Pleasures of the Catalog

December 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

Even experienced reference librarians sometimes make the same mistake students make: as soon as the question is posed, or the topic assigned, we are thinking: Internet, Internet.

One difference is that the librarians are thinking:  Internet, databases, search terms….

“Don’t we have some law books over there in the Reference section?” the student asked.  I responded that we did have federal and state statutes and court opinions.  “What are you looking for?”

“Well, I’m trying to find examples of how lawyers use persuasive language to try to defend criminals who everyone knows are guilty, you know, people like….”  I said, “Wait, aren’t people supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in our court system?”

“OK, that’s right. But what I’m looking for are speeches of lawyers and the kind of language they use in front of juries to make the jurors think their clients are innocent.  This is for a Communications class on rhetoric.”

“Well, I don’t think the law sources we have in the Reference section will be the best place to look for those kinds of speeches.  You can get oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, I think, on the Court website, but that might not be the best source, either.”

Finally, I suggested, “Try this.  Go to the Catalog and type “doublespeak” in the Title line and see what we have for books in the Library.”  The student followed my advice and was pleased to come up with Doublespeak: From Revenue Enhancement to Terminal Living: How Government, Business, Advertisers, and Others Use Language to Deceive You and Beyond Nineteen Eighty-Four: Doublespeak in a Post-Orwellian Age.

 The next day I asked the student how things were going on his rhetoric paper.  He got really animated and said enthusiastically, “Actually I found a couple of other really great books–Essays on the Rhetoric and Poetics of the Law and Rhetoric, Mass Media, and the Law.

This student, once he got into the Catalog, was surprised and delighted to find that there were several books right on target.  I’m sure there are lawyers’ speeches defending high-profile clients full-text on the Internet, but I was glad that the Catalog, often neglected, had served the student well.  And, I’m hoping this student will come back to this great online source in which we make significant investments every day.

         —-  Contributed by Sims Kline


Pluralism: Friend or Foe?

November 27, 2010 § Leave a comment

In my work as Research Services Librarian at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida I often assist students working on projects, some of which are quite extensive.  The Senior Research requirement for students in our College of Arts and Sciences includes a thoroughly documented, original paper.

The scope and complexity of these senior research papers often rival a master’s thesis, depending on the topic and the student’s approach.  Recently, one of the students I was assisting told me her working title, for a paper in political science, is “The Evolution of Hyperpluralism in News Media: A Comparative Approach to Understanding Today’s News Media Rhetoric.”  This particular student is a real stand-out, majoring in political science and communication studies, with a minor in Russian Studies.

I asked her to tell me what “hyperpluralism” means and why she had chosen this particular angle of approach.  She said that the origin of the term, which she had seen in a textbook, was unclear and that she was interested in determining the term’s first use and the context for that “coinage.”  This kind of question is, for a librarian, exactly the kind of challenge we enjoy.

Turns out that American University political science professor James Thurber used the term in his book Rivals for Power: Presidential-Congressional Relations (Congressional Quarterly, 1996).  Thurber’s book is now in its 4th edition (2009).  Jonathan Rauch, writing in The New Republic (June 6, 1994) describes what he calls “The Hyperpluralism Trap.”

Thurber says that “the United States is experiencing ‘hyperpluralism,’ or extreme competition among groups that makes it almost impossible to define the public good in terms of anything other than the collection of narrow special interests.”

Rauch criticizes both “left-populism” and “right-populism.”  On balance, Rauch is critical of a lot of the “liberal agenda,” but he does acknowledge a lot of posturing from conservatives, too.

Here’s my bottom line:  yes, we may plaquing up our political arteries these days with “hyperpluralism,” but we’re also getting blockages of understanding from our “hypermedia.”  The layering of the two is noxious, or, to borrow from a famous writer, “a snare and a delusion.”  Who originated that phrase?  Another good question for a librarian.

Contributed by Sims Kline. Posted originally on The Sustainable Governance Blog.

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