tenure file.

  3. Hannah Philo says:

    This rings true, even of e-books. We cannot replace all tangible sensory stimulation with electronic counter-parts, even if it’s cheaper and more efficient. Something is lost when you read it on a screen instead of carrying it with you, or see the words printed visually. Perhaps we don’t have the technology to be able to determine what parts of the human brain are educated by books, but I believe there is some subconscious absorption that electronic media simply misses.

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