Friday, August 20, 2010

Welcome, New Students!

The library joins the seminary in welcoming all new students in the Theo School and the GDR! The new academic year always brings together two different trajectories, a circular one and a linear one. Students are on a linear track, towards the goal of a degree, while staff, faculty and administrators are on a circular track that returns to its beginning each Fall. It's a good combination, because a (tiny) circle and a straight line together make an exclamation point, a feeling of excitement!, as this lovely little book shows.

Those of us who work for educational institutions hope we have something helpful to share: a body of knowledge, a way of thinking, a useful service, an attentive ear. But a fact in which we needn't hope, because the reality of it is sure, is that each fall the new and returning students restore hope in our work. You are the other half that makes us whole, and we like to think the reverse is also true, at least for now, while you are here, and to some extent.

Keats called Fall the "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness." Mists are a paradoxical thing. They can be agents of deliverance, as they were in the Trojan War, according to Homer, when, sent by a god, they protected a hapless mortal from harm (see question 4 on this quiz). But they can also work towards concealing something we would rather see. A dialectic of concealment and revelation informs some aspects of learning, especially where questions of deep identity are concerned. Our hope is that from this delicate dialectic a "mellow fruitfulness" will emerge in our conversations, our studies, and perhaps even our research in the library. The library staff is available to help in whatever ways we can.

As a start, we commend to your bookmark list this page from the library website, which links to several services we offer.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Browsing versus Keywording

A lament sometimes heard in the age of electronic research is that browsing is no longer possible as it once was, say, in library card catalogs. Fingering the rows of cards in the long wooden drawers, which might be devoted in one half of the catalog to authors and titles, and to the other half to subject topics, led to unexpected surprises. Many of these wooden catalogs were sold as collector's items, and now do indeed collect a variety of small things in private homes. Decades ago, the cards in the catalog were handlettered in a distinctive library script, which was taught in library schools. How sad to have lost even a simple but clear hand-lettering such as this. (Though several staff members in the Drew Library write a beautiful script.)

But in fact, the concept of browsing still exists in online library catalogs and periodical databases. A researcher browses, in this sense, when she locates herself in an ordered list of terms or numbers, in which she can move up or down. Anything so orderable is browsable: titles of books, names of authors, call numbers, subject topics. In catalogs and databases, the ordering is alphabetic in the case of author names, book titles, and subject topics, and numeric in the case of Dewey Decimal call numbers; it is alphanumeric in the case of scripture citations. For instance, if I browse-search in the Drew catalog for the title of a book, I find myself in a very long list of all the titles the library owns. So browsing can also be a way to take the full measure of a library or database, to see all the books it owns, or all the journals it indexes, or all the authors whose works it contains.

Most catalogs and databases offer a button for browse searching. If you click on that, you are primed to scan alphabetic or numeric lists. For example, if you are in Browse mode, and search for a subject term, you will be placed in the alphabetic list of subject terms that catalog or database uses to describe items, at just the point your search term occurs in the list. Or, if your term does not occur there, you'll be placed at what would be its alphabetic neighbor. From there, a single click on the term usually takes you to citations for whatever items (books or articles) are associated with that term in the catalog or database.

Browsing is useful when you aren't sure if a database recognizes your search term; or if you're unsure of a spelling (as in the case of author names). Browse searching can also give an overview of a topic, and show how it subdivides. This is especially useful when researching a broad topic like, say, Good and Evil. A browse-search for the subject, Good and Evil, within the Drew catalog shows it subdivided by: History of Doctrines, Psychological Aspects, and Religious Aspects. A browse-search can also locate a topic in a larger context. For example, browse searching the list of scripture citations in the ATLA Religion Database will retrieve articles that discuss your verse or pericope both by themselves and in larger contexts of verses. For example, if I browse-search for Genesis 1:1 in the ATLA scripture citation index, I learn that there are 30 articles on Gen 1:1, 7 articles on Gen 1:1-2, and 3 articles on Gen 1:1-10. Browse searching the subjects in the Drew library catalog shows me the complex way the library describes books about Genesis 1:1, like this: Bible O T Genesis I:1 (that's a Roman numeral for the chapter, and an Arabic numeral for the verse). The catalog shows me that there is one book on Gen I:1-3, but many commentaries and interpretations on chapter I as a whole, and still many more on larger sections of Genesis that include the first verse.

