Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

There’s Harvard and Then There Are “Lesser Libraries”

Does the name Robert Darnton ring a bell? No? Maybe it should. After all, Darnton is the Director of the Harvard University Libraries. As I read the most recent Annual Report of the Harvard Libraries I discovered who Darnton was when I read his “message” at the front of the Report. This quote got my attention:

Lesser libraries may rely on Google, JSTOR, and whatever they can harvest from the Internet, but Harvard has a responsibility to keep up with the production of scholarship by increasing its acquisitions of books–old-fashioned books, print on paper…No other university library has contracted such a heavy obligation, because none can compare with Harard in the depth and breadth of its collections.

Well I’ll certainly sleep more soundly at night knowing that the future of civilization is safe as long as Harvard continues to amass its huge collections. In the meantime I’ll slink back into my “lesser library” where we’ll try to get by gleaning information from Google. According to the latest ARL Library Investment Index (just issued about two weeks ago) Harvard Libraries, ranked first, spends $33 million more and has 500 more staff than the second ranked library (Yale). I guess that gives Darnton the right to refer to all other libraries as “lesser”.

Are We Placing Too Little Emphasis On TOC Alerts

They provide an easy and powerful way to stay up-to-date with journal literature but I wonder if, when it comes to our faculty, we are doing too little to promote Table of Contents alerts. Nearly every major aggregator database and e-journal collection has this feature. The problem is that without someone bringing it to your attention you’d hardly know it was there. A recent study into the behaviors of faculty for locating scholarly material suggest that TOC alerts are highly valued. “How Readers Navigate to Scholarly Content” is a new report published by Simon Inger and Tracy Gardner for a consortium of scholarly publishers, including the Nature Publishing Group, that examines how scholars start their search for content and how they navigate different search resources. There is both good and bad news for academic librarians. Depending on what they’re trying to do and how much information they have, scholars may go right to a known library database or their favorite search engine. But figure 5 (pg. 18 of 32) asks “how often do you follow links to a publisher’s e-journal web site from these starting points” and TOC alerts is far and away the top starting point – that got my attention. Perhaps it’s time to recognize that we need to do a better job of making faculty aware of TOC alerts. We may be underestimating their value.

Got My ALA Midwinter Hotel – Darn Easy Too!

If I don’t manage to reserve my first choice ALA/ACRL conference hotel room within 30 minutes of the opening bell then I consider myself a failure. For me this process actually begins about two weeks prior to the start of the reservation process. I do a detailed review of the available conference hotels, analyzing all the amenities, prices and locations so that I can get the optimal reservation. For me that includes making certain the hotel has a fitness room – and it has to be open 24 hours. I also check to make sure there is free internet in the room – don’t believe what they tell you on the ALA site. I’m an early riser so I make sure I can get breakfast by 6 am or 6:30 at the latest. Pricewise I’m looking at the low end of the spectrum. Those are my top priorities. I don’t care about coffee makers, flat screen televisions or nightly turndown service. So I narrow it down to the four or so hotels that seem to best meet my criteria. I then proceed to the hotels’ websites to see if they actually do meet my criteria. Then I call each to confirm which ones will actually make the cut. The next step is to compile all the data and then rank the hotels from first to last choice.

On September 2 at 9 am EST I logged on to the conference site and first took advantage of the bundled registration to sign up for midwinter and annual – and saved a few bucks. I was then seamlessly shifted to the hotel registration process. ALA is running on all cylinders with this easy, new combined conference/hotel registration process! Within five minutes I’d booked a room at my first choice hotel – an optimal mix of low price, location and amenities. It’s a bit more work in advance but I think it definitely pays off on the day registration opens. ACRL in Seattle? Done! Same joint conference/hotel registration process. Fast and easy. Since I liked the hotel where I stayed in January 2007 for ALA Midwinter I just chose it again. You know, I sort of missed doing my conference hotel analysis. Well, there’s always ALA Annual in Chicago. If you usually procrastinate on the hotel registration process, think about giving my method a try – unless you really prefer a last minute reservation at that fleabag motel on the outskirts of town.

13 thoughts on “Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

  1. The internet is a great resource Harvard does not wish to embrace. Amassing a large collection of books that will be used less frequently because the common use of the internet, does not seem to make much sense.

  2. Talk to your Interlibrary Loan staff. They can tell you exactly which institutions have been forced by their administrations to rely overwhelmingly on Interlibrary Loan rather than their own collections to meet their patrons’ needs. I think those are the “lesser libraries.”

  3. The University of California at Berkeley’s latest development (i.e., fund-raising) newsletter mentions that it is the only library in the US to own a collection of topographic maps of (I forget exactly) either Iraq or Iran. So, Harvard, take that.

    Of course, the same newsletter, in the letter from the Librarian, mentions that the editors/compilers/authors of American Slavery As It Is (1839) were “Theodore Dwight Weld and his wife. ” That anonymous helpmate was Angelina Emily Grimke, noted abolitionist and women’s rights advocate. I guess the librarian couldn’t be bothered to look it up online ….

  4. Remember the primary audiences Darnton is writing for in his Annual Report – administrators, development officers, and even alumni over librarians from other colleges. Why be snarky about the shout-out for Harvard Pride and Noblesse Oblige when that’s what keeps those audiences interested funding the library system?

  5. I think people are making too much of his use of the word “lesser.” I used to work for the Harvard University Libraries, and yes, there was a certain snobbery among people connected in any way to Harvard. But let’s face it – while certain libraries may have specialized collections or particular items not held by Harvard, Harvard’s collection simply DOES blow all other collections out of the water. Darnton is right to refer to other libraries as “lesser.” That’s not to say that other, smaller libraries are not special and are not pleasant places to work. I far prefer working at a small library now. But our collection cannot compare to that of Harvard, though it is far more than adequate for the size of our community.

  6. I remember with great amusement the day I informed my predecessor that we had one-upped his claim of interlibrary loaning a book to Princeton. We had loaned a book to Harvard, from our for-profit, career track, verging to online, lesser than less, university library. Apparently, it was an even greater honor than we had thought.

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