Links of interest: June 18, 2010

First in a series of collected links of interest, of posts I’ve found particularly intriguing over the last week or so:

The myth of browsing (an article from American Libraries, the journal of the American Library Association) takes on the idea that being able to browse a collection is essential for scholarly knowledge. I’m of two minds: I adore browsing for the sheer joy of it, the things I find that are also of interest to me, outside of my research in a particular focused topic. But I do agree with the issues of storage and practicality, and the point that a browseable collection of 20,000 volumes might do very well in almost all circumstances.

I’m a huge fan of danah boyd’s writing, and particularly liked her recent post on How COPPA fails parents, educators, youth for a clear explanation of why all these websites require you to be older than 13 – and why it’s not as helpful as you’d think.

For people who love both libraries and lists (via Jessamyn at comes an article from American Libraries about a new book by George Eberhart called The Librarian’s Book of Lists. Check out the lists article for a few samples.

Starting accounts on various sites can be complex, but so can leaving them. A nice round-up of the steps and relative complexity of deleting accounts on a whole bunch of commonly used sites is a handy thing to have around. (I like their explanation of why you can’t delete accounts on some sites, and what you can do instead, too.)

And, in the realm of ‘being better humans helps everyone’, a link came across my line of sight that’s been making me think ever since: it’s about how sick systems develop, how to recognise them, and ways to remove yourself from them. Most people I know have been in such a system at one point or another in their life (whether that’s in a relationship, family of origin, work, or some other commitment), but I found the description and analysis here particularly clear and of potential use. Check out How to keep someone with you forever .

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3 comments to Links of interest: June 18, 2010

  • The thing for which I find browsing invaluable is when I know I want to read a book, or several books, on a new subject, and I don’t know which books on that subject are going to be readable. The titles in the catalogue (or online) are all very well to tell me what they’re about, and there are reasonable ways of checking whether they’re reliable, but if I want an account of the Treaty of Vienna, or need to understand red shift, there’s nothing to substitute for standing in front of a shelf of books on the subject and picking them up and reading the first page.

    And as for the “call numbers”, I have a whole system for that based on finding one useful book and checking from its listings all the possible locations of others. When I was researching Celtic Myth, which tends to be shelved all over, I had a whole set of LOC numbers memorised.

    Don’t get me wrong, I order books all the time. Librarians groan when they see me coming with weird ILL requests. But when I’m starting off on a subject, browsing is irreplaceable.

    It’s probably worth saying that as a writer I probably need this for more different subjects more often than most people do.

  • Jen

    Thanks for the comment, Jo!

    As I said, I’m really of two minds about it. On the one hand, I adore browsing for many of the same reasons you do: I don’t necessarily know what will be useful until I rummage through it.

    On the other hand, I also recognise that researching for formal academic research needs is different than, say, researching as a writer, or as someone interested in a topic for other reasons. In the first, the researcher likely needs to look at all relevant titles, and will miss some if they rely on browsing. In the second, browsing is a key part of the process. I think this article’s focusing heavily on the first model (that being the focus of academic research libraries.)

    I definitely do the same thing you do in libraries: find the key call numbers and then go wander. I’ve never been disappointed, and always found something I wouldn’t have known to go poke at otherwise, that turns out to be useful.

  • The thing is though, that formal academic use isn’t the only use libraries have — even formal academic libraries.

    I doubt that fiction writers form a large percentage of library users, but I’m sure there are other people who want to read *a* book on X, not *every single* book on X. Though there are are also times I need to read every single book on X.

    I also take issue with his idea that because a book isn’t out one day it’s of no use to a browser. Browsers go back, you know! Though lost and stolen books are a problem for everyone.

Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

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