Something old and something new in a recent research project

Library patrons. declining library usage
Library patrons

Library patrons

I concede: Real research can be done using only web sources. Just not much. Since this month is Earth Month, I want to look back at the first Earth Day in 1970 for one of my other blogs.

Can I find enough information on the web to write something about it?


And I’d produce a post every bit as disappointing as an online article I wrote about last fall, which appears to have started out as an undergraduate honors paper.

So I had to use some very old research methods. Along the way, I found a new piece of technology.

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Something old: print sources


Bound periodicals

Bound periodicals

The World Wide Web didn’t exist in 1970. People learned news from print and/or broadcast media.

Therefore, there is only one way to learn about Earth Day 1970, what led up to it, what immediately resulted from it, and the varying opinions about it: read newspaper, magazine and journal articles that were published in 1970.

Well, actually, it might be possible to find an archive of TV and radio news. Special collections and archives might have important unpublished documents by some of the more prominent participants.

But the point is that in order to know what happened at any time in history, it is necessary to consult documents that were created at that time. They might not exist in any newer medium.

Libraries have any number of full-text databases. Of course, you either have to visit the library in person or have borrowing privileges in order to get access to the databases from home.

Every issue of the New York Times is available in one of those databases. Other databases rarely have full text of anything more than about 20 years old.

So I had to visit actually two different local libraries to find what I was looking for. I didn’t find everything, because neither of the libraries owned some things.

Important speeches were never published. If they still exist at all, the manuscript is in some archive. It will take considerable searching to identify just where.

So how did I know what I wanted to look for? Here’s another blast from the past.

The only way to identify and locate magazine articles for much of the 20th century is the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature, which began publication in 1901. EBSCO Host, a leading supplier of databases, offers libraries online coverage. But it only goes back to 1983.

Frankly, it surprised me to learn that no one has digitized the entire run and made it searchable. The only way to use it is the old-fashioned way: apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.

Fortunately I was looking only for what came out in a single year. Otherwise I would have had to comb through multiple volumes. I have plenty of experience with that. It can take hours, maybe days, to find all the relevant citations in a printed index like Readers’ Guide.

Some people think everything is online. Plenty of people thought that 30 years ago. ‘Tain’t so.

I recall a situation in the late 1980s where both the director of an academic library and the assistant director left the university. Some dean was appointed acting director during the search for a new one.

He immediately sent an order to cancel all print subscriptions, because, of course, everything was on line. The professional librarians eventually set him straight.

If any library has a collection of bound periodicals and some idiot threw out Readers’ Guide, he forever crippled patrons’ ability to find anything in all those back issues.

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Something new: the library’s new technological wonder


This scanner rotates pages all by itself!

So I looked at Readers’ Guide and collected the bound volumes I needed. Once upon a time, I would have had to stand at a copier and make paper copies of every single article.

You know that when you make copies from a bound item—a book or magazine—the odd numbered pages fit on the glass one way. The even numbered pages fit the other. So every other page is upside down. You have to rotate alternate pages in the stack before you can staple it together.

Fortunately, there are scanners. I knew I could scan the articles and make PDFs. I took along a thumb drive to store them.

Remember thumb drives? Not long after I first discovered them and started getting good use of them, they became obsolete.

One thing I dreaded, though: having to rotate alternate pages of the PDF on my screen in order to read it.

Joy of joys! One of the libraries had a new scanner. You still put the pages on the glass in the same alternation, but somehow the scanner can recognize when something is upside down on the glass and rotate it automatically.

It works better with text than illustrations, but if the scanner didn’t flip a page correctly, the touch screen had a button that let me do it manually.

I could have saved the articles to my thumb drive if I really wanted to, but the default on the scanner is to send them by email.

One of the other libraries also has a scanner that will email PDFs, but theirs will only scan a stack of paper. There’s no way to avoid making paper copies with that one.

I don’t know how long such fancy scanners have been around. I haven’t hunted for large numbers of printed magazine and journal articles for a while. But I know that the library where I used the fancier scanner didn’t have it three or four years ago.

Libraries are known for having books and other printed material.

But they are also early adopters of new technology. Every time a new audiovisual format comes out, libraries begin to add it to their collections, and of course must purchase the playback equipment. I recently wrote about how library used its new 3D printer to print an ancient fossil.

So if you ever hear about some new whiz-bang technology, you might not have to wait long for a nearby library to buy one for you to try out. It might even make really old technologies—like print—easier to use.

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Photo credits:
Library patrons. Some rights reserved by liz west.
Harper’s magazine, bound. Some rights reserved by Anita Hart.
Scanner. from my iPad

Bare with me: more misused pears

mistakes with homonyms--fun with homonyms
fun with homonyms

Mismatched pear of shoes?

I was on live chat with a technician, and at one point he had to look something up. So he typed, “Bare with me.”


I’m pretty selective when it comes to either making that invitation or accepting it.

Besides, it’s much more fun when we’re in the same room.

