Saturday, April 02, 2005

A Saturday Shift

Saturdays tend to be slow days at my library; traffic does pick up a bit in the afternoons, but not by much, and this is due to the fact the university teaches some classes on Saturdays. These classes usually end by 2:15 or so, which means anyone not running for home right away makes their way to the library. Today has been a bit slow, but not too slow. I have had a good number of reference questions, but what has kept me busy have been a couple of long questions. Librarians rotate the weekend work. We have two shifts on Saturdays (9:00a-1:30p and 1:30p-6:00p) and one shift on Sundays (1:00p-6:00p). Today I am doing an afternoon shift. In academic libraries weekend work is common, and it is often rotated somehow amongst the librarians. It is one of the banes of our existence, but not as bad as it sounds, for me at least.

Today's assignment du jour seems to come from the art appreciation classes. The assignment, based on what the students told me, is to find some information on a particular painting, but also on its style, time period, traits, etc. In other words, the more general information about the painting and its context. These classes usually go to one of the local museums, view some art, pick a painting to discuss, then go research it for an oral presentation. This approach may seem practical and interactive for the students, but it creates quite a few difficulties for the librarians who have to help them locate the information. First is the painting itself. Depending on what painting they chose, there may or not be any specific information about the painting itself. The museums publish some catalogs, and we have some of them here at our library, but unless they chose a painting that has been catalogued, they are out of luck in that area. Obviously, the less known works or more rare will be next to impossible to locate information on them beyond what the museum might provide. Second, the general information. This one is the easier of the two parts in the task. For instance. One student wanted to locate information about some Fayum portraits, which are some funerary portraits done during the period of circa 150-200 A.D. These are Roman works. A search in J-Stor and in Academic Search Premier, two of our periodical databases, did yield some results. So, in her case, she will likely be able to put together enough information to create her presentation. For anyone wanting to know in brief what a Fayum portrait is, the Encyclopedia Britannica offers the following definition:

"any of the funerary portraits dating from the Roman period (1st to the 4th century) found in Egyptian tombs throughout Egypt but particularly at the oasis of al-Fayyum. Depictions of the head and bust of the deceased, the portraits are executed either on wooden tablets (about 17 by 9 inches [about 43 by 23 cm]) and placed under the bandages covering the mummy's face, or on the linen shroud itself. They are painted in tempera or in pigments mixed with liquid beeswax."
I had also a question on finding out information about race and class in the United States during the 1960s. A quick look at the library's catalog and in Academic Search Premier took care of that one. Well, at least it gave him enough to get started. From talking to him, it was clear he had not quite narrowed the topic down himself. But he has a good idea. The interest comes from stories he has heard from older family members who lived during that time. A good subject heading in the catalog was social conditions--united states--1960 (this is the LOC heading I identified after typing a general keyword search and then looking at a couple of records). While showing him how to search for what he wanted and where, I got to discover a bit of his interest and give him some ideas of how to narrow the topic. I have always been a strong believer in the link between instruction and reference, and moments like this are a perfect example where you do a little bit of teaching with a little bit of how to locate the items.

The rest of the questions so far have been little directional things, such as where do I find this call number, and some other smaller reference ones. Rest of the time I have had a bit of time to catch up on some reading and searching on the web myself. After this, I don't have to do another Saturday at the Information Desk until April 30th.

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