Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Foot, A Field

Over the past few weekends my wife and I have gone on a number of walks in the woods. One tramp was to Fish Pond and the other was into the High Peaks. On the walk to Fish Pond, I’m not going to reveal which Fish Pond, we didn’t see a single other person or vehicle. On the walk to the High Peaks we saw tons of cars but relatively few folks actually on the trails. Maybe it was the time of day, maybe it was the trails we chose.

Over the years we’ve done both of these ambles many times. We’ve traveled by foot, snowshoe and skis. We’ve been caught out in sunshine, rain, snow and dark. And for many years prior to going I always read the guidebook before we left the house. On many occasions the guidebook was also stowed in the map pocket of my pack. I will admit that these last two times I didn’t bring the guidebook or even a map.

I have wondered if guidebook reading is a regional pursuit. But I guess it depends on what kind of guidebook you are looking for. I can remember when I purchased my first guidebook. Although, I will admit that my wife had a well-worn copy before me. It’s not that I didn’t think one was necessary it’s just that she started hiking in areas requiring a guide before me. Looking at our shelves we have guidebooks for all sorts of outdoor activities. Some get used more often than others. I was never a big fan of the foot by foot rendering of a trail. I prefer a more big picture approach with highlights along the way. That way I always feel that, no matter how often I’ve been that way and no matter how many others have followed that course, it’s all kind of new to me. I get to discover, or rediscover, things along the way. That’s also the reason why I stopped checking off hikes, climbs or paddles. I did keep track for a long time, ticking them off one by one. But now I take the view that if I don’t remember it I get to discover it all new, for a second time. And anyway, the travels are new depending on the weather, mode of travel and company.

I have also at times written journal entries, haikus, short essays or now that I’m aware of the term prose poems describing the hike, paddle, weather, company or thoughts along the way. I can also remember times of bring along the writings of others and sitting in a similar spot enjoying the same view that they had written about years ago. It is an arresting experience to read another’s thoughts while gazing off at distant vistas that had not changed over time, the feeling of connectedness is striking. And sometimes if you are lucky you don’t have to travel far. Last year, on a sunny June day, a friend and I hiked Mt. Baker. I had recently come across the writings of Adelaide Crapsey. Ms Crapsey had moved to Saranac Lake in 1913 to cure. And perched out on some sunny rocks I read her poems dealing with life and death in Saranac Lake. A sunny day is a good time to read her poems. Ms. Crapsey died in 1914 and most of her works from her time in Saranac Lake deal with what she realized was to be her untimely end.

I didn’t bring anything to read on our walks over the last few weekends. And because of where we were going there was little need to review the guidebooks. But I was interested in remembering. And so I took the time to stop periodically and examine the view both coming and going. For me the views along the way unfolded like a well-worn and treasured book. In these cases I can open the covers and step right into the text. I know where I am because I’ve read this section of trail before. I can see what the author has written and can truly become a part of the landscape, both the written and earthly landscape. And that is what a good guidebook can do for me. I can reopen it and read over our travels past and present those for years to come. And like I said, when I reread a book I will have an idea of what’s ahead, but it is still a new hike each and every time.

See you at the Library,

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Time Is Now

As some of you know, I am now working both as a public librarian at the Saranac Lake Free Library and as the academic librarian at the Malone Campus of North Country Community College. In both locations I do some standard run of the mill library stuff to help keep the library open and operating. Most of those tasks have to do with cataloging and keeping track of items in the collection both on the shelves and out on loan. I am also in the midst of a new weeding project. Needless to say while there is some overlap in what is to be found in both libraries the emphasis of the two collections is very different. And just like at the SLFL while I’m in Malone I assist people in their search for items. Although, here again the emphasis between the two types searches is very different.

At the SLFL most, but not all, of the reading is for enjoyment and recreation. At the Malone campus I work with students who are looking for articles and most, but not all, want non-fiction texts dealing with specific subjects. Recently, a number of students have come in looking for a specific number of sources for an assignment. Interestingly, they are required to find a number of online journal articles and a single book. That particular task requirement reminded me of when I had to find a number of different physical sources and one web based source for a class I took many, many years ago. At the time it was rather cutting-edge to be required to find an internet based source. I also remember that at the time I was very much intimidated and dismayed by the assignment.

A little while ago when I was still in Library School I purchase physical, hold in your hands and turn the pages text books. I also bought a couple of books that I had come across in different classes that peaked my interest. But the vast majority of the reading I did and the information I accessed was via web-based pdfs found in federated databases. Now, I am lucky enough to remember what it was like to hand search an actual card catalog. And I knew all about title, author and subject long before going to library school. It has occurred to me while assisting these students that many of them have never had that experience. It has also occurred to me that the requirement of finding one physical book to use as a source is not a bad idea. Since information can come in many different formats it is a good idea to be able to use different ways to find and recognize the information we seek. I will mention that I did use an electronic catalog to search for the book; mainly because the student wanted a readily accessible source right off the shelves here in Malone.

Thinking about the process afterwards it occurred to me that at some point in the future new students may no longer have that physical book requirement. It may be revised by an eBook requirement. It also occurred to me that at some point if an instructor does require the opening of a physical book it might be restricted to students working on advanced degrees. Just as today not every student has access to a Guttenberg Bible or a first edition of The Importance of Being Ernest in the future that may be the case or choice for all physical books. Clearly, you would not require a first year college student to do such a thing. Nor would you allow such an individual to touch such a valuable piece of education equipment when an eBook would do just fine.

But that’s for the future. Right now I did notice that there are a number of similarities between what I have done and what the current crop of students entering the library is doing. They are looking for something. They are looking for information and a means to access that information, just as I did with a card catalog or reserved article list. Now we use a host of technological tools to bring that information to our fingertips. The process of getting the information is now better then what it was in the past. I can reach further and faster. I can also access other librarians or educators and chat, comment, text or wiki about new editions and perceptions of an existing work. I also realized that I’m the product of multi-generational changes in information format, access and retrieval. I’m comfortable with each rendition, from books to eBooks or journals to pdfs. And I have to tell you that all of that change, all of that innovation is why when I’m asked I always say “Right now is the absolutely most exciting time in the last 120 years to be a librarian or to be a library patron.”

See you at the Library,