The new virtual To Read pile

So I read eb’s comments on new forms of online-database serendipity (made in response to this post at Cliopatria).* You might remember that I posted about RSS feeds for e-journals last week. Now, I’ll check out the TOCs for several history journals to which the university has subscriptions, and I make a point of regularly downloading articles that sound interesting and aren’t in my immediate research area. (Right now I have this intriguing article to read about the meanings of “1066” that I’d probably never have spotted otherwise.) I do the same kind of thing with JSTOR when something catches my interest. Great, eh?

The only thing is that I’m starting to accumulate the PDF file equivalent of that pile of books sitting over there that I know I’m never to going to get round to reading…

*I know this is heresy, but personally I think that this business of physically browsing the stacks is much overrated. Continually being interrupted by those annoying people who have the nerve to want to get to the same shelves as you in a library that’s either hot and stuffy or freezing cold (depending on which floor you’re on and which way the windows face, our library manages both) and lugging around piles of heavy journals to find a desk where you can take notes (many of our journals are reference only) or to the photocopier (and so many journals are so tightly bound with such tiny margins – bloody cheapskates – that you can hardly open them wide enough to get a readable photocopy anyway) where you run out of credit on your photocopying card with one page of the article left so you have to go down two flights of stairs to the nearest slot machine and you’ll probably forget to take the photocopying away out of the copier when you’re done anyway… pfffffft.

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7 Responses to The new virtual To Read pile

  1. eb says:

    I have that same kind of pdf file, but at least it doesn’t take up as much space as the equivalent photocopy pile that had been piling up.

  2. Sharon says:

    This is very true!

  3. I know this is heresy, but personally I think that this business of physically browsing the stacks is much overrated

    Agreed. During the dark ages before Internet access became widely available, I preferred open to closed stacks because the serendipity factor was greater – I didn’t always find what I wanted, but I often found what I needed. Now that so many journals and primary sources are available online, though, the entire Internet is an open stack. There’s just as much of a serendipity factor in browsing Google as there is in combing through a university library.

    On the other hand, not everything can be found online – and for the things that can’t, I still prefer open stacks.

  4. Chris Williams says:

    Hmm . . . not sure about real stacks. Speaking as a congenital work-avoider, I know that some of my most fun times have come from picking up something that catches my eye on the way to the 900s. Luckily my local stacks are not infested with under-motivated undergraduate students doing the sniffing, shuffling, and interrupting, which is nice.

    As for the PDFs, too right: I’m seriously considering just printing them all out and having done with it. Or maybe I should go the other way and scan in my two drawers of offprints. I have a feeling that I’m on the cusp of technological shift. In one direction lies the promised eland of noble information mastery, in the other, the blasted heath of [upgrade fever OR obsolescence cul-de-sac] hell.

    Doubtless I’ll choose Betamax.

  5. edward says:

    I love library rants. This is what comes from having to use the shitly designed Norman Foster British Library of Political and Economic Science on a regular basis: Norman, putting a big stack of computers in a pit at the foot of the building creates a very noisy environment, even four floors up. And his spiral staircase gives everyone electric shocks.

  6. The perfect combination is the London Library, in which pretty well everything is open stacks, AND you can take it home (even journals).

    The only problem is that I wobble home – 10 large books in one bicycle panier isn’t great for balance.

    Oh, and the other problem of course is finding time to read them all.

  7. Sharon says:

    I take books out of the library in these fits of enthusiasm and load up my rucksack. Then 6 months later I take them back again. I might even read a few of them… Well, at least I’ll have got some exercise out of it. I don’t imagine clicking on the ‘download’ button uses too many calories.

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