Transparency for Library Recalls

Another one of the books I have out from the library was recalled the other
day. It’s due to be returned tomorrow. I’ve been holding onto it until the
last possible moment because I wanted to eek out what
notes I could
about the one chapter that interested me (whether any of it finds a place in the
diss is undecided…one of many undecideds). The library has
recalled maybe six or eight books from me in the three years I’ve been at
Syracuse. Often the book has been on my shelf for longer than its initial
check-out period. Our libraries at SU make it very easy to renew online:
bad for patrons who are put off by the "checked out" designation; good for my
temporary collections.

With the most recent recall, it occurred to me that there might be certain
advantages in a system that allowed the possessor and the requestor to see
information about each other–something like a localized
LibraryThing where borrowing patterns
and common materials associate people at a given institution (or regional
cluster of institutions). I mean that the recall request would disclose
information about the person requesting the book and vice versa. There
could be problems with this, also, such as when the possessor fails to return
the book by the new deadline. I can imagine a disgruntled requestor parked
outside my office door, fuming. Likewise, I can imagine scenarios where
rank might play a role (even though, of course, it should not), such as
when a sophomore makes a request for materials crucial to a tight-to-deadline
research project by someone up the hierarchy.

Problems notwithstanding, transparency would make it possible for the
possessor and requestor to have a conversation. Most of us wouldn’t have time
for this sort of thing every time materials are recalled, but why not make it an
option, even for casual insights and also a different sense of connections
across an institution? After all, books–even though they are things–participate
in and even

proliferate networks
. Such a system (opt-in, of course) might stimulate
cross-campus (even cross-institutional) conversations and serendipitous
exchanges about reading and research that would not happen otherwise. I
raise this not knowing anything about the requestor of The Organization of
Knowledge in Modern America, 1860-1920
or their motivations. Arbitrary
(does anyone have a copy of…?) requests for materials to our program listserv
would suggest that borrowers are likely to be our close colleagues. This
is interesting and surprising–grounds for fruitful encounters. But
equally interesting to me are those potential encounters beyond the usual
circles in which we walk, read.

Whether there’s anything to all of this, the recall did touch off an
incentive for me to get some notes down on Veysey’s chapter, notes which include
these two striking excerpts:

"Those who reject the dominant scientific conception of the pursuit of
knowledge can only wander off in a score of mutually unrelated directions. It is
easy to see these as amounting to no more than a mixed bag of random leftovers.
In particular, when such fields as history, English, foreign languages, and the
history of art and music rejected science and yet invoked the past, there was
the grave danger that they would run around in a spirit of sheer
antiquarianism–calling attention to anything merely because it existed, with no
self-conscious principle of selection, no concept of the logical relationship
between evidence and larger hypothetical generalizations. Of course none of this
matters if one stops dreaming of intellectual unification and rests content with
the celebration of particular achievements in art, music, poetry, literary
criticism, or philosophy. But these symptoms of confusion, drift, and retreatism
deserve emphasis in dealing with a rubric that to outsiders appears far more
coherent than it is" (57).

"The most important boundary may well be not the formalistic one between
so-called amateurs and professionals but the line that divides those who William
James called the once- and twice-born, between those persons of all backgrounds
who have become converted to a profoundly sustaining intellectual allegiance of
this kind and those others (possibly laboring alongside them in the same
academic departments) who have not" (61).


  1. Just as a small tip from one whose books are also often recalled before she is done with them: If it’s really a particular chapter (or two) that interests you, take it to the copier and make a .pdf of it. Then you’ll still have the whole text later if you need to refer back to it. Remember, pdf’s don’t count as copies in the limit!

    I totally agree with the connecting thingy. I don’t understand at all the library’s rationale for keeping the requester/holder information top secret. I’ve often wanted a book for only a day or two and would have gladly contacted the person who had it to make arrangements, but the system has no allowance for that. I wonder who we would have to talk to to try and get such a program going?

  2. Good tip. Often I do create PDFs, but I have been to campus just one time since the recall notice came and I forgot the book!

    I doubt that something like this would be made available very quickly, and I don’t know whether anyone at SU would be interested in thinking it through.

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