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    Sobriquet 54.9

    Saturday, May 16, 2009
    It would seem that I am well on my way to becoming a caricature of the minutia-obsessed scholar.

    As I was researching background information for the most recent section of my chapter on Disgrace, I encountered a quotation attributed to Desmond Tutu and, finding the sentiment the archbishop expressed to be particularly insightful, I incorporated it into my writing. Wanting to avoid the scholastically gauche tactic of citing the secondary source in lieu of the primary, I set out to find the original text from which the quotation was plucked. Since the author of the text I had in front of me neglected to include the relevant details of the original publication in her essay, I set about searching for the original with only the bare minimum of information. After an hour of fruitless internet investigation in which I succeeded in locating the same quote cited as having been located in the same secondary text I already had, I realized that I had exhausted virtually every investigative avenue available to me. Gathering what information I had -- journal title, date, location of publication (Braamfontein, South Africa) -- I placed an interlibrary loan request.

    A few days ago, I received a message in my inbox informing me that my requested item had arrived in the loan office. So, I drove the hour to campus this afternoon, presented my university ID card to the woman at the front desk, and received a copy of the New York-published Anti-Defamation League newsletter from 1982. Puzzled because I had specified that I required a journal from South Africa, I sat down to look at what I had just been handed. Though the content was primarily devoted to discussions of anti-semitism and related issues, I reasoned that perhaps my citation was erroneous and Tutu's words were part of a forum on bigotry in which apartheid-era politics were discussed alongside the more traditional foci of the publication I had in front of me.

    No such luck.

    I went to speak with the reference librarian and, within a few moments, realized that A) the computer program the library insists we use to request material had truncated my request and, accordingly, cropped off some crucial details; and B) the reference librarian had googled my request and, having found a similarly-named publication, decided that it must have been the journal I wanted. It wasn't.

    I wasn't too upset about the misunderstanding, of course. I realize that many inexperienced researchers probably send in vague requests for material and she must have to sort out quite a bit of stuff. I simply pointed out the both the New York Public Library and Yale (among a few dozen other places) own the journal and asked wouldn't she please place another request on my behalf? What made me smirk, though, was the fact that the mistaken material I drove an hour to look at originated in the collection of the library no more than a ten-minute walk from my home. I'll let you do the math on that one but, suffice to say, the endeavor wasn't especially good for the environment.

    But, yeah. I'm going to drive there again soon to get a look at that journal and ensure my citation is as accurate as possible. Like I said, I'm becoming a caricature.

    For tomorrow: Read or plan.

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  1. From Minxy:

    Something amuses me about your endeavor to get your citation, though I'm not entirely sure what it is. Perhaps it's the bit of amusement you seem to have found in the situation that is making me giggle a wee bit. Perhaps it was your use of the words "smirk" and "minutia" that tickled me. Who knows. Anyway, I'm glad you found the appropriate material, however convoluted your journey to get it. :)

    By Blogger Sobriquet Magazine on 16 May, 2009
     
  2. I'd intended the story to be amusing :) I think the image of a scholar spending so much time and energy tracking down something most people would regard as unimportant is funny. I mean, it's good to laugh at one's self once in a while, right?

    By Blogger Sobriquet Magazine on 16 May, 2009
     

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