Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Keeping Up on the Professional Literature

Professionals in any field tend to do better if they keep up on the professional literature. This kind of blanket generalization is certainly fodder for debate, but when supervisors and administrators higher up the chain talk about how the professionals ought to be keeping up on their field's research it means it ought to be done.

Unfortunately, with so many projects it can be difficult to keep up, so it's important to develop strategies. If you work in a library where they route your favorite periodicals to your desk, it may not be a bad idea to develop some strategies like looking at the table of contents and deciding which, if any, of the articles you have time to read, which are worth reading in other words.

Academic librarians would do well to keep an eye on The Chronicle of Higher Education to keep abreast of the salient issues in academe. Library journals can be quite useful as well. One periodical that I have come to appreciate is Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning. It focuses on issues of teaching, learning, assessment, and academic life in higher education.

For example, in the most recent May/June 2009 issue Michael Fischer writes an article titled "Defending Collegiality." He argues that a code of conduct should be written that advocates civility and collegiality. Starting his article, he references Robert I. Sutton's book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't. Some might argue that a code of conduct might inhibit free expression or intellectual freedom, but the reality is that those who attack others keep the rest in the group from speaking up:
The individuals Sutton is criticizing--the bullies, jerks, and so on--themselves chill debate through personal attacks, intimidation, and invective. One sign of this is the relief felt when they are away. Instead of disappearing, dissent blossoms, as individuals can now express ideas without fear of vicious recrimination and unfounded attack. (22)

Fischer addresses the negative atmospheres that exist in many academic departments and calls for more collegiality and less political in-fighting. One gets the sense that collegiality would go a long way toward improving the institution as a whole while also fomenting innovation and academic rigor. Fischer concludes:
In my experience, most people treat others in the academic workplace with respect, consideration, and care, conduct code or no conduct code. My intent here has not been to legislate collegiality but to make sure that in those rare instances when enough is enough, when egregious behavior persists and reaches a carefully defined tipping point, faculty members and administrators are in a position to do something about it. (25)

Another article in the same issue is authored by Barbara Ischinger and Jaana Puuka, "Universities for Cities and Regions: Lessons from the OECD Reviews." It talks about the importance of universities to work with their local and regional economies to improve both research and the economy. If a university wants to become a world-class institution it needs to develop this supportive, collaborative environment.

Buried at the back of the issue is an article titled "Books Worth Reading" by Mary Taylor Huber. With a title like this, how could a librarian like myself not be interested? She reviews two books that discuss the ideas of the best books programs. Her discussion of these books prompted me to recommend these titles for purchase by our general collections bibliographer.

Title #1: A Great Idea at the Time: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books. Alex Beam. New York: Public Affairs Publishing, 2008, 256 pgs, $24.95 hardcover.

Title #2: Racing Odysseus: A College President Becomes a Freshman Again. Roger H. Martin. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008, 280 pgs, $24.95 hardcover.

4 comments:

Max Weismann said...

RE: A Great Idea At The Time: The Rise, Fall, And Curious Afterlife of The Great Books
by Alex Beam

Argumentum ad Hominem

The subtitle should have read, Every Negative Fact and Innuendo I Could Dredge Up

Although he was not particularly unkind to me in the book, I found virtually every page to be a smart-alecky and snide diatribe of the worst order against the Great Books, Adler, Hutchins, et al. Plus the book is replete with errors of commission and omission.

As an effective antidote, I prescribe Robert Hutchins' pithy essay, The Great Conversation.

If the Great Books crusade is as bleak as Beam purports, then happily, not many will read his invective book.

Max Weismann,
President and co-founder with Mortimer Adler, Center for the Study of The Great Ideas
Chairman, The Great Books Academy (3,000+ students)

Spencer said...

Max Weismann,

Thank you for commenting. Personally, I have always liked the idea of reading the Great Books. Many scholars continue to grapple with the ideas of past philosophers and thinkers who have set the foundations of Western civilization.

Like Mary Taylor Huber I agree with this statement: "Indeed, it is hard to be unmoved by the
democratic vision of the Great Books’ advocates: enlightened 'citizen-readers' grappling together with intellectually serious texts" (60). Regrettably, it seems that many in our society spend more time having fun that sitting down and thinking or discussing hefty ideas, much less from individuals long since dead.

Taylor does describe Alex Beam's books in terms you might agree with: "Widely reviewed in the popular press, Beam’s book is not a scholarly analysis of the Great Books movement but a journalistic
sketch of the personalities, settings, and events it involved" (60).

Thank you for the recommendation of Robert Hutchins' essay. I will have to take a look at that.

rosey said...

good post....
Thank you for commenting. Personally, I have always liked the idea of reading the Great Books. Many scholars continue to grapple with the ideas of past philosophers and thinkers who have set the foundations of Western civilization.


___________________
Rosey
Best price for the best Entertainment

Jenifer said...

Thank you for the recommendation of Robert Hutchins' essay. I will have to take a look at that.

--
Jenifer
Get the best FREE offers on the Best Home security Systems