Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Reference Renaissance, more than just a summer fling

Summer greetings, reader(s)!

This summer, my SJSU library colleagues and I are involved in reviewing our reference collection areas. A look over the reference collection is always a good idea, more so now that the tendency to sit at a computer terminal is becoming a chronic condition rather than a novel alternative. As I headed to my "N's", freshly sharpened number two pencil in hand (yes, my hair IS in nicely twisted updo), I noted several old friends on my list of titles: The Dictionary of Art, World Painting Index, and my frequently consulted Guide to the Literature of Art History. Getting hands on with the interfiled collection, books owned by SJSU as well as San Jose Public Library, I rediscovered some old friends and made some new ones as well.

The value of reference books needs to be actively promoted, lest we all spend our time and our patrons' time needlessly digging through fragments of digitized information and piecing together patterns ourselves when experts have gone to much effort to identify patterns for us. While I'm all for constructivist learning, there is a point at which having information compiled for you in a useful way is extremely beneficial. So I have chosen one old friend and one new friend to illustrate this point.

The old friend is The Wilson Chronology of the Arts. (George Ochoa and Melinda Corey. New York : H.W. Wilson Co., 1998.)
Say for example you are researching an American writer who traveled to Europe in 1911. How could you easily and rapidly find out what was happening worldwide in 1911 in the arts? This book will provide that information. Turn to page 221 and you will quickly learn that is the year George Braque painted The Portugese, Matisse painted The Red Studio, and Joseph Conrad published Under Western Eyes. What, you knew all of that already? Fine, well, what about on page 222, which says that in 1912 film attendance in the United States reaches five million patrons daily and Harriet Monroe founded Poetry?

The new friend is the multi-volume Greenwood Encyclopedia of Homes Through American History. (Thomas W. Paradis, general editor. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2008.)
My fingers could hardly wait to grasp a volume of this handsome set. For anyone with a question about American vernacular architecture, this set should be kept in mind. Besides discussions of home layouts and designs, information is also provided on furnishings. The discussion in volume one on page 208-9 on placement of beds in homes in Federal Era is fascinating. There is a very useful piece of information on parlors on page 204.

Volume 4 will take you from 1946 to the present. The discussions presented in this volume would be of use to any student wishing a good preparation for understanding the voluminous amount of literature on topics such as Frank Lloyd Wright, suburbs, and American yards and landscaping. A reference on page 308 to Peter Blake's 1964 God's Own Junkyard: The Planned Deterioration of America's Landscape will have me seeking that title to read.

The bibliographies in this set are fantastic. A resource guide is provided for specific sections, as well as a general bibliography. I will use this set when assisting students in choosing and narrowing a topic.

Choosing a topic is one of the most challenging parts of writing a paper. Knowing how much information available on a topic is also a challenge. I will be thinking over the summer about ways to promote specific reference tools to students, researchers, and patrons. Your suggestions for doing that are welcome!


T.McCarthy said...

Wow! What a treasure trove of books you're going through.

Non-fiction is the best. I recently bought for my library a dictionary of theories and an encyclopedia of gods.

So, when you say you're "reviewing" the collection, does that mean you will weed the collection as well? Or are you just doing an evaluation of the collection?


PS: Your "old friend" rocks. I love that one. My favorite art reference is: "A History of Art," by H.W. Janson.

Karyn Hinkle said...

Nice post, Rebecca! Thanks for sharing with the ARLIS listserv!