living and learning

Friday, 21 May 2010

How to get hold of obscure books

We've all been there - after aeons of paper chasing, you come across the holy grail of your research area...only to find that the library doesn't stock it, and buying a copy will leave you £103 poorer...or maybe that's just me. Anyhow, if you ever find yourself pining for an elusive book, this checklist might come in handy.

  1. Check the university library

  2. No, really. Star catalogue has a few annoying flaws that can stop search results from showing up, so you need to circumvent them to be absolutely sure the library doesn't carry your book.
    • Make sure there are no redundant spaces in your search terms.
    • Remove all colons (:) and double quotation marks (") from the 'title' field. Star refuses to work in their presence:/
    • Make sure all search terms and any quotation marks (') or dashes (-) are typed in an English character set. This is a potential problem only if you type in more than one language.

  3. Check the public library

  4. Public libraries aren't very good for academic stuff, but it's always worth a shot. I've found pretty obscure books in the Sheffield library catalogue in the past; you never know what they might have. Signing up for a library card requires a valid Ucard or driving licence and 5 minutes of your time.

  5. Request it

  6. Our uni's Document Supply Service will track down your book for you, using none other than the amazing British Library Document Supply Centre. Simply fill a the form, stick on a free Authorisation Sticker obtained from your department, and hand it over to library staff. Alas geography do not supply undergraduates with Authorisation Stickers (I've asked), so undergrad geographers will have to buy their own at the library reception desk:(

  7. Read it in a Reading Room

  8. If you're a truly skint student - like me - despair not, there are other options. Our uni has a free minibus service to Boston Spa Reading Room, which is part of the British Library. At 7 million books, their collection is not to be sniffed at - chances are they'll have a copy of whatever you're after. To use the service, you need to check that
    Then it's just a matter of popping down to Western Bank Library for a request form.

    UPDATE: I've written up a personal account of the trip

  9. Suggest that the library buy it...

  10. This is the last resort really. You can actually recommend books for the library to buy, though there's no guarantee they'll oblige: I got a swift and polite email explaining how geography can't afford the book this year, and that they might consider it when it comes out in a cheaper paperback format. Oh and I was asked whether the book was recommended by a lecturer. Hmmmm.

If everything on this list fails, you might want to ask yourself, 'do I really need this book so badly?' If the answer is a yes, you might want to start planning your next fundraising event now...


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