I’ve been scrambling around to put together reading lists for my courses (and my portion of other people’s courses) this fall, which involves interacting with the online repositories of journal articles — an obligation that rivals for sheer ecstatic titillation such enviable pursuits as root canal surgery without anaesthesia, writer’s block, and listening to Vogon poetry. Not only are the interfaces for the various vendor packages all different; not only does each permit or discourage different ways of browsing; not only are they discontinuous with one another, so that if your library’s subscription to Transmodernist Hip-Hop Quarterly via JORTS expired in 2007, you have to navigate over to the Humanities Periodicals Database to pick up the 2008 issue for which you were browsing; not only do years sometimes disappear mysteriously from the range of “subscribed” volumes; not only do the URIs represent case studies in absurdly overcomplicated information design (here’s a no-kidding actual URI I was working with today: http://find.galegroup.com/gtx/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC-Documents&type=retrieve&tabID=T002&prodId=EAIM&docId=A224406300&source=gale&srcprod=EAIM&userGroupName=glasuni&version=1.0); but (as Tom diligently reminds us) these soi-imaginant founts of knowledge operate principally so as to prevent access — first of all to the total outsider, but also to the academic subscriber who seeks knowledge in the wrong way (that is, a way that the database manager didn’t foresee, or foresaw and nixed), and then to the academic subscriber who’s in the wrong place (at home, rather than at a campus terminal), students likewise. In short, the role of the periodical-database companies is to prevent pretty much everything that a print librarian facilitates. Welcome to the awkward zone between the beginning of the digital transition and the time rationality sets in.
Anyway, my point wasn’t that I was disheartened by my travails with digital periodicals’ interfaces, but that despite the frustrations attendant upon such endeavours, I have greatly enjoyed my day in the office. I can’t overstate my deep satisfaction with my staff neighbours, with my students here, with Glasgow, with my work of teaching and administering and planning and researching and writing.
Now, if only I had time to do it all.