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UBC Reports | Vol. 50 | No. 7 | Jul. 8, 2004

What the Librarians are Reading

Books the bookish boost

By Michelle Cook

Mysteries, racy romances, tell-all biographies. Every summer, the same old book picks make it into the beach bag. In search of more unusual reading, UBC Reports thought it only made sense to ask those who fill the UBC Library stacks what they’d check out of their own branches if they had a warm, lazy afternoon on campus to spare.

University Librarian Catherine Quinlan says she’s gotten some “weird” looks in the past when she’s recommended the Oxford English Dictionary (unabridged) but, given her druthers, it’s still the tome she’d haul off the shelf on a summer day because “it’s a fascinating source of information: how the definitions and usages or words have changed over time, word origins, new words. It’s interesting to me that, in general, our day-to-day vocabulary is limited to a couple of thousand words when of course there are many, many more.” And the best spot to read the hefty reference book? Given its weight, Quinlan says an outside reading spot is probably out of the question, so she’d choose a table and chair in one of the UBC libraries.

Law librarian Sandra Wilkins is another fan of Oxford reference books but her choice would be The Oxford Companion to Law by David M. Walker, a compendium on law and law-related topics, including legal systems, concepts, doctrines, principles, institutions and people.

Wilkins says it’s highly readable, contains a wealth of information -- making it a great starting point for anyone researching a law-related topic -- and it readily lends itself to being put down and picked up again later -- great for those who like a little nap between chapters. “It solves the mystique surrounding gowns and wigs, explains that a ‘call to the bar’ has nothing to do with libations, summarizes important cases such as Donoghue v. Stevenson (the ginger-beer case), and puts Latin phrases such as res ipsa loquitur into plain language.” And her preferred reading spot? The Rose Garden because “it’s close to the Law Library, near Sage Bistro where one can take a break for lunch, and has wonderful views when one needs a break from reading.”

Tim Atkinson is UBC’s assistant university librarian for arts, humanities and social sciences so it’s no surprise that his top pick is a classic work of fiction, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. He likes the story, but also the way the words flow together. “There isn’t a wasted word in the entire book and the author has chosen them to fit together in a really lyrical way.” It’s a book best read in the British countryside, says Atkinson, but a UBC alternative would be on a bench in the little grove of trees in front of Main Library and next to the Physics Building.

Chris Ball, head of the Education Library, suggests getting a good coffee, wandering down to the gardens outside the Asian Library (and, hopefully, scoring a bench in the sun) with the best seller Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, A Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson by Mitch Albom. It’s the story of a very busy young sports writer who has lost his way to some extent, in his quest for success in life. Reunited by mere chance with his favourite professor from years gone by, he finds himself re-examining what is important in life and exactly what success means.

“Whether it’s because we boomers are getting older, because our parents are reminding us of our own mortality or because reflecting on the meaning of life is our privilege, this book hits home. How can it miss?” Ball says. “The professor as life mentor, the returning student looking back fondly on his years on campus, and courage in the face of a terminal illness? If you are at all curious about the psychology of death, the purpose of our search for meaning and happiness in life, or the potential importance of a single teacher in a person’s life then this book will pull you in and leave you thinking.”

If Jan Wallace, head librarian at the David Lam Management Research Centre, had a free afternoon, she’d curl up in one of her library’s comfy chairs with The Experience Economy by James Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II. Wallace says she heard Gilmore speak at a conference in Virