Wednesday, August 8, 2007

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 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).

Bookmark and Share Posted by at August 8, 2007 4:40 PM to Academe

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?

Posted by: Chris Geyer at August 8, 2007 6:19 PM

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.

Posted by: Derek at August 8, 2007 8:40 PM