From the Archives

14 Sep

I’m thankful that UCSB’s Davidson Library has so many fine resources. It has been to my great fortune that the universities where I’ve had the pleasure of working have also had fantastic libraries.

the reading blue devil

Image by Angela de Março via Flickr

Duke University’s main library, Perkins, has received a magnificent renovation to its reading room facilities since I was there as an undergrad. There’s now a handsome wall of glass that bathes the entire study area in wonderful natural light. I took delight in a rather dingier library experience–the underground stacks of the Duke Divinity School’s library. Narrow, dark, but filled with amazing and unique items, those stacks helped fuel my initial inquiries into religious architecture.

At Miami University the most attractive feature was not the library itself, but the library’s integration into the OhioLINK system. OhioLINK connected all the major research facilities in the state into a single accessible system. Books were easily obtained and the interlibrary loan system was remarkably swift and expansive. I also benefited from Ohio’s wonderful public library system. I was DJing swing dances at the time and relied heavily on the bountiful early Big Band era Jazz items that were at my disposal.

Towards King Library
Image by Brandon Cirillo via Flickr

Here at UCSB I enjoy a bit of both worlds. I frequent the stacks–which are not as dingy as those in the basement of the Duke Divinity School–because they are filled with so many more things than those at Miami were.  The library’s loan system is comprehensive, too, with great access to collections around California and the country, but far less swift and precise as the OhioLINK system.

What I had not yet extensively used as an undergraduate or Master’s candidate were the special collection’s rooms. My dissertation work has naturally encouraged me to make these facilities one of my primary research tools. UCSB has a cozy collection’s room that I’ve come to know looking at back issues of Christian periodicals.

Davidson Library at UCSB.

Image via Wikipedia

The period of history I’m researching at the moment is the mid-1980s, which places it awkwardly half-way between the digital and analog world. Some items are available digitally, other not. Some items are indexed digitially, but only available in analog. I find it rather more difficult to navigate than if everything was still analog (because keeping one’s own records becomes a multi-media project), but I’m immensely thankful that even a small percentage of what I need can be accessed from my home office using proxy servers.

What is more frustrating, perhaps, is that in the slippage between digital and analog, the items I am examining have been improperly indexed in both systems. In the digital world everything exists, neatly arranged into its appropriate archive and call number. Yet the library does not have all of these items. They are simply not in the collection, and perhaps they never have been. Furthermore, while the analog system identifies more precisely what is available and what is missing, few items are actually where they are supposed to be (within the numerous boxes of the collection). A previous user of these items replaced them less than carefully perhaps?

Perkins Library Card Catalog, 1969
Image by Duke Yearlook via Flickr

It’s a lesson in the disabilities of both systems and a warning about how difficult it surely is to maintain the connections between an older collection and modern methods of indexing. It is also a reminder to be very, very grateful for the archivists and librarians that are responsible for the collection. If it weren’t for their assistance attending to either issue (finding items that are missing and correcting listings) I would surely be further behind on my research.

I’m sure I’ll have much more to say about archives in the future. I’m in the process of scheduling several trips to different facilities, and I’m definitely excited about finding more great libraries!

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