Friday, June 19, 2009

Meet Patrick Oberholtzer

This week, you're going to get to meet Patrick Oberholtzer. Patrick handles one of the largest -- and most varied -- groups of subject areas here in the Library, and he pulls it off extremely well. He doesn't mention it here, but he's also a big fan of American history and is definitely an outdoorsy type. He's also fairly laconic, so consider this a rare opportunity to get to know Patrick!

1) Where are you from, anyway?
I was born in Tucson, Arizona, but grew up in Whittier, California (that’s a suburb of L.A.) and Richmond, Indiana.

2) How did you get here?
Believe it or not, the first place I heard about Gallaudet was in a film I saw at Disneyland! I was working up in Ithaca, New York when I saw the advertisement in American Libraries for my job, and thought that Gallaudet would be an interesting place to work. I had already learned a little sign from a deaf person when I worked in Georgia.

3) How long have you worked here, and can you give me an idea of some of the more interesting things you've seen in your tenure at Gallaudet?
I’ve worked here for almost exactly 19 years. I think the single most interesting thing has been having the ability to make information instantaneously available! It has changed libraries and really our society—how we live. For example, we have the world’s largest collection of materials on deafness, but to see much of that material you once had to travel to the Gallaudet Library in person. Some of that information is now online and more is being added every day!

4) I don't think a lot of people know that the librarians here at Gallaudet tend to specialize in specific subjects. What are your specialties?
In a way, that is a hard question to answer because everything in the library world is constantly changing. I select books and DVDs in a variety of subjects such as Government & History, PE and Recreation, Business and Economics, Biology, and Foreign Languages. Last year I selected over 500 individual titles for the Gallaudet Library.

I guess one of my specialties is knowing what materials our library has in as many areas as possible. Why? Because the better I know the collection, the better I can help students with their research! Knowing what we have physically in the building is only part of the story. A lot of the library world is electronic – it’s online, and I have a lot of knowledge about which ALADIN databases are good for a particular subject and how to search them. I also am constantly keeping up to date with our databases and the kinds of information found in them.

In addition, I (actually all of our staff) know a lot about the history of deaf people, deaf culture and the history of Gallaudet University. I, well, again, really, we, keep educating ourselves about these topics, as students ask about them a lot.

5) What can you do for students or faculty in these fields?
Students can make an appointment with me if they need help with research. When I meet with a student, we sometimes discuss the topic, or if the instructor has provided a choice of topics, I can assist the student in choosing one—particularly if there is a deadline coming up fast and the student needs to get going.

Librarians can save students a lot of time. Sometimes a student will be really frustrated with a topic and come to see me. I’ll see the topic is a good one, but the student just needs to refine the search strategy a bit -- find the appropriate words, terms or phrases. Some databases use special vocabulary, and sometimes you have to know the right words.

An example: say you want to find cook books. You search in the ALADIN Catalog for "cook books" and you get a whole bunch of hits and a lot of them are not what you want. The word you should use is "cookery." Each of the databases are a little bit different, and knowing a bit about how they are put together and can be searched can be a big help.

At present, our Library has over 50 databases and subscribes to over 10,000 electronic journals, and that can be overwhelming and intimidating for students. I can help students navigate this and make it seem much less like a minefield.

I can help faculty by making sure the Library has materials that will support the curriculum. Sometimes faculty will send me potential research topics for a class they are going to be teaching and I’ll try to purchase books that will enhance what they are trying to accomplish. Also, I’ll consult our databases and figure out which ones are best suited for the topics covered in the class. For example, this past year I worked with a faculty member involved with the Costa Rica program. She requested some books and DVDs, and I also recommended some items, and we added all of that to the collection. We have been building the collection in African studies in a similar manner. Collaborating with faculty is a great way to help our students succeed!

6) Can you list some of the resources that you use the most in working with students and faculty? Why are they good resources to use?
I like to work with the database America: History and Life because it is really the source for finding journal articles on U.S. history topics.

I tend to use ProQuest Biology Journals for biology, JSTOR and America: History and Life for history, and LexisNexis for business stuff. They index full text, high quality journals that are great sources of information. Google, and specifically Google Scholar, are useful tools that I consult if I am having trouble identifying something or am trying to track something down.