Here’s another instance where a pear (oops, pair) of homonyms tripped someone up. He chose the wrong word. He meant, “Bear with me.” Bear as a verb has numerous meanings. Among others, it means to tolerate or endure. In this case, “put up with my absence for a while.”

Bear also means to proceed in a particular direction, and that reminds me of a story I heard about two very dumb hunters. They wanted to shoot a bear, but they were afraid of getting lost in the woods. So they decided to walk along a road and just look into the woods for the bear.

After a while, though, they came to a sign that said, “Lane closed ahead. Bear left.” What else could they do in that case? They just went back home.

At least they weren’t watching for the bear with baited breath. If the bear took the bait, their injuries might have been too much to bear.  “Bated breath,” on the other hand, refers to lessening the force of their breath. Or to get away from the dictionary definition, anyone who waits with bated breath barely breathes while waiting.

I can just imagine someone who succeeds in using the right words bragging on Facebook, “I past the test.”

Oops. The past tense of pass isn’t past. It’s passed. Past can never be used as a verb.

“Of coarse,” someone might say. Actually, I have never seen that blunder. I suspect that it’s only because course is such a more common word than coarse. I haven’t seen anyone recommending course sandpaper or objecting to course language. But it’s bound to turn up some time.

Perhaps that’s a mute point? No. Mute means silent. The proper word is moot, which means either debatable or, as a legal term, without significance, having already been decided.

Mute and moot are not exactly homonyms. They’re pronounced differently. We’ve all probably heard “mute point” as often as we have seen it in writing. It’s the same difference as that between the languages of a cat and a cow.

“Here! Here!” said the grammar police. Um, no. Lots of people write that, but not grammar police. If anyone shouts “here! here!” they’re merely calling attention to themselves and their location. “Hear! Hear!” on the other hand expresses agreement with what someone else said and urges everyone else within earshot to pay attention. 

Well, enough fun with homonyms for now. I’ve got to go. I just got an email from a dating service asking if I want to meat my ideal mate. I wonder what that means?


3 unusual and unexpected library services

Los Angeles Public Library

We all know that libraries are more than books, more even than their collections. We expect public libraries to have children’s departments. We expect academic libraries to have reserves. We expect any library to have meeting space, programs, and Internet access, among other ways of serving their communities.

Since every community is different, and since every library staff comprises different mixes of talents, it should be no surprise when some libraries offer unusual services, services you won’t find at many other libraries.

Los Angeles Public Library

Los Angeles Public Library, Westwood Branch

Continue reading government websites you should know about

EPA seal

EPA sealThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a political agency, and so I suspect you probably approve or disapprove of its policies depending on what you think of whatever administration happens to be in power.

But regardless of your politics, its website contains a great deal of useful, practical, and non-controversial information. Continue reading

Meet the library staff, answer a question


Librarians do. . . all kinds of fun things!
Barbarian/Librarian Party

As much as I would love to post here every week, it hasn’t been possible. I have managed only once so far this month. Today’s post is scheduled for Christmas Day, which means you’re probably reading it later.

You are used to going to librarians to ask questions. This time, the librarian (that’s me) has a question for you. It’s at the bottom of the page.

Here’s a compilation of earlier posts about librarians and library staff, only one of which has anything to do with Christmas at all. If you’re really looking for fresh, Christmas-related content, be sure to catch the post on Musicology for Everyone about Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols This year is the centennial of Britten’s birth.

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Librarians at work

  • library catalogers

    Catalogers at work

    The librarian’s job Maybe the old stereotype of a librarian as woman with bad hair and an aversion to conversation is dead, but lots of people still don’t get what a librarian does.

  • Helping the reference librarian help you Librarians conduct a “reference interview” to learn what you need to know. Knowing what they will ask and how to answer will help both of you get to your answer.
  • Reference librarians reach out Reference librarians don’t just sit at a desk waiting for patrons to come to them. They also have all kinds of ways to reach out to patrons, both high and low tech.
  • Circ staff: the most visible people at the library You might not see catalogers, administrators, etc. at the library. Some don’t have reference desks any more. But you will see the circ staff. Get to know them.
  • Catalogers: the invisible librarians Catalogers aren’t really invisible. They just work outside the public eye. Their work is vital to library services, and very visible to the public.
  • Library staff: the paraprofessional Gone are the days when only librarians and clerks worked in libraries. Highly skilled paraprofessionals take on critical responsibilities in every department.

The librarian left the building

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Librarians at play

The request

Are you a librarian or a frequent library user? I would love to publish guest posts here.

So far as I know, Reading, Writing, Research is the only blog by a librarian that is not aimed either at other librarians or the patrons of a specific library. If something is happening in your library that you want the general public to know about, let me be your soapbox!

If you have something to write, let’s correspond. Write to me at

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Photo credits:
Barbarian librarian. Some rights reserved by Glamour Schatz.
Catalogers at work. Some rights reserved by sundaykofax.
Bookmobile. Some rights reserved by Loyola Marymount University Library.
NUC Christmas tree foundation. Some rights reserved by Monterey Public Library.