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ARCHIVES  April 2006, Week 2

ARCHIVES April 2006, Week 2

Subject:

Re: Keeping Textbooks

From:

Butcher Sharon L Ctr AEDC/IIA <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Butcher Sharon L Ctr AEDC/IIA <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 14 Apr 2006 19:39:00 -0000

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (122 lines)

This may be tangential to the discussion. I track down hard-to-find books
and was asked by astronomy Professor B if I could find a study guide which
he had authored some years ago. The study guide was to have accompanied an
astronomy text authored by another prof, Professor A, at XYZ University. It
seems the textbook was not well received, so sales of the study guide were
dismal. Apparently very few of either got into circulation. Professor B's
persoanl library goes up totally in smoke about two years or so ago during
brush fires in California. He no longer has a copy of his study guide; the
publisher of the guide has no copy either. After much searching, to no avail
on my behalf, he finds a colleague had squirreled away a copy of the study
guide. Apparently Professor B has resurrected the study guide, modifying it,
to accompany another astronomy textbook. XYZ University had not kept any
copies of either the textbook or the study guide. 


Sharon Lee Butcher, MLS, MSO
Reference Librarian
AEDC Technical Library
100 Kindel Drive, Ste C212
Arnold AFB, TN 37389-3212
931-454-4430
Fax: 931-454-5421
[log in to unmask] 


-----Original Message-----
From: Archives & Archivists [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf
Of Joe Anderson
Sent: Friday, April 14, 2006 2:09 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Keeping Textbooks

I've been following the thread on "keeping textbooks" with interest, and I
would like to add a comment.  I'll begin by mentioning two publications:
Charles H. Holbrow, "Archaeology of a Bookstack: Some Major Introductory
Physics Texts of the Last 150 Years," Physics Today, March 1999, and Frances
Fitzgerald's "America Revised; History Schoolbooks in the Twentieth Century"
(1980).  Holbrow's article, which was researched in large part here, points
out that successive physics textbooks show when new ideas are introduced
into the curriculum and reflect changes in pedagogical styles in science
over time, which another historian has characterized as going through
periodic cycles from easy to rigorous and back again.  Fitzgerald's book,
which is an influential and highly critical historiography of American
history textbooks, contributed to the "textbook wars" between
traditionalists, led by then NEH chair Lynn Cheney, and revisionists in the
1980s and after.

My point in mentioning these titles is, of course, to show that perceptive
scholars have used old textbooks to help understand what goes on inside
college classrooms, a world that is usually poorly documented in college and
university archives, as Helen Samuels, Rick Teller, and others have noted.
These books can also contribute to intellectual history; a student recently
used our old textbooks to identify a dozen different interpretations of the
physical meaning of a now fundamental mathematical technique called Feynman
Diagrams.  And in our experience, comprehensive textbook collections in our
field are hard to find.

The conflicting responses on this thread (chuck 'em out vs. keep 'em)
suggest an important distinction in how we define the nature of archives and
the work of archivists, between broad and strict constructions. Like many
college archives, the archival collection here at the Niels Bohr Library is
part of a special collection that holds a mix of materials that document our
field:  books, oral histories, records, manuscripts, etc.  As a result it's
easy for us to justify our large collection of successive editions of
textbooks in modern physics, astronomy, and allied fields.  But I believe
that archivists have a responsibility to  be aware of the larger world of
sources that document their fields and to encourage their colleagues to
preserve important sources outside the canon of archival formats. And if
they aren't successful in negotiating with librarians or other colleagues,
then they're justified in keeping especially important collections like
textbooks, at least until they can find a more enlightened library to take
them off their hands or can make sure that the works are accessible
elsewhere.

Of course it may be necessary to be selective here as elsewhere, especially
for the huge volume of materials published since the 1960s. Some professors
give us book collections that contain a large number of "inspection copies"
of textbooks that were never even opened.

Twenty years ago my predecessor, Joan Warnow-Blewett, and other archivists,
initially mostly within the sciences, developed a new approach to
identifying and collecting archival sources called documentation strategy.
A central tenet was that archivists need to work actively with records
creators, records users, and other archives in planning to document their
field. Documentation research and documentation strategy still inform our
work in trying to identify and save hard-to-preserve areas in our field like
industrial R&D.  Working with colleagues in other departments, for example
technical librarians and records managers, is also an important part of that
work.

Joe Anderson
Niels Bohr Library
Center for History of Physics
American Institute of Physics

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