Friday, January 15, 2010

A brief refresher on Library use for the new semester

Have you ever seen a drunk man walk?

He staggers left and right, his path meandering along a course that almost seems random but nevertheless purposeful. He has an end goal, and his steps, no matter how stumblingly placed, get him there in the end. Eventually.

This idea underlies much of The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow, which I finished recently. In spite of the rather picturesque phrase, though, the title actually refers to Brownian motion; this term describes the apparently random motion of particles in suspension in a solution, which are almost never at rest. They drift to and fro, and for a long time, it was one of the great mysteries of science, thought to be an instance of true randomness that defied statistical analysis and which existed in the real world outside any mathematical models. However, as Mlodinow demonstrates, Brownian motion can be defined by a study of probability, an equation which renders the motion of these little particles utterly predictable. The same applies to the rest of your life, says Mlodinow, and he repeatedly demonstrates how randomness actually works in your life. He covers everything from all the circumstances that led to the OJ Simpson verdict to pairs of separate events (such as lucky socks and a victory for your baseball team) that have no actual relationship, but which you think do, purely because of the human brain's inability to properly perceive and evaluate probability.

And he does it all in such engaging language that you forget you're reading a math book. It's a terrific read, and it'll make you think about life in a different way. It approaches statistics a lot like Freakonomics approaches, well, economics, drawing surprising connections and rebutting long-held conventional wisdom. It's highly recommended!

With that out of way, let's talk a little bit about the Library in the coming semester. We librarians often find that folks, students and faculty alike, need refreshers every now and again about some important things regarding the Library.

First: Deaf Stacks on the first floor, General Stacks downstairs. If what you're looking for has nothing to do with deaf-related subjects or people, it's probably downstairs. Check the catalog first, though -- it will tell you. If you're still not sure, ask a librarian.

The copy machines and microfilm printers are still 10 cents per page; scanning is free. You're welcome to bring your flash drive and scan away, bearing in mind the copyright restrictions that are in effect. We have signs posted up near the copiers and scanner about those; take a look at them and be sure you know what's what. If you're not sure, ask a librarian.

Loan periods are the same: Deaf Stacks books are 4 weeks for everyone; General Stacks books 4 weeks for undergrads and staff, 6 weeks for grads, current semester for faculty. More details can be found on our Web page about the general borrowing policy (fee/fine information is included on that page as well; it's good reading on general principle). If you have any questions, just send an email to

If your instructor tells you that he or she has readings available on reserve, those are behind the Service Desk. Those can be borrowed for up to 2 hours and cannot leave the building. In order to get to them for your class, ask whoever's working at the Service Desk. By the way, faculty members, we offer e reserves, which are PDFs of required readings that you can link to your Blackboard pages. To get started, just email your syllabus to See our web page for details.

Yes, we do offer DVDs to watch for entertainment; they're all on the first floor and are marked by a decently-sized sign. If you're not sure how to find them, ask at the Service Desk. You can check out up to 3 at a time for 3 days.

Incidentally, we do offer books to read for entertainment; developing the fiction collection is one of my responsibilities, and I love keeping up with new books and talking about them, so come find me if you want to know what we have. If you're interested in leisure reading material, ask a librarian. Or come find me, which amounts to the same thing (I am a librarian, you know). Or, as always, get in touch through the information on our contact information Web page.

The Archives are downstairs. Go down the main stairs in the center of the Library and look for the dark-brown squares on the floor. Following those past the large glass cases and seating area will take you straight to the Archives. First, though, sometimes the staff at the Service Desk can help you find what you need without having to go downstairs, so be sure to check!

Also downstairs is the eLearning Lab. There are signs posted that point the way; still, because the Library is such an architecturally interesting building, they can be tough to find. If you've looked and looked for the lab and still have had no success, come upstairs and ask a librarian. We have maps and a few surviving Sherpas.

The vending machines for food and drinks are downstairs; you are permitted to eat and drink in the Library, although the usual prohibitions against bathing with Coca-Cola in the middle of the psychology section still apply.

Study space, DVD players, VCRs, and televisions are on the first floor. The basement has only study space; semi-private classrooms and study carrels near our lovely large windows facing Kendall Green and Chapel Hall. TVs, DVD players, and VCRs can be found along the windows on the first floor and in our two labs, where computers are also available: the Deaf Library Study Center (room 1220 -- turn left at the ladies' room, walk down the hall, and it'll be on the right behind the double doors) and in room 1404, in the Reference section, as well as the open computers in the middle of the first floor.

In order to log in, you will need your Gallaudet username and password; ITS policy prohibits non-Gallaudet people from using University resources except under restricted conditions. You should also have your ID with you in order to prove both your identity and your enrollment or employment status.

Actually, this bears repeating: Always have your ID with you. It's required in order to check out or renew books, pay fines, or even to look at your record. We can't accept driver's licenses, military ID, passports, vehicle registrations, voter ID cards, credit card receipts, concealed-carry permits, or pictures of your dog. As a Gallaudet student or employee, you'll have your ID on you at all times anyway, so no big deal ... right? Right.

Our hours for this semester are the same as last semester, except for the different holidays, as well as Spring Break. More information can be found here.

And last, but not least, ask a librarian. E-mail us at for big, complex questions you need help with or to make an appointment, or IM us at GallyLibraryIM -- or just head to and use the Library Chat widget there -- or just come in for an answer to any quick questions you might have. We're easy to get in touch with!

That covers the basics. Next week, it'll be back to more original stuff; for now, we're all busy getting ready for the new semester!

Question of the Week
I just brought back a DVD that kept freezing up on me. The librarian took it and put it on a shelf behind the Service Desk; what happens to a movie that's reported damaged?
It gets put on a shelf behind the Service Desk.

And then, of course, I pick it up and watch it. If it doesn't play properly, I clean the disc off (you'd be surprised at how much grape jelly can congeal on these things) and test it a few times. If it tests fine after my quick cleaning, it goes back on the shelf. If it's lightly scratched, it goes to our collection management folks for more intensive cleaning and repair. If it's really banged up, then it needs to be withdrawn from the collection and possibly replaced.

Any discs that go to collection management come back to me when they're done. I usually test the disc again and if it works fine at this point, it goes back on the shelf. If there are still problems, I'll withdraw it from the collection and start considering whether or not to replace the film.

Replacing the film usually depends on the same kind of process I've discussed on this blog before -- is it important to the collection? Is it heavily used? Was it purchased by us or donated? Has it been used for a course? More often than not, it'll get replaced.

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