Roundup

  • A side question for library geeks: When it comes to research, are you more of a SIBL or a Central BPL advocate? I have my own thoughts on the pros and cons of each library, and I do indeed like each one in different ways. (Sadly, SIBL has replaced Lexis with Factiva. But there are still some worthwhile resources here.) The one thing that has truly astonished me since moving to New York is the remarkable protectiveness that university libraries have towards their collections. You can’t even walk into these places and just look at — not borrow — the books. Back in San Francisco, I could walk right into the J. Paul Leonard library and park my buttocks at a LEXIS Academic Universe carrel. I could also talk my way into the libraries at Cal, since they weren’t that hard-core about checking ID — or, at least, not with me. Such is not the case here in New York, which seems to fear the vox populi getting their grubby little fingers on an obscure tome. And that’s just inside the library. (Is seeking knowledge considered a terrorist act?) I suppose I can understand this sentiment in relation to private university libraries. But this student ID policy is also enacted at the CUNY libraries. And given that public tax money helps to sustain these libraries, I find it immensely hypocritical for a public university library to deny resources to the public. Even crazier, there’s a racket called the Metropolitan New York Library Council, in which you have to belong to an organization just to get access to one specific book that isn’t available elsewhere, and that you have to request special permission only for these books. I don’t think this is what the people who built these libraries had in mind. On the private university library front, sure, you can become a Friend of the Bobst Library, but it will cost you a minimum of $175/year if you want to access the NYU library more than three times a year. (And if you want year-round Lexis access, the best deal I’ve uncovered is the Queens College library, where a $50 minimum donation will get you in and get you borrowing privileges.) It seems that New York is very much predicated on the idea that knowledge belongs only to those who can pay for it. But I find this to be a repellent and decidedly antidemocratic notion.
  • The identity of the man behind the New York Ghost was hardly that much of a secret, but it is good to see the Other Ed get some Gray Lady press.
  • Another year, another dispute over Gene Wolfe. While I can understand Waggish’s frustrations about the Book of the New Sun series, I side with Richard in this case. The books can be enjoyed even if you don’t figure out all of the puzzles and even if Wolfe ain’t exactly forthcoming about such details as Severian’s sister. Waggish appears to be upset because Wolfe’s plots aren’t spoon-fed to him, thus presenting the suggestion in Waggish’s mind that the half-revealed details don’t add up to something. Well, that is his judgment, not Wolfe’s. He seems upset that Wolfe would rather write novels playing by his own rules. Which is a bit like a snotty undergraduate complaining that Ulysses is just too damn hard and that therefore it is James Joyce who has failed. When, in fact, the answer involves rereading the book again and again. Or moving onto other books. Or trying again years later when one is (hopefully) a bit smarter.
  • National Geographic has recruited John Updike to write about dinosaurs. And I have to say that a very odd admixture.
  • Emily Colette Wilkinson offers this consideration of Jeffrey Steingarten, who is indeed an enjoyable food writer.
  • Scott Eric Kaufman nails what’s wrong with NYT blurbs. (via Tayari)
  • Darby Dixon examines writing crap, which I would agree boils down to getting to the end of what you’ve written and giving yourself permission to write crap, so that you can fix it in revision.
  • A bizarre David Mitchell interview. (via Conversational Reading)
  • The Dylan press angle in I’m Not There.
  • Indie presses in the Independent.
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5 Comments

  1. Ed – while I differ with Waggish’s assessment, I don’t really think your characterization of his post is fair. I thought it was an intelligent, good-faith effort to try to explain why he wasn’t as enthused about the books as others are. I don’t think there’s any implication in his post that he wants his plots “spoon-fed”, nor do I see any need to compare him to a “snotty undergraduate” whining about Ulysses.

  2. I think it helps to appreciate Gene Wolfe’s fiction if one is fond of doing puzzles. Each of his stories (that I’ve read) is a puzzle waiting to be solved. If I’m in the mood to play detective, they’re swell fun. If I’m not, they’re not.

  3. Whether an academic library is in a public or private university doesn’t change the fact that they must subscribe to pricey databases like Lexis-Nexis. If those students pay tuition, why should you have free access to their resources? Those resources aren’t free, and the employees don’t work for free, but you want complete access, for free. You’ve demonstrated that it’s not that you cannot possibly gain access to the resources, your complaint is that you have to pay for them.

    Instead of complaining about your inability to sneak into the various NY university libraries (which is what you pretty much admit to doing in California), you might be better off familiarizing yourself with the databases that are available for use at home from the NYPL (with your library card barcode). There are even more databases available on site.

    http://www.nypl.org/databases/index.cfm?act=2&j=home

    There are plenty of options for New Yorkers to obtain knowledge for free- Lexis-Nexis isn’t the only (pricey) source of knowledge.

    You might want to take some time and talk to some librarians. They can enlighten you about the realities and costs of developing and maintaining a collection, which includes electronic databases.

  4. Yo, 5redpandas: (1) I didn’t have to sneak into SFSU to access THEIR databases. I just walked right in as recently as seven months ago. So need need to offer a crack about the expenses of databases (been there, done that, informed). (2) I ain’t exactly shy about talking with librarians, in large part because I have a great librarian fetish. And what part of “are you more of a SIBL or Central BPL advocate” didn’t you understand? Been to both, used databases at both.

    Why should I have free access to their resources? Because there’s plenty of vacant carrels that students aren’t using, lying in wait. If you want to get all high and mighty about costs and corporate efficiency, how do you explain THAT? Maybe we should do away with the databases altogether if the kids aren’t using them so frequently, eh? Give them all the kind of ignoble ticket number you find at bakeries and have them all wait for hours!

  5. I wasn’t talking about corporate efficiency and I don’t think bringing up the real costs of acquiring databases and other resources is being high and mighty. Perhaps you’d rather ignore the fact that all of those databases cost those academic institutions money (and lots of it). Yes, it sounds like you want special privileges to use resources that other people have to pay for. Plus your argument that you should be able to use them for free simply because the seats are sometimes empty doesn’t make any sense. They don’t let you use the exercise bikes in a gym for free just because someone isn’t using it at that moment, and they don’t get rid of them unless absolutely nobody uses them. Actually, libraries are frequently faced with having to decide which databases and journals to subscribe to because of the high costs.

    Did you find the databases available at SIBL or BPL lacking? Is Lexis the only way to find the information you need? If so then perhaps paying $50 a year to access it would be a wise investment on your part.

    I also don’t think that my suggesting that it’s not unreasonable for an academic library to ask non-students for a fee to use their resources should characterize me as someone who wants to take away resources from students because they’re not being used (according to your observations). That has to do with information literacy and librarians in those libraries probably need to do more outreach to students and teach them how to use all the resources available to them.

    I really do care about these issues from the user side and the librarian side. Do you mind if I show this conversation to my professor? These are issues we’ve discussed in the past few weeks.

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