I nabbed Subject Librarian, Sarah Gallagher, also known as @sarahlibrarina, at a moment of vulnerability and twisted her arm into writing a post for us. I always say that librarians are super helpful. In fact, if the University was the animal kingdom and librarians were an animal, verily they would be the African Giant Pouched Rat. So, stop what you are doing, read this post and then book in to a workshop or a one-on-one today!
Back in the mid 90s when I was a postgrad student, library resources and services were quite different. Firstly, there was no Library website. The University of Otago Library was transitioning from card catalogues (1) to a computerised system that could be searched on an OPAC (2). This revolutionised searching but didn’t provide any access to items in full text.
I did love the catalogue cards but you could only search by author, title or subject. The cards were variously old; the card softened to touch like thick linen. New cards were hard and would pierce you under the fingernail in the soft bit given a chance.
There were very few online citation databases then; they were on a CD which had to be borrowed from the desk, and then loaded each time onto a precious public computer which had to be booked in 30 min time slots. There weren’t many of those computers either. This technology didn’t provide the full text either, it only provided citations. The leap from citation databases to full text or linked data hadn’t happened yet. The transition from citation to the object was manual.
So, like other library users, I did a lot of traipsing around the library for material: from reference section to book shelves to the murky journal collections upstairs; checking citations, chasing leads on foot like a gumshoe detective.
I spent a lot of time sitting in isles pouring over contents pages and indices or leaving through individual works page by page; it was filthy work. Paper is dirty; dot matrix print outs of indexes of journal articles are inky. The Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum had scores of volumes tied up with tapes and full of loose image plates. I opened, visually scanned and retied every. single. one. (3)
I didn’t make much use of librarians. I found them a wee bit scary (4).
When I did ask for help I didn’t get a lot (the service provided was very different then) and my topic was pretty esoteric. There were a few hard copy indices I could use (5) (LP, LIMC), but that was it. I really felt alone and I didn’t really know what to ask, or, besides my supervisor and other postgrads in my Department, WHO to ask for advice.
Most of my research was done reading indices and following footnotes. I also made excellent use of the interloan service, often having to request theses from overseas on microfilm (6).
I wrote everything on paper and meticulously inscribed all my references on index cards that I stored in Cussons soap boxes. I had many of these boxes and my backpack was heavy. I had no laptop, there was no Google, I had no online reference management software. In present day library terms, it was still a very analogue world. I developed a dent in one of my fingers from all the writing.
Reflecting back, I think part of the reason I didn’t seek assistance was that I felt I should already know it all; after all, I was a postgrad’ and I’d already been on campus for 4 years and I was an avid library user. So I struggled on in silence not knowing if I was using the all the resources available to me in the best way I could and was too embarrassed to ask.
I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and neither do you. No one does. <I do!!!>
Here’s a story to illustrate my point.
I’ve just finished building a house and the learning curve has been massive. The house has had a 3 year gestation (not dissimilar to a PhD timeframe) and there have been rules, regulations, new language, methods and terminology to understand and lots of decisions and choices that only I can make. There have been relationships to manage too; designers, builders, council, suppliers and tradesmen.
My builders have been my navigators. They’ve helped me understand a dwang from a bearer, what patterning is and why it matters, why I need bracing here, scribers and flashing, there. This time I’ve not been scared to ask. I am the one who has to live with it and it’s costing a lot of money. The builders are on my side, they’re part my team and they don’t made me feel stupid for asking ‘dumb questions’ (7). They’ve been kind, informative and have been largely supportive if my creative ideas or have respectfully explained why it won’t work. They have a level of service and professional practice, which they embody. They are proud of their work, so I know I can rely on them to give me sound advice. Building is their job. Librarianing is mine (8).
The University’s Library’s Liaison Service has a very different practice to our reference librarians of last century. We individually welcome all new PhD students and invite you to catch up with your Subject Librarian at your convenience. We also run postgraduate workshops several times a year; there are some coming up next week – you can register online.
We can teach you how to develop search strategies and how search effectively and efficiently using some pretty smart tools that we spend $mils on. We can teach you to use software like Endnote so you don’t have to create inline citations and bibliographies by hand.
Make use of us. We’re always available by appointment to spend time with you, and we really do care about you and your project. We know that this is a massive commitment of time, funds and often access to your nearest and dearest. We’ve been there too.
We know you don’t know what your don’t know and so we can anticipate some of the questions you may have. We’ve got your back; let us help you make this the best damn thesis you can.
Yvonne Craig as Batgirl, by ABC Television (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- What is a card catalogue? http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-a-card-catalog.htm
- OPAC (Online Public Access Catalogue) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_public_access_catalog
- CVA is now online http://www.cvaonline.org/cva/
- The irony is not lost on me http://librarianavengers.org/worship-2/
- L’Année philologique is now online, the Lexicon iconographicum mythologiae classicae (LIMC) is not. Ha.
- Microform http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microform
- There are no dumb questions
- I did teach my builder how to use Pinterest … he loves it
Sarah Gallagher, Health Sciences Library