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Monthly Archives: April 2011

It’s for my research, I swear!

This probably isn’t new to any librarian who’s been in collection development for some time, but it was new (and strange) to me. Last week, a discussion about student book requests erupted on the LES listserv (the Literatures in English section of ACRL). An academic librarian from a university in Illinois received a book purchase request from someone claiming to be a student. The email read as follows:

Dear [Librarian],

I am wondering: is there a way for students to request the acquisition of new books, or is this left entirely to the library staff (or faculty)? Specifically, I would like to know whether the library plans to order _Old Age, Masculinity, and Early Modern Drama: Comic Elders on the Italian and Shakespearean Stage_, by Anthony Ellis (Ashgate, ISBN 978-0-7546-6578-6).  I am interested in both Shakespeare/early drama and the study of old age. This book also appears to have a gender-studies focus, which could interest some people here as well. Thank you in advance for your time.

Sincerely,

[name]

The requested book would not be an unusual purchase for an academic library collection. What is suspicious, to me, is the language of the email. The author uses the word “acquisitions” and differentiates between library staff and faculty, indicating that they are more familiar with academic libraries than the average student (undergrad or graduate). The student also mentions the publisher, something that, in my experience, rarely happens unless the user submits a book request through a web form. It’s all a bit too formulaic.

Well, as soon as this email went out over the LES listserv, other librarians immediately responded (on the weekend no less!) indicating that they had received an identical email (or a subtle variation) from someone claiming to be a student but using a non-university email address. Most decided not to purchase the item for that reason alone. Some librarians followed up with the student of the same name at their university. No surprise: the student didn’t know anything about the request.

Apparently, someone is grabbing a student’s name from a university directory, creating a bogus email address, and emailing librarians. But to what end? Not for money, I would think. Academic publishing is not a high profit enterprise for individual authors (unless it’s a textbook). For the prestige? But then what would it matter to a single author if X number of libraries purchased their book? There’s only a snowball’s chance in hell that someone will serendipitously come across it, unless it’s mentioned in the professional literature. Rather than scam acquisitions departments, it would make much more sense to scam book reviewers. Get the word out. Academic publishing is all about the conversation: if you want prestige, you have to get people to talk about your book, not just buy it.

Ashgate is a reputable publisher and it would seem beneath them to resort to these type of tactics. I know nothing of the author of this book. So I won’t make any assumptions about who is behind it, but it does bring up a few interesting reminders:

  1. University email addresses. While there has been some debate over whether university domain emails addresses should still be required for all students, this is one situation where having the @school.edu handle would cut down on fraud. (Though, the same could be accomplished with a university ID)
  2. Collection development policy. As I said, the book is not out of character for an academic library collection, but having a clearly defined collection development policy that outlines preferred subjects, publishers, vendors, and consortia agreements would help younger librarians decide whether or not to make a firm order.
  3. Collaboration. As a result of the Illinois librarian emailing the listserv (and others chiming in with similar data), other libraries are more informed about fraudulent (and let’s be honest, kinda sleazy) marketing practices. Including… [thumbs up to chest]… this guy. Some people are shocked when I tell them I participate in listservs (“the 90s called…”), but some continue to offer great resources and a tight community of librarians.

The lesson here, I think, is to make sure what you order for your collection is a good fit for your institution. And, if you want to get people to buy your book, bribe students to email librarians from their own .edu addresses. 😉

But can you use it in a sentence?

Some classmates and I spent the good part of last month working on a glossary for virtual worlds as part of our Resources for Digital Humanities course at San Jose State SLIS. Admittedly, I’m skeptical about the future of virtual worlds like Second Life, but I was fascinated to learn that virtual worlds, at least when talked about in critical works, include more than just the digital kind: print literature, theme parks, cosplay, fan culture, and religion can all be discussed using the theoretical terminology of virtual reality.

Our glossary contained terms like avatar, effectors, in-world, metaverse, synthetic economies, etc. Some terms were only relevant to digital virtual worlds (hover text), but many were applicable to any virtual reality (which was the route I chose to take). Here are some of the terms I contributed:

Cyberpunk: A conflation of the words cybernetics and punk, it typically refers to (1) a sub-species of science fiction popularized by author William Gibson, (2) a particular style of life, fashion, etc. that mimics cyberpunk fiction, or (3) a mischievous character in an online virtual world. Cyberpunk culture explores the conflict between hackers, artificial intelligence, and mega-corporations and, thus, provide a rich language for discussing virtual worlds. Virtual worlds, especially computer-mediated ones, are an essential characteristic of cyberpunk fiction.

Immersion: Defined three ways: (1) The extent to which the viewer or participant in a virtual world is no longer aware of the medium used to create the world, (2) The process by which a participate in a virtual world no longer recognizes his/her presence in their immediate, physical environment, or (3) The intentional blocking of physical stimuli in favor of digital stimuli.

Paratexts: The discussions about a virtual world that do not occur in-world. These may include blog posts, discussion forums, IM chats, etc. Typically, paratexts are created by participants of the virtual world, but also could include editorials, press releases, and reviews written by non-participants. In some ways, paratexts are an extension/expansion of the virtual world into non-world space, ultimately bringing that space in-world.

Skeuomorphs: An item manufactured in one material that evokes items regularly made in another material. In pottery, for example, the fabrication of weave patterns on to the surface of a ceramic vessel mimics a reed basket. In virtual worlds and game development, a skeuomorph is a design feature that refers to a previous feature that no longer exists or is no longer functional.

Telepresence: The extent to which a user feels present in a mediated environment. This environment can be temporally or spatially separate from the user’s immediate environment. It can also be mediated by computer software to produce an animated, simulated, or digital environment. A heightened awareness of telepresence is directly related to increased levels of immersion.

Skeuomorph is by far my favorite and now I look for any excuse to use it in a sentence. =)