The SIL Extraordinary Current Awareness Services

So. I recently paid for my final few months as a research student at the Shakespeare Institute (which, great news, turned out to be less than I thought it was going to be).  I’m nearly done. I just need to get through this final stretch, and I’ll get my officially sanctioned floppy hat.

I am absolutely certain I would not have made it this far without the Current Awareness scheme. As a research student, there are a million demands on your time, and it’s easy to slide out of touch with the latest research when you’re trying to bend the last fifty year’s theory to your will. It often seems to me that there are simply not enough hours in the day to keep abreast of everything going on in Shakespeare studies. And I just have to worry about text; our revolutions are slow tidal waves to the perpetual motion of performance, the never-ending permutations of stage craft, or the kaleidoscope root-scape of theory. If a helpful librarian wasn’t browsing through the new books and journals looking for my key words, I would have had to give up on sleep to get through it all myself.

shakespeares-words-via-flickrBut I am getting ahead of myself; I haven’t even explained what this marvellous scheme is yet. Current Awareness is part of the library service offered by the Shakespeare Institute Library to PhD students. For free. The doctor-to-be sends a list of keywords to the library (silib@bham.ac.uk), and the library staff then read through every new book and periodical that crosses the SIL magnetized threshold, and alerts the researcher when their keywords pop up. To call it time-saving is an understatement in the extreme.

My only regret is that I didn’t know about it until I started working on it as an LSA. I am not aware of any other university libraries offering this service to their students; in Copenhagen, where I did my first degree, the librarians were busy protecting the older, frailer tomes, and pushing carts brimming with books from one part of campus to another, and while I did of course ask the occasional question, it never occurred to me that they could help me with my research.

It may be argued that my enthusiasm for Current Awareness is simply proof that I am not a very good academic: that I need to get better at managing my time – that a researcher who put in the hours could easily transverse the ever-broadening expanse of new material. Fortunately, however, I am not alone in valuing the benefits of this unique service. Here is their praise, in short, twitterific bursts: “That looks great – thanks!”, “Thank you for the recommendations”, “Most helpful, as always”, “Thank you – it sounds ideal”, “Thanks.  This sounds very useful”, “Thanks, that’s very cool!” “Thank you so much for making me aware of this :)”, “Thanks v. much – v helpful”.

And, speaking from the other side of the desk, from the comfort of the LSA chair, such positive feedback makes all the scouring worthwhile.

Truth be told, I enjoy hunting through all the new journals, looking for incredibly specific topics other than my own. It has made me aware in a very direct way of the richness of research being carried out across the world of Shakespeare studies, of the countless new publications that help reinvigorate our field each year, of how my little thread adds to the texture of a tapestry that is as much in our minds as out of them.

Words, words, words.

Sara Marie Westh, Library Support Assistant (and expectant PhD)

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