24 February 2008

Love Library Essential for Bird History Research

Material available at a local university library made possible a wide variety of research into natural history of birds in North America prior to the mid-1850s.

During the past months, numerous volumes which are primary-source narratives were found and reviewed among the variety of items available at Love Library, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which made the task possible. Materials included regular books, books that could not be checked out from the shelves, microfilm, old books in Special Collections, looked through atop a brown table - with a ready source of sharp pencils, and a sharpener if needed - in their reading room, online publications printable with downloaded in quick time PDFs of many megabytes, and borrowed items retrieved with certain time by Inter-Library Loan communications.

During the weeks of checkout, review and return, with some copies most times, there were times - more than twice - when something of a volume management was needed while at the limit on books checked out.

Interlibrary loan provided a number of distinct volumes for 1800-1850s history. Most helpful was Brian O'Grady, a library technician, with this service area.

As a recognized research library, there are a variety of services to find something. O'Grady mentioned databases, email, internet, and letters are among the means used to find a citation, notably for campus undergraduate students and faculty. Volumes housed at the LDRF facility - an old book building - on East Campus, are also processed through ILL, using a handy request-button on the library card-catalog search page.

"I enjoy finding unusual references on a wide variety of topics," said O'Grady - informally dubbed a "supervisor of borrowing monographs" - "especially unusual or unique books, articles, rare papers, letters or reports." About 20,000 requests are handled each year. Local libraries refer people to UNL, and with the internet, others have discovered the holdings at Love Library, and may borrow a book.

Special Collections had some specially housed books from an historic era following Lewis and Clark and other great expeditions along the twisted Missouri River. A bunch of volumes compiled by former historian of distinction, Reuben Gold Thwaites, provided the rough view for bird records on the Prince Maximilian of Wied expedition. It's quite different to read snippets, but browsing the entire work, bound and presented in a manner known 150 years ago, is an essence of research using source material written.

Looking at the original narratives - the intimate chronicles - is how to scribe details on a vast variety distinctive bird records from so many places of those times.

More than a dozen of the source publications were readily found, to investigate the Arctic voyages, mariners searching for the lost expedition of Sir John Franklin. The trio of resultant sources were: 1) books on the shelves - some encased in a sturdy box due to their aged condition, while still readable in a careful page-turning manner; 2) microfilm on the reader; and 3) fragile books in Special Collections. Vivid details from these sources dramatically evoke a most interesting era of bird history ... well illustrated in the stylistic manner of those men on a ship, keeping on among relentless ice and cold.

The University of Nebraska was established in 1869. During this era, following a burst of mid-century explorations, for example, was a handy time to acquire recent reports of topographic engineers, and that variety of reports from the Arctic voyages. These were finely published and oft-times lavishly illustrated, each a fine addition to the historic library, while now they might be shelved in the back stacks with other representatives of the old Dewey decimal system. Main sections visited for pertinent topics were the Es and Fs call numbers, with an occasional foray in the low-ceiling Q stacks for Audubon information, or other focus books within the ornithology subject.

This study of bird history was certainly enriched with results which indicate the prime importance and value of the Love Library reference collection, ready for research.

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