Keyword searching follows a different logic. In this case, I am simply matching a term I feed the database to terms already in the database. Keyword searches retrieve the records in the database that contain the search term I fed it. If I limit my keyword search by Author, I retrieve records that identify my search term as an author name; if I limit my keyword search by Subject, I retrieve records that identify my term as a subject topic. If I leave my search unlimited, I retrieve records that contain my term in any way at all, as author, title, subject, or in any other way (for example, as the name of a publisher, or the title of a chapter in the book).

The Drew catalog invites both browse and keyword searching. Keyword searching is the default mode. If you want to browse-search, click the Browse button at the top of the catalog. You can Browse-search Authors, Titles, Series Titles, Periodical Titles, and Subjects. If, from Browse-searching, you want to return to Keyword-searching, click the Keyword button along the top of the catalog. Within the Keyword mode, you can limit your search by Author, Title, or Subject, or, leave it unlimited, and search throughout all the records, by clicking on the second Keyword button that appears beneath the search box. It is important to distinguish between the two Keyword buttons. The one above the search box is in distinction from browse searching. The one below the search box presumes you are performing keyword searches, and simply executes an unlimited search (in distinction from a search limited by Author, Title, or Subject).

Be on the look-out for browsing options in the databases. ATLA allows many kinds of browsing--by author, title, journal title, subject, scripture citation, for instance. Access to these is via the Indexes button that appears along the top of the screen. You'll find a browse option in America: History and Life also via the Indexes button. The social science databases (PsycInfo and SocIndex) go one better than that, and offer a thesaurus of subject terms used in those indexes. In Soc Index, the button for that is Subject Terms; and in PsycInfo, it is Thesaurus.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Library Catalogs

Library catalogs are islands of socialist sensibility in a capitalist world. They are freely available to all, and more or less constructed according to the principle: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. A remarkable uniformity governs online library catalogs in the U.S.: the information they contain about books, journals, and webpages is structured in the same way across the many different catalogs. They all follow an alphanumeric structure of coding information called MARC, which stands for machine readable cataloging. A record for a book or journal in MARC format is so daunting to behold, however, that it rarely appears to the naked eye. To find one, you must follow a link that most catalogs provide. For instance, if, in the Drew catalog you are looking at a record for the book, From Corpus Christi to Spiritus Christi: The R/Evolution of an Independent Catholic Church, by Jody Caldwell (who is Head of Reference in the Drew Library)--you are looking at what we call the public access record--and you direct your eye to the little box over to the right, labeled "Item Resources" and containing a link called "MARC Record," and click on it, you will be taken to the alphanumerically coded MARC record for the same book. The MARC record sometimes has more information about a book in it, than its corresponding public access record, which is true in this case. From the MARC record, you learn that this is a Ph.D. dissertation written at Drew University. Just for fun (?), look this same title up in Brown University's catalog, Josiah. When the record appears, click on the link labeled "Coded Display" at the top of the screen. That will take you to the MARC record. You'll see it is identical to the MARC record in our own catalog. What makes the public access records look different are just the different softwares that mediate the same, identical MARC records to the users of these different catalogs.

Library cataloging is highly precise and follows the guidelines of a rule book that reads as a legal text. It is just this precision that allows for libraries to share so much of their cataloging with each other. But the precision can also complicate finding information, at the researcher's end of things. Is it an act of hubris for libraries to erect structures in which they imagine all knowledge can be contained? Perhaps the punishment for this is the difficulty reseachers often have with library catalogs. In our efforts to make knowledge accessible, we seem to render it inaccessible, as though in realization of some tragic potential of human existence; and sometimes libraries seem to inhabit their own little byway of human tragedy. (But, is Google really the answer?)

For help searching the Drew catalog, never hesitate to click the HELP button in the upper left hand corner of the screen. But here are a few handy tricks, in sum:

1. Though the catalog does not appear to allow you to search for a book by its author and title together, it allows you to circumvent that seeming deficiency by coding your search terms with these small prefixes: au for author; ti for title; (and su for subject). Sometimes the most efficient search for a book requires both author and title together, for instance, the search for the book by the prolific author, John Updike, titled simply "S". To find this book, enter au Updike and ti S in the search box. Click the box labeled Keyword, below the search box, and the lone record for that book will appear. Saves sorting through extraneous records.

