It’s been too long.
I haven’t posted here on “Librarians do it Between the Covers” in a long time, for two reasons, one bad, and one less bad. The first being, I’m not a librarian anymore and haven’t been since the end of 2010, and I feel a bit of a fraud. Of course, once a librarian, always a librarian, as they say (don’t they?) so that’s the bad reason, since it’s not a very plausible one.
The slightly-better-in-a-roundabout-way reason is that I’m a bit burned out. In 2012 I set a personal goal for myself to read 52 books, one a week. I did it, in fact I got to 54… and now I’m tired. Burned out. I read everything I had any interest in reading, and now I need a break, and for people to write some more books I give a fig about reading.
Of course some people would say there isn’t enough time in the world to read everything they want to, but I’m not one of those people. I’m picky. Mind you, I’ve read a lot of books over the years, so it’s not like I haven’t already covered the basics. But I know what I like and what I don’t like, and that ends up ruling out a lot. And besides, my brain is tired. I worked my way through my always-wanted-to-get-to list this past year and now I’m done. I want a break from being challenged. I’m going to lie around and reread one of the Dragonriders of Pern books for the umpteenth time. Not even one of the better ones, just one of the random ones like Nerilka’s Story or something, and I’ll just crack it open somewhere in the middle and start there. Because I’ve read it so often it’s like a worn blanket and it won’t make me think, not hardly at all.
When I can rub two brain cells together again, I’ll tell you about my year of reading, but until then, I’m going to fly back to Pern.
I’ve been following a discussion about allowing scanners (and presumably cameras) in archives, over on an SAA listserv. Coincidentally, OCLC just released a report on “capture and release”, the use of digital cameras in archives reading rooms.
Digital cameras and other mobile capture devices are revolutionizing special collections reading rooms and the research process, but at the same time are being wrongly framed as a threat or a challenge for some repositories to remain relevant. While some librarians and archivists have resisted digital cameras, others have embraced them—and rightfully so. Researchers, repositories, and collection materials can reap undeniable benefits from using digital cameras. In addition, digital cameras can help librarians and archivists achieve their fundamental goals of improving conditions for their collections materials, facilitating greater research economically and efficiently, and resolving competing demands for resources and maximizing the productivity of their staff.
A lot of my patrons are out-of-towners, genealogists traveling home to see family and with limited time to spend in my library, which does not circulate. Copies are expensive and some items can’t handle a photocopier, for various reasons (fragility, size, etc.). I encourage patrons to bring along a laptop, and a digital camera. A quick flash-free snapshot of that family tree found in an oversized, crumbling old bible is a simple way for a researcher to get the information they need fast. It’s a win-win, in my books, but surprisingly, not all librarians and archivists feel the same way. Many institutions prohibit the use of cameras in their facility.
Libraries have always been masters of adaptability; that’s why we’re still around. We don’t always like change, but we’ve rolled with it, giving up our bound encyclopedias and handsome card catalogs with a whimper, it’s true, but giving them up nonetheless. I have faith that the library community as a whole will, for the most part, continue to embrace innovation. But can we do it fast enough, and not get left behind?
If you get a group of librarians together and ask them about the most ridiculous reference requests they’ve ever had, you’ll hear some humdingers. Most are ridiculous because they’re looking for the impossible, or sometimes just the really difficult but as if they’re simply asking for double pepperoni on their pizza. “Could you go through your entire collection and pull out every photo that has a blue house in it, then create a database of these, and write a report for my son’s 3rd grade class? It’s due tomorrow.” Those are exasperating. The ones we really chuckle over, though, are the impossible ones. More than once I’ve had someone ask me for photographs of the first town board meeting (1818) or from the War of 1812 (aerial shots, no less), and I’ve had to gently explain that photography wasn’t invented until quite a bit after that. Incidentally, the part patrons struggle with the most is that, furthermore, it wasn’t available on a widespread basis two days after it was invented, so expecting a photo of every Tom, Dick and Harry from 1860 isn’t realistic.
Filmmaker Laurie Hill has made a spectacular short film about absurd requests received by the Getty Hulton Archive. Photograph of Jesus showed at the Sundance Film Festival this year.