Here be dragons: of libraries and the information landscape
I was invited to give a presentation on libraries and information to new undergraduates at Clare College back in the beginning of October (you remember, all that time ago when term started). It was the 09:30 slot in a day of study skills sessions, and the last thing I wanted was to bore the students to tears from the get-go with a catalogue demonstration. Thinking about the transition from school to HE gave me a different focus for the talk – one that revolved around the students’ own experiences and expectations of libraries.
First up: challenge the concept of libraries as temples of deathly quiet, defended by shushing librarians – just in case that one’s still out there.
The dragons I’m talking about are not librarians, but the kind that inhabit unknown territory on old maps: the ones that might possibly lurk in the new landscape of knowledge across whose border, in entering university, you step. Some of this landscape has already been explored and charted, and is only new to you; but at some point, in some hitherto overlooked corner, it’s your viewpoint – your mapping of the terrain – that will count.
How do you become informed about your landscape? What acts as your compass? The library is a good place to start – because while the library’s physical manifestation is finite, libraries link to whole worlds of information.
The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite and perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries …. From any of the hexagons one can see, interminably, the upper and lower floors …
I say that the Library is unending.
(Borges, ‘The Library of Babel’)
From this perspective the library’s resources – the catalogue, the eresources portal – become tools that scholars can use to orientate themselves in the knowledge landscape and discover new territory. Yet no resource comes close to be as important as the scholar’s built-in compass: critical vision. It is the ability to analyse and evaluate information, whatever its source or format, for accuracy, reliability and scholarly worth that ultimately enables the academic endeavour – whether you’re an eminent researcher or a fresher undergrad.
Oh, and the dragons? They were vanquished by some scholarly research by Erin C. Blake: there has never existed a map bearing the words “Here be dragons”.