Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sometimes, it's still about the books

I came to librarianship from previous professions in e-commerce, PR, and freelance writing. Those things, particularly the e-commerce part (put it this way, I worked for Amazon.com when books were all they sold) have impacted how I work: in front of the computer, for the most part. The subject areas I work with in my job, mainly business and the natural sciences, also impact how I work. The scholarly record in those areas is increasingly born digital, and that's how people access it. (Insert yet another reference to that Ithaka study from a couple of years ago here.)

Yesterday, though, I was doing some research on a matter of personal interest after my workday was done. Most of the material my library has on the subject is in print: in books, not to put too fine a point on it. (Although Google Scholar had done well by me, too, including turning up a translation of an Old Irish poem that I was curious about. Since I don't read Old Irish, finding an article that contained a translation and extensive commentary was gold, especially since, in my cursory search, it was the only extant modern English translation available either online or in print.)

So I spent about half an hour wandering the stacks, looking up call numbers, skimming back-of-the-book indexes. These aren't things that I or the students I work with do much anymore. Online searching is so much faster and more efficient, even though a lot of the bibliographic research tools available to us...well, suck, to be blunt.

The librarian who loves to read is a stereotype, one that a lot of my friends in my profession eschew. The reading I do on the job certainly isn't the kind of reading I'd prefer to spend my time on, professional or scholarly research notwithstanding.

And yet, if it holds true in my case, what's so bad about that? One major difference that I find between going to the stacks and going online is that the latter often has an illusory sense of urgency. There's always more to discover and it can feel overwhelming.

There's always more to discover in the stacks, too. But there's something patient about a physical library, and that's a characteristic that the Internet lacks.

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