Weekly EEBO (not weakly EEBO)
Since I became an administrator, I’ve probably done a lot less research and writing. Or at least I’ve done less researching in my library’s academic databases. And like many people who work at primarily teaching institutions, I’ve always had to figure out ways to get access to databases that my library doesn’t subscribe to and can’t afford given the small number of people who would use them. So sometimes I use databases at NYPL, the Folger, or Columbia instead of the library where I work. I had occasionally worried that I wasn’t using my library enough, but who has time to mess with an okay suite of databases when I could get myself to a fancier place that could better meet my needs? Now, with COVID-19 losses eliciting demands on budgets, that intermittent anxiety has shifted to something more like pervasive concern.
Although my university does not always have the resources I need for my research — i’m definitely not an at R-1––I am extremely lucky to have a library that was built up at a time when the liberal arts and Humanities in particular were a significant part of the campus culture. Now, both library and Humanities departments are disempowered relative to the growth in other fields and professional schools that have dominated enrollments and rhetoric. But the foundation is still there in bits and pieces, so we have a few great things that not all mid-sized universities can claim:
- A nice playhouse, which has a set that makes it a replica of the Globe theatre. We have a conference and festival of performances in October centered around it, some of which may be canceled.
- Special Collections, which does not have major holdings or especially rare objects, especially not in my field of early modern literature. But it does exist and we have some pretty neat things (not to mention a really meaningful collection of papers related to African Americans on Long Island).
- Early English Books Online. We actually subscribe to this very expensive database. We never have been a TCP partner institution, so our subscription was basic and didn’t have the features one needed to do work as efficiently as one might need — you had to read all of a text to know if had anything in it you might want to see, whereas in partner institutions, more texts were transcribed and you could do searches for phrases and other things, making very long tomes suddenly accessible and a little faster to parse.
We used to have maybe five early modernists in my department. Now we are down to 2, and one of us has moved more into disability studies and I am a full-time administrator whose teaching ends up mostly being outside my main field. In the course I teach along with 12 or 13 colleagues, I get maybe one week, at most two, on a work from the 16th/17th century over two semesters.
This Fall, though, I am finally teaching a seminar in my area, a course I pitched in part because I was co-organizing a conference with members of the Drama department, and in part because I was really invested in getting students into EEBO and the Special Collections library.
When I started to hear about COVID-19 related budget cuts to every academic unit on my campus, I started to think about the class I’d envisioned, realizing very quickly that I’d imagined it around the three basic things above, all of which were (and remain) threatened in the period between the onset of our campus closure and our predicted re-opening in the Fall. My class is called “Shakespeare Off-Stage,” conceived as a complement to the conference and attendant performances, and a way to help student to learn about book history and Shakespeare’s career as a poet.
We may not be able to hold our conference — we’re still working on/through that decision, in part because we need to have a better sense of what’s possible with the performances on the material stage that were going to be central to it. For some of the same reasons, my class also may not be able to get into the Special Collections Library; in fact, it is less likely that that can happen. For that, I am definitely sorry. But we can manage. As I said, our special collections doesn’t have items that were necessarily valuable or rare for my field, even if there are some pretty 20th century editions of Shakespeare that I intended my students to consider. We will manage, in large part because of sites like Shakespeare Documented and because all of the digitized holdings in libraries like the Folger and at major research universities; we can do a lot without being in our own campus buildings.
But EEBO? My class cannot work without it.
When noises were first made about cuts a few weeks ago, I wrote to a couple people in leadership and relevant subject area positions and let them know that EEBO was absolutely essential to my teaching this coming Fall. I noted that I hadn’t used it as much as I might as a faculty member for research lately, but that for teaching there really was a basic need that could not be met without it. Amazingly, I was assured that our EEBO subscription was safe this year.
I’ve thanked these librarians, of course, but I know I need to do more to make sure their interventions on my behalf are supported by my own actions. So, this summer, I’d like to make sure I do even more EEBOing through my library than I’ve done in the last few years. So:
This summer I am furloughed one day a week, so on that day (Mondays), I’ll be accessing EEBO and looking at at least one book, either for my own research, my teaching, or just for fun. I will post something about it here and share it, though of course I can’t claim that anything I post will be of interest to anybody else! Still, I hope it will keep me thinking and feeling like a part of my field and better prepared for my class, whether it’s offered online only or in person.
Ideally, I’d have time to look at something on EEBO every day. But I know how my job works, and with the furlough, my days “at” the office (virtually, for now) are going to be busier than ever. I know many academics think of summer as their research time, and though I do too, I’m going to think about it a little more altruistically than I usually do. This summer it’s not just about me making time for my work, but making time to use what I have been lucky to have and making clear to others that I not only appreciate having it, but also NEED it to do my job. That’s always been true, but I want my librarians to have the receipts that show it.