Thursday, March 16, 2017

Things We Lost in the Fire:

I'm reminded again of just why going "all electronic" at libraries sucks. When you are doing research on anything prior to the mid to early 1990s, you can get mightily screwed over.

It used to be that every magazine, journal, and even newspaper was indexed in some way. Not in the journal itself at the end of the year, although that often happened. Rather, things like popular newsmagazines were indexed quarterly in the "Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature". Even obscure trade journals like "Through the Ages" and "Monumental News" and "The American Contractor" were indexed somewhere.

Indeed, there used to be "Union List", an "index of indexes" -- a listing of every magazine, journal, newspaper, and newsletter published in the United States. It listed which index the particular item was indexed. You went to that index, and there were all the keywords for the year listed, along with author, title of the article, journal, date, and page.

Most libraries have thrown these out. They've gone "all electronic", and think that the current online indexes are all that anyone needs.

Moreover, all the Union lists are gone, too.

So if you are doing research in a 1920s publication, you are out of luck. You have to use Google Books to look up keywords, and hope the company has (a) scanned your publication, and (b) that their algorithms don't second-guess you and prevent you from seeing the results you want. (That happens to me all the time.)

Here in Cleveland, they'g one a step further. There is no Reference Desk any more. They devolved this function into every department -- Periodicals, Popular Fiction, Poetry, Nonfiction, Music, Fine Arts, etc. The staff in these departments generally don't know what you're talking about when you say the word "index", and are often so young as to have no knowledge of the union list or index you are trying to locate. So even if they had the item in storage, you're fat outta luck.

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