2. Remember to browse! Click the Browse button which appears along the top of the screen. To browse in an online library catalog is to access an ordered list (usually alphabetic, but sometimes numeric) of the terms, phrases, or numbers it uses to designate the items in it. More clearly: to browse the titles in a library catalog is to access an alphabetical list of all the titles of all the books the library owns. This is often the best way to see if the library owns a particular book. For example, if you only had the title, "S" (and forgot the author was Updike), and you clicked first on Browse, along the top of the screen, then entered the letter S in the search box, and then clicked on the button labeled Title under the search box, you'd come to the precise place where that title falls in the alphabetic list of titles. (There are actually two books associated with the single letter S; click on that S, and a record for Updike's book will appear). See what happens if you did a keyword search for the title S: Click on the button labeled Keyword along the top of the screen, enter S in the search box, and click on the button labeled Title beneath the search box. See what results. Aaugh! (as Charlie Brown would exclaim).

Browse searching is especially useful when looking for books on a given topic. Here is the problem: the library has its own way of describing topics, which it takes from the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. To see how the Library of Congress thinks about topics, go to this page. When catalogers assign subject descriptors to a book, they take them from the Library of Congress. This means that a book about the Eucharistic rite is assigned the heading "Lord's Supper," whether the author uses that term or not. Search results are sometimes better if you're attentive to what we call these Library of Congress Subject Headings. On any given catalog record, these are given towards the bottom of the record in a field labeled Subject Term. But you can also browse them in an alphabetical list. Click on the Browse button along the top of the screen. Enter Eucharist in the search box, and click on the button labeled Subject, under the search box. The alphabetic list directs you from Eucharist, which the library does not recognize, to Lord's Supper, which it does. Click on Lord's Supper and you come to the part of the alphabetic list of terms that subdivides Lord's Supper into seemingly endless specific aspects of it, according to history, denomination, doctrine etc. The alphabetic list of subject terms is really the mind of the Library, which can help narrow down a topic too broad (for example).

3. Many records for books in the catalog contain a listing of the table of contents. These are especially helpful in keyword searches. Click on Keyword along the top of the screen. Suppose you want essays that address Augustine's view on sex, enter this string in the search box: su Augustine and sex. Now click on the Keyword button just below the search box (which is importantly different from the keyword button along the top of the screen). This retrieves books entirely about Augustine that contain chapters on sex. A likely prospect is James Wetzel's brand new book, Augustine: A Guide for the Perplexed, which contains the chapter, "Sex and the Infancy of Desire."

Note: the union catalog, Worldcat, contains many more tables of contents than our own catalog. To maximize your search of our catalog, select Worldcat from the list of library databases here. Once inside Worldcat, click on Advanced Search (along the top of the screen). Now enter Augustine in the first search box, and, from the drop down menu on the right, select Subject. In the second search box, type: sex, and leave the the drop down menu to the right at keyword. Towards the bottom of the screen, click on the box labeled: Limit Availability to Items in My Own Library. Now click search. You are in effect searching our own catalog via Worldcat. Your search in Worldcat retrieves an additional book, called Saint Augustine's Sin, by Gary Wills, which contains a chapter entitled "Sexual Offenses." This book did not appear when you performed this same search in our own catalog, even though we do indeed own the book. Why? Because our catalog does not contain the table of contents for this book, which includes a form of the word: sex. But Worldcat does!

Perhaps this is enough for one blog posting about the catalog, an exhausting topic whose depths are never fully plumbed. When the catalog frustrates you, never hesitate to consult a librarian.

Friday, August 6, 2010

New Book by Drew Faculty!: Seducing Augustine

The Library is pleased to announce that it is has received its copy of Seducing Augustine: Bodies Desires, Confessions, by Drew faculty member Virginia Burrus, in collaboration with Mark Jordan (Harvard Divinity School) and Karmen MacKendrick (LeMoyne College), and published by Fordham University Press. This "little book" (p. x--only 174 pages, sizing in at 6" x 9") is a shared reading of Augustine's Confessions, as illuminated by other writings of the great saint, including On Christian Teaching and The City of God, as well as other interlocutors of our own time--Margaret Miles, Michel Foucault, M. B. Pranger, and many more.

