Thursday, May 26, 2011

“The Sagacity to Find Serendipity”

From “Serendipity in the Archive” (The Chronicle): 
In the humanities, a prime site for serendipitous discovery is an archive. This semester, I have introduced my graduate students in English to the concept of serendipity in archival research. ... 
My students now understand that most rare archival material, and materials in private collections, will never be scanned and digitized. And even if much of this material is digitized, its virtual presence is no substitute for the tactile and sensory experience of being in an archive.
Most important, however, the students got a taste of the thrill of discovery that one can experience only in an archive, where good sleuthing and the expert guidance of a willing archivist fosters serendipity. Archival researchers, those whom Richard Altick named "scholar adventurers," still labor in the rarified spaces where only pencils and bare laptops—their carrying bags shuttered in lockers outside—are allowed. Here, acid-free boxes suddenly emerge from closed stacks at the flourish of a call sheet, and first editions recline on velvet book cradles.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

On Site but Out of Sight

Inside Higher Ed has an article, “A Hole Lot of Books,” about the new Joe and Rika Mansueto Library at the University of Chicago. Although the new facility has no bookshelves, the university librarian stresses the importance of having books onsite: 
Reality shows that you cannot do your research well having materials off-site ... The cost of what you would give up in terms of research, studying, and teaching outweighs the cost of the building.
And the university “thoroughly considered” which works would be out of sight: 
They include serial works that have already been digitized, special collections that were not able to be browsed in the first place, and large collections of state documents. Plus, there will still be more than 4 million books in the Regenstein library to be browsed in stacks ... the combination of extensive browsable stacks with high-density, on-site storage as an ideal solution.
In a post at the Wired Underwire blog, “Robots Retrieve Books in University of Chicago’s New, Futuristic Library,” the university librarian says that “research at the university has shown that the more people look to digital resources, the more they consult physical materials as well.”

Here is how the library’s storage and retrieval system works:

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Place Matters

An article in The Chronicle, “Learning Today: the Lasting Value of Place,” identifies the following benefits of place-based education:

  • Peer-learning environments (including those outside the classroom)
  • Exposure to diversity
  • Research opportunities (From laboratories to historical archives, place-based higher-education environments feature significant research infrastructures that give students opportunities to apply and enrich their classroom learning.”)
  • Campus and community engagement
  • Chance encounters (“that come with membership in a diverse intellectual community”)
For an interesting example of place-based education, see “Long Reads” (Inside Higher Ed): “To get students more engaged in texts, some professors hold marathon sessions where students read the books out loud.”

And of course the digital dimension shouldn’t be forgotten. See, for example, “The Humanities, Done Digitally”: “Scholarly work across the humanities, as in all academic fields, is increasingly being done digitally.”