By Ron Marken
VISITING FOREIGN DESTINATIONS – A Series in Four Cruises
Cruise 1: The Library
“Tuesday, 20 June 1837”
I have an exercise to introduce first-year students to the university library. I give them a tiny research question: “What day of the week did Victoria move into Buckingham Palace, as Queen?” The assignment asks students to trace their steps as they hunted down the right answer. What books did they consult? What journals were useful? Did they speak with any librarians? All told, it’s no more than a 45-minute task. Google isn’t permitted. I used Google and found the answer in two minutes. By the way, it was a Tuesday, 20 June 1837.
One student, eight years ago, didn’t hand in his assignment. Let’s call him Steve. When I asked him why, he gave me a startling answer: “That library is bigger than my home town!” Steve was intimidated by the size and complexity of the building! So we walked together to the library. I introduced him to a lovely young reference librarian. Problem solved. Two years ago, he graduated with an M.A. I don’t think there is a direct connection between the exercise and Steve’s master’s degree, but his progress toward that degree would have been impeded, even blocked, if he had continued to avoid the library.
It’s difficult to exaggerate the wealth of library material available to a university student. I have held an original copy of the 13th-century Magna Carta. I’ve studied the working manuscripts of nineteenth-century poets – the original paper in the poet’s handwriting. I’ve been allowed to read books from Thomas Hardy’s own bookshelves, examining the marginal notes he wrote in those books. In the Bodleian Library in Oxford, I met Giles. Giles could close his eyes and smell any open book, then he’d tell you in what country it had been published, giving the date of publication within twenty-five years.
Of course, these are exotic examples, inserted into this column for no other reason than to make it more interesting. But for sheer unadulterated Usefulness, a student would be hard-pressed to find a resource more amazing than a library. Check out the books and articles your professors have written. You will get real insights into what has excited them intellectually. Local history, Folklore, Hansard, maps and atlases, old newspapers, slides, recordings, posters – almost anything printed or recorded on almost any material.
Even more amazingly, libraries are free. Don’t tell the taxman, or you’ll find yourself paying admission. In the meantime, if your professor asks for an essay on seventeenth-century French agriculture, particularly corn production, head for the library. Introduce yourself to the reference librarian. Spend a few hours, browse, graze, enjoy yourself. It’s usually quiet and you never know what or who you will find. Sure, Google will tell you, “Tuesday,” but if you smell the book you might sense palpable history.
Next: Cruise 2: Your Prof’s Office
Ron Marken, Professor Emeritus, English Department, University of Saskatchewan, and 3M National Teaching Fellow.
Rate This Article
To post a comment or rating, you must LOGIN if you’re an existing Studentawards member OR SIGN UP if you’re new to this site.
I remember the days when libraries were my MAIN sort of research.. good times. (Y)|
Posted on Aug 12, 2012 at 01:37
You reminded me why I love libraries so much. Thank you! |
Posted on Jun 07, 2011 at 08:52
||results per page