Thursday, July 3, 2014

library day

This was the day I spent rushing around college libraries to do the final stage of research for the annual Tolkien bibliography. And it had to be done today, because tomorrow is out for obvious reasons, and so is next week for less obvious ones. Most of the work consisted of rummaging through databases available there but not on the open web, and checking in hard copy the things that have to be checked. (e.g. "is that really the paper's title?" and "Sounds interesting, but how much is it actually about Tolkien?")

The two libraries I most use are the University of California at Santa Cruz and Stanford University, but this is the first time I got to both in one day. UCSC is exciting to do research at, because the passes from the machine at the visitor's lot are only good for an hour, so it's necessary either to do a rush job of research or else run back and buy another chit. The library is a modestly fair walk from the parking lot, but at least it's intensely scenic. You know Cornell's famous footbridge over a perilously deep canyon? UCSC has one of those too.

At Stanford, you can buy a pass for up to all day if you want (and many do, meaning the lot is often full, and, if it is, the visitor is pretty much out of luck on a weekday), and the walk to the library, while equally long as at UC, is entirely devoid of terrain warnings. The catch here is that you have to register for a visitor's pass to use the library, and they're only good for up to 8 days a year, so again a little triage in research strategy is necessary. Fortunately a given day's library pass includes in-and-out privileges, as the parking passes don't: they're stamped for that specific parking space by its number, so if you buy an all-day pass and decide half-way through that you need to leave briefly, chances are you'll need to buy another pass on returning.

This year the research was easy, and I found everything I was looking for that was supposed to be there, but the day still wasn't devoid of research follies, such as:
1) The whacked-out database that claimed it had no articles on Tolkien from 2012, unless you searched on a date span beginning 2009 or earlier, in which case it did.
2) The other whacked-out database into which you enter "Tolkien" into the subject line, producing a string reading "SU = TOLKIEN", which then claims it has nothing on Tolkien, but shows a pop-up window offering to re-do the search as a keyword search, which then shows you everything in the database with the word "Tolkien" and everything with "su" as a separate word (which proves to be quite a lot) and everything with a separate "=". Are they kidding you, or are their programmers really that moronic?
3) The article whose title appeared on the title page with an asterisk after it, the asterisk leading you to a footnote noting the author's funding or something of the kind, but which asterisk is reproduced in the databases as if it were actually part of the title.
4) The bane of scholarly bibliographies everywhere, the databases which assume that every article in a scholarly book collection ends on the page before the next article starts. Not always; there could be blank pages so that every article begins on the recto; there could be a leaf devoted to a section header, or whatever. Frippin' amateurs; a few cases of this is an easy way to tell if the bibliographer actually looked at the work or just mindlessly relied on the databases.

Now to type all my hand-edits into the results.

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