Library knowledge

Gregory A. Finnegan (Gregory.A.Finnegan@DARTMOUTH.EDU)
Fri, 4 Mar 1994 09:29:21 EST

James G. Carrier
<> wrote:

"I read your and Anita Cohen-Williams's comments about anthropologists who
should not, for their own health and safety, be let loose in a library alone.
I use a library myself fairly often, and am curious what sort of
incompetences you had in mind when you were writing your note.
I presume that if you think your comments of sufficiently broad interest
you will post it to anthro-l, rather than just to me."

Reasonable query. Some anecdotal evidence:

1) colleagues at a world-caliber Africana library report less library use by
anthropologists than by other Africanists. The anthropologists in question
publish, so they're getting their info somewhere.

2) I worked in libraries from grade school onwards, and considered library
school upon college graduation, but (1967) felt called to save the world with
anthropology (not a ridiculous notion, still, aside from the 'earning a
living' part!) Had a 13 year full-time detour into anthropology, during
which time I regarded myself as about as library-savvy as any anthropologist.
The number of basic reference tools I learned about subsequently in library
school that I should have learned about in grad school in anthro was shocking
to me.

3) In the late 1970's, a library-school thesis at the U of Chicago (my
library school) studied use of reference tools by grad students in anthro
there, in what is arguably the best dept. in the world, but is in any case
among the largest graduate programs. The researcher (exact cite at home,
alas) found more "non-use" than use of reference tools by the anthro grad
students. Moreover, what little there was, was almost totally peer-referral;
they learned little from anthro faculty, and less from librarians.

4) Personal, again, re the 'culture of library poverty" in anthro: When I
was preparing to go into the field in Burkina Faso, I got caught in a
Catch-22 of no-grant-w/o-research clearance, no clearance w/o proof of
funding. The extra months waiting allowed me to prepare more thoroughly than
usual the nuts-n-bolts side: medical tips, air freight, camera/audio gear,
etc. I naively thought I'd type it all up & deposit in the dept. lib. for
others' benefit. I conversationally mentioned my intent to the chair, who
was, BTW, more at home in the library than in the field, and was rather
good-natured as well, and was shocked at his strong response "You can't do
that! They have to learn it for themselves!" In other words, the no pain/no
gain, fieldwork as rite of passage, view of anthro training/research extended
even to how to ship your gear abroad!

5) An anthropologist colleague at an Ivy League school was extremely, even
embarassingly, grateful to me for finding a citation. I had pivoted, walked
3 steps to a terminal for "Magazine Index" & pulled it up. I did not dig
deeply into my graduate education in librarianship to find the answer. I
wanted to say, but did not, "save your thanks for when I do something for you
that you shouldn't have learned in jr. high." The colleague is on the
editorial board of the major journal in a subfield, so presumeably also knows
things and finds things out, but does not know as much as I think one
could/should about library research techniques.

6) The AAA is the only major social science professional association in the
US which does not support a current bibliography of its field; the ASA
supports SOC ABS, the APA PSYCH ABS, etc. The last 'bibliographic' project
from the AAA was the "opening-day" (core) collection in 1963 in Mandelbaum et
"publications received" in the NEWSLETTER, where it was put, after a gap,
when the AA Editorial Board (I was on it at the time) dropped it from the
ANTHROPOLOGIST to gain the pages for more highly-valued features. The RAI,
to its credit, DOES support ANTHROPOLGICAL INDEX, but the AAA in the 70's
never even replied to letters seeking to discuss national support for the
Tozzer Library's ANTHROPOLOGICAL LITERATURE. Why do we, collectively, not
see a collective obligation to ourselves to support indexing our research

7) Only now, and slowly, is a library-oriented group forming within the AAA,
whereas the area-studies associations, probably because Title-VI funded
centers are more or less required to have specialist librarians, have had
such groups for decades. Similarly, only in the last couple of years has
Wenner-Gren funded an initiative to deal w/ archiving fieldnotes & the
general problems of preserving the anthropological record.

I realize this is only partly an answer to James Carrier, in that I'm talking
more about cultural issues and institutional questions, not about "which
tools should we be using, if we only knew" and such. But what I've written
is what I think underlies the perception of myself and others that
anthropologists are not at the cutting edge of library research.
(Interestingly, there are 15-18 persons with anthro PhD's and library MA's.
Most are working as libns., but a few are full-time teaching or museum
anthro's. There's also an active "Anthropology and Sociology Section" within
the Assn of College & Research Libraries, itself a division of the Am. Lib.
Assn. But more librarians are concerned with anthropology than vice-versa,
save for LARG in Chicago, which in my time had a roughly 50-50 split in

Apologies for the length...
& Adjunct Assoc. Prof. of Anthro.
Dartmouth College Library
6025 Baker Library, Room 104
Hanover NH 03755-3525
603/646-2833 voice
603/646-2167 fax