For topics related to deafness, the Gallaudet University Library has produced two must-have databases that are found nowhere else on Earth: Index to Deaf Periodicals and Guide to Deaf Biographies. They are invaluable! I can’t imagine a student leaving Gallaudet without knowing about them. A lot of information about deaf people and the deaf community, written by deaf people, was not indexed anywhere. The Gallaudet Library stepped in years ago.

Finally, the ALADIN Catalog is such an invaluable tool! It not only tells what we have in our collection, but also the collections of the Washington Research Library Consortium (WRLC) libraries. That’s millions of books on just about every topic. You can research and find information on just about anything.

7) What do you like the most about working here?
Every day is different!

8) There's been some talk about a new library building in the works over the next few years. What's the one thing you'd most like to see included in the new facility?
Better lighting!

9) Last question, I promise: What's your favorite color?
Grey, no, blue!

... and that's Mr. Patrick Oberholtzer. One thing I found interesting about Patrick's response to the last question -- and this is why I ask -- is that blue and grey were the colors of the uniforms on both sides of the American Civil War. It's just one of those interesting connections I find between unrelated things, and is certainly fitting for such a history buff!

Okay, that about wraps it up for this week. Enjoy your (hopefully dry) weekend!

Question of the Week
My friend and I were talking about the Library's new books the other day and we realized that we didn't know what happens to old books when new ones arrive. Is there really space in the Library for all these new books?
At the moment, yes. That will change as time goes on, however. This is true for all libraries -- sometimes you just run out of space. There are a number of ways to address this, but a good temporary measure is to do what we call "weeding." This is Librarianese for "getting rid of old and/or useless books."

Every once in a while, a librarian will look at his or her part of the collection and decide it's time to do a little cleaning up. Books that are falling apart and don't contribute anything to the collection -- either because they're outdated or because there are other books on the same subject -- tend to go first, and then after that point, it can turn into a complex decision for each book, depending on its utility, general condition, and whether or not students have been using it often or recently.

We also weed according to the curriculum. For example, we don't have any graduate programs in hard sciences like chemistry, biology, or physics, which can often require that we maintain a large body of historical knowledge about the field. As such, many older books espousing outdated scientific theories or principles end up being weeded. Or whole programs disappear as the winds of change blow through Gallaudet, as in the case of the Library Science program (believe it or not!), which closed at least 20 years ago. Most of the materials related to library science have left the collection; they serve no appreciable purpose for students anymore and simply aren't checked out.

The same is true for other programs that are still around, though. For instance, I came across a book full of "duplicator masters" for teaching reading in specific subject areas. What in the world was a "duplicator"? I had no idea, but wondered why I didn't get to have one ... until I opened the book and saw what was in it: white sheets printed with thick purple stuff on the back of each sheet, alternating with brown paper. Each sheet of brown paper bore the dark-purple imprint of the white sheet in front of it, and I realized that this was for making ditto papers! I haven't seen a ditto paper in almost exactly 15 years. There were a lot of other workbooks on the shelf covering the same topic, and nobody had checked this one out since 1998. You can guess what I decided to do with that book.

On the other hand, I also found a little educational primer from 1897, full of neat lessons on American literature up until that time. 112 years out of date, yes, but now its value has become historical -- it could be useful for education, history, or English majors, and I saw it had been checked out a couple of years ago. It was also very small and thin, so it had very little impact on shelf space, so there was no reason I could find to throw it out. One of the biggest rewards of a library like Gallaudet's: the unique and occasionally very surprising things you come across deep in the stacks.

So once the decision has been made to remove a book from the collection, what happens next? The book passes out of my hands and goes to Technical Services, who have their own decisions to make about what to do with it. Once it's out of my collection, I can go back to finding new things for Gallaudet students and faculty to use, and the cycle continues.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments Policy

For specific questions regarding personal accounts, please do not post a public comment. The best way to get a response and maintain privacy is to e-mail or with as much detail as possible.

All comments and suggestions may be anonymous and are moderated for clarity, brevity, and appropriateness. We reserve the right to post as is, decline to post, or edit. We will not post comments that contain obscenities or otherwise lack civility and respect for any persons, groups, or this university.