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« Well, screws were involved! | Main | This Week's Acquisitions »

July 25, 2007


Jonathan Dresner

I had a similar reaction: Asian history isn't all that well represented in these newfangled collections, though there's some hope as the major publishers join the fun.


Yes, I'm in much the same boat. When you do work on largely obscure seventeenth- and eighteenth-century (with some nineteenth-century) philosophers you really do sometimes need the real deal. For instance, while it's on the backburner for the moment for other reasons, I'm working on something on Lady Mary Shepherd, and there's no possible way that could be managed with the nearest campus library + Google Books + Amazon, because even all of them together would leave gaping holes (and it's not as if Shepherd has a huge set of works, either -- they all somehow manage to lack the same works). Internet Archive has been a useful supplement at times, but to rely on it would lead to an odd patchiness in research. Actually owning a book fills a gap that can't always be filled by another means.

Scott McLemee

As I told the guy quoted in the piece, I can't imagine parting with any of the monographs (let alone primary sources) in my major areas of research interest -- the history of the left, for example -- because just tracking them down to begin with took ages. Lots of things in my collection aren't in the Library of Congress, for example.

At the same time, I do accumulate way too many books. It's as if they breed. And it is a slow week when as few as ten new university press books arrive, unsolicited, over the transom. I feel the need to keep the latter around in case they turn out to be worth covering the column.

But after a while, the limitations of space become oppressive.


One of the differences that really strikes me between the physics department where my husband works and my department is the lack of books over there. Here, every office is lined with bookshelves, most of which are filled to overflowing. We also have a "library": not very well organised or catalogued, but a room full of books nonetheless.

In his department, I have never seen more than two or three books in any professor's office (usually their own books that they keep around for decorative purposes). There is no library. My husband tells me he doesn't REMEMBER the last time he went to a library or read a physical volume. In his field, if it wasn't published in the last few months, it isn't worth reading, and if it was, then it is undoubtably freely accessible in the Great Physics Online Archives.

It might be efficient; but it's no way to live :)

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