For those who haven't run across her work before, Tara Calishain is author of a guide to internet research, and proprietor of an alerting service about interesting new web sites, tools and articles, called Research Buzz http://www.researchbuzz.com/news/index.html.
Marylaine: I was surprised to learn you're not a librarian, because you act like one--you go out and find
good stuff and tell people about it. What IS your background?
Tara: I've been on the Internet since 1993, and have always been interested in
learning how to find new resources. I wrote Official Netscape Guide to
Internet Research in 1996, and co-authored a 2nd edition that came out
Marylaine: What led you to start Research Buzz?
Tara: Because of the book, I heard from a lot of people -- librarians, teachers -- who have a lot of problems looking for materials online. I wanted to help them find what they need, and since I was keeping up with changes in
different Internet research resources anyway, it doesn't take that much more
energy to turn it into a newsletter from which many people can benefit.
(Instead of just me.)
Marylaine: What audience did you think you were doing it for, and what audience did you discover you had?
Tara: I thought I was writing it for librarians and research-types. What has
surprised me the most is the number of journalists who are on the list
-- but I guess they're research-types, so there you are.
Marylaine: What have you learned from the responses of your readers? Is this reflected in your new site design?
Tara: Mostly my readers requested back issues of ResearchBuzz on the site,
but I haven't gotten many responses re: the design. I am a very poor
designer, so I tried to make it as simple and fast-loading as possible
without embarrassing myself by trying to introduce visual geegaws.
Marylaine: What do you routinely read to keep up?
Tara: Scout Report (http://wwwscout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/report/current/index.html), natch. Net-Happenings (http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/caservices/net-hap/index.html). Librarians Internet Index (http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/InternetIndex/). Several newsletters. Lots of different stuff.
Marylaine: What sites do you routinely check?
Tara: I have a list of about a dozen Web sites that I check on a regular basis.
Mostly newswires, press release wires, Web logs, computer columnists' pages. I'm lucky in that I get lots of suggestions from readers.
Marylaine: What, to you, are the hallmarks of quality in a web site?
require extras, making it very clear initially that those extras are required.)
Original content is always good. Frequent updates (though, alas, I don't always manage that one myself with some of my Web sites.)
Marylaine: What's your day job, or what was it when you got started doing this? Were you in business or doing computer stuff or what?
Tara: I worked in a high-tech ad agency (that's an ad agency that catered to
high-tech companies) and I had just started my own company.
My day job is owner of CopperSky Writing & Research. I do research for
several clients, write books and articles, administer Web sites, etc.
Marylaine: Thanks, Tara. This is a great start in what I hope will be a series of interviews which will show how information specialists on the net think about their work, where they get their ideas, and how they select information.
Weeds? Or History's Uprooted Flowers?
I still remember my shock when I learned that the Library of Congress throws books away. It was almost as great as the shock of an author who found out that the library she'd given copies of her books to were selling them at a book sale (to add insult to injury, for 25 cents apiece).
As John Berry was saying in Library Journal recently, we think books represent some sort of immortality. But if nobody makes a point of keeping them, even a book doesn't mean immortality.
It's an eternal conflict for us, who revere books; we hate to dispose of them, but our libraries don't have elastic walls. So we weed, and the rationales we use for discarding are:
- usage (if a book hasn't circulated in 68 years, the odds are good it ain't gonna. Ever.)
- literary value (the Kathleen Norris novels we bought 40 years ago were popular trash; now they're unpopular trash that doesn't circulate )
- currency and accuracy (a biology textbook from 1925 is not only obsolete but actively wrong)
The problem is that, worthy as these rationales are, for the purposes of historians, all books have value. Those old Kathleen Norris books are full of social history--how did women of that era dress, flirt, raise their children? What did they expect of their men?
That outdated biology textbook is meaningful to anyone who wants to know when and how scientific ideas became widely accepted. One of the most interesting pieces of social history I've ever read is Frances fitzgerald's America Revised, which in analyzing American history textbooks over 120 years, shows us the values we believed America stood for during those years.
And yet, the fact is, our libraries are finite, and dreary, tired looking old books are not going to circulate. We have to dispose of them. So what about our long-term obligations to history? Who will guarantee immortality if we do not?
The solution, I think, lies in the fact that we are working together. Illinois's River Bend Library System has made a start on preservation of periodical titles at the consortium level . Each library has made commitments to keep certain journal titles. If my library guarantees to keep America and Commonweal forever, other libraries can dispose of their own copies at will, knowing they can draw on our historic collection.
That still doesn't solve the book problem. But again, we have the wherewithal to solve it, because with the humongous OCLC database of library holdings, we can tell, before we get rid of a book, how endangered it is. We could, if we wished, form central repositories of endangered books, just to make sure they do not vanish. Or we could disperse them, with one library agreeing to keep all science fiction novels by authors whose names begin with A, another all science fiction novels by B authors; when other libraries withdraw their science fiction, they could first offer it to the library responsible for that letter of the alphabet.
If we work together, we can have our cake and eat it too; dispose of our tired and elderly weeds, but soothe our consciences by making sure that the faded flowers continue to be available to history