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Exploring reference tools

After reading 50 memos about acquiring, retaining, or discarding reference tools, I was struck by the small number of reference tools the class, as a whole, decided to consider. The most common recommendations to keep or acquire were ESTC, EEBO, 19th STC, Evans, and Sabin. A few tackled NUC and NUCMC (National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections) and even CCE (the Copyright Catalogue). A few of you considered bibliographic reference tools like Harner’s Literary Research or American Periodical Index. 

Here’s what concerns me. There were few variations in what was selected. Was that because I mentioned the reference tools in my lectures? or suggested you practice them? If that’s the case, then are you looking at rare book reference tools that are in your libraries? on your reference shelves? 

If you want to be effective librarians in a special collection / rare book library, you need to explore all the various reference tools at your disposal, print, microfilm, and digital; obscure, common, and  unusual.  Take 10-15 minutes every day to learn about a database or index. In the case of print tools, look at the forward, preface, and introduction. Study the end sheets and examples. Take a look at the various sections of the book, the index, the entries. How is it arranged? What is the date range for the entries? Take your time, look something up in the book.

For digital and online reference tools, look at the help screens,  try some practice exercises, and think about how each database searches for information. Are there Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT, ADJ) ? Start with subjects you know and work through the databases then more on to other subjects. Use the technique for this class – work through EEBO, ESTC, ISTC ECCO – think about how the databases are different and
similar, what searching features are there and what do the results look like. The more reference tools you explore, the more bibliographies and indices you examine (in various languages), the more comfortable and fluent you will become with rare book reference resources. 

Learn a new reference tool every day (a skill that you will be required to do as a new professional) and you’ll be on your way to being a good reference librarian.


About mbkcons

I love research, books, reading, and learning new things.


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