Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Canyons of Reference

For most of us of a certain age, print reference books and libraries are strongly associated. The indexes, encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases and other unwieldy but useful volumes were often the first stops in our information seeking in our, uh, formative years.

To see these tomes now in an active library evokes both memory and mystification. A print index to the New York Times? Really? Current to 2009? A bit surprising, especially when the primary access to the Times itself is via the online version. And yet I took these photos within the past two weeks.

At an extraordinarily busy time in this particular library, I was able to snap aisle after aisle, filled with books but empty of students (except for one, who used the privacy to make a call on his cell phone.) There is nothing especially unique about this library; I've had the same experience repeatedly in the 20-30 libraries I visit each year.

And what filled these interior canyons? Many useful books, well recalled from my own Introduction to Reference class in the early 90's at Simmons with Professor Allen Smith. But also with useful books that are clearly not used, and of a type which lends itself well to online access.

Meanwhile, at precisely the same time, around the corner from the last row of deserted stacks, was the scene below: note the gold-lettered sign on the top of the back wall.

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