The title is even more seductive than appears for, as the authors emphasize, "seduction is necessarily reversible" (p. 32). That is, the seductions on display here are multiple and variously directed. Take the title alone: "seducing" functions as both an adjective describing Augustine, who seduces, and as a verb whose object is Augustine, the one seduced. Who is seducing whom? In fact, this book may be read as a kind of Pilgrim's Progress through the Valley of Seduction, seducers at every turn. They include: bodies, desires, sex, beauty, memory, Continence, Plato, Margaret Miles, these three authors themselves, and, of course, Augustine. How can the wary reader feel at ease? But s/he can, because with Augustine ultimately in charge, the seductions are all finally exercises in grace: what we delight in feeling led to, surreptitiously and, we hope, under cover of night, whether it be Augustine's own lurid sex life, other dark confessions too frightful fully to tell, or the naked but grotesque bodies of the heavenly Resurrection (these from Augustine's other famous text, The City of God), dissolve at our sight or touch, into our own experience of the divine. "While we were fixing our impatient gaze on Augustine, waiting for him to reveal just a little bit more of himself, he has slipped in his startling substitute, instead revealing God" (p. 124). Pretty tricky. But what would we expect of Augustine's beautiful prose, whose form belies its content, always pulling upward and away from the abasements it describes. Augustine's words do not lie flat and innocent on the page. They are "sticky words" and "tickling signs" (p. 48, 49), or so they are at the hands of these gifted interpreters.

To illustrate from the authors: Augustine drops enough hints about these supposed confessions, to suggest they may in fact not be strictly true. He may be boasting of greater sin than he actually enjoyed; he may be fabricating entirely, he who, after all, had, by his own admission, to discipline his native gift for deceiving theatricality. If he is indeed as prone to sin as he claims, then he may fail throughout to restrain that dubious gift, and be offering up a stage performance. Where does that leave the reader? With a lot of words about longing for God. But these words, as the authors observe, so often formulated in the second person--"you"--and addressed to God--"Late have I loved you" (from book 10)--cannot help but engage the reader, too, as alternative addressee and yet, also as joint speaker of them, with Augustine, addressing God. Suddenly the reader, thinking to satisfy prurient interests in Augustine, is caught up with Augustine in prayer.

Adding interest to the interpretations is that they are not in complete agreement over the attractiveness of Augustine. Two of the voices would lead us into Augustine's own seductions of us; but one of the voices cautions care. Yes, the seducer's lair may appear to be a launching station to God, but it is actually the confines of the church (Augustine was a bishop, after all), flattening the bounce of the metaphorically rich confessional language with its "authoritative exegesis" (p. 60). The very cover of the book hints at this divergence (and yes, contrary to popular belief, a well-designed book can be judged by its cover) for it comprises three views of a veiled dancer, a small bronze from ancient Greece, sinuously posed. The statue turns invitingly towards us in two of the poses, but directly and forbiddingly away from us in one.

The willing reader will gladly be seduced by these three authors, whether into embrace or repulse of Augustine. But wither might the reader seduce either Augustine or the authors? At least this reader would take us to Kierkegaard, that modern theological master of seduction, who gave us, under pseudonym, the Diary of a Seducer, and who theorized so beguilingly about Don Juan, especially as captured by Mozart's opera, Don Giovanni, where the character merges with the music and seduces us out of our minds. The modern opera house would indeed be a seduction for Augustine, but wouldn't the text of the Confessions, smuggled into a performance of the Mozart opera, and let to lie there on the listener's lap, begin of its own to vibrate in tune with the music?

There is much more to this book. The play of reversal to be found here intoxicates: to self-abase before humility exalts; to remember having forgotten restores to memory; to praise the other reveals the self. The authors indicate a place, via Augustine, where "transcendence and transience touch" (p. 98). The authors indirectly remind us that the most rigorous scholarship in spiritual matters partakes of what it describes and interprets. The reader comes away unsure whether she has simply read a book, or arrived at the end of pilgrim's path.

A librarianly coda: Students of Augustine, seeking further reading, will find books by and about him gathered at the Dewey Decimal number 281.4 A923 and at the Library of Congress number BR65 .A, both on level E of the Library. A useful reference source is: Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1999) (281.4 A923Y A9239a). Brief introductions include: Augustine: A Guide for the Perplexed, by James Wetzel (New York: Continuum, 2010) (BR65 .A9 W482 2009) and Augustine, by Gareth Matthews (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2005) (B655 .Z7 M18 2005). An introductory plunge into the scholarship is available in The Cambridge Companion to Augustine, ed. by Eleanore Stump and Norman Kretzmann (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001) (281.4 A923Y C178c ). Readers of Seducing Augustine may also want to read: Desire and Delight: A New Reading of Augustine's Confessions, by Margaret Miles (New York: Crossroad, 1992) (281.4 A923cY M643d); Augustine and Postmodernism: Confessions and Circumfession, ed. by John Caputo and Michael Scanlon (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2005) (281.4 A923cY A9232a ); and the soon-to-appear Eternity's Ennui: Temporality, Perseverance and Voice in Augustine and Western Literature, by M. B. Pranger (Brill, scheduled to appear October 2010).