|The Apex of Civilization (1987)|
Several months ago, I came across an interesting citation in ALA Fact Sheet 15: Weeding Library Collections, alerted to it by Karen Muller's Ask the ALA Librarian blog:
Wynkoop, Asa. "Discarding Useless Material." Wisconsin Library Bulletin. 7, no. 1 (1911): 53.
I appreciated the literal deployment of the word "useless" to describe materials that had not circulated. I grew curious about how library weeding was discussed a hundred years ago, and thought a centennial snapshot might prove interesting. Since I am a modern man, I began my search in Google. An excellent summary from the Wisconsin Library Heritage Center appeared as the first result. Good start. It noted that that most of the Bulletin had been digitized as part of Google Books. Very promising. 1905, 1907, 1908, 1910 are available. 1917... yes! 1911...no. As a UK football fan might say, "unlucky!"
In skimming the WLB version of the article, I noticed it had in fact been reprinted from the April 1911 issue of New York Libraries. As now, the topic of weeding was sweeping the land. Might as well have the original, I reckoned--and Simmons' ancient bound periodical collection came up aces again. The text of the two versions proved identical, but the NYL version did yield one new nugget: Asa Wynkoop, the article's author, held the august position of New York's "Inspector of Public Libraries." What an excellent title. What a fine idea. Where are they now--those Inspectors of Public Libraries? We'll actually get to that question and to "Discarding Useless Material" in next week's post. But first, let's finish the old-school retrieval process.
Not so very long ago, some version of this experience was the norm.Clearly it can still occur. If only Mr. Wynkoop had had the courtesy to publish his piece in 1910 (already scanned and available through Google Books and Hathi Trust), I could have learned in 5 minutes what ate up most of a day. On some level, that's what we all expect; it's startling to be reminded how completely things have changed. The productivity improvements unleashed by digital access to content can hardly be overstated. But it can also be easy to forget that mass digitization is still a work in progress, that gaps remain in the electronic version of our professional record. And equally startling that some of those gaps can still be filled by print. With some effort.
Old-school information retrieval was (and is) time-intensive, labor-intensive, expense-intensive. Often it's impossible to know beforehand whether the item you're seeking is worth the investment. A citation is just a starting point. You have to be pretty damn motivated (obsessed? foolish?) to drive 150 miles, spend $40 on gas, tolls, and parking, and burn a full day to retrieve an article that turns out to consist of three long paragraphs. Most contemporary students would not consider this rational behavior. I'm not even sure I do.
|Use Study in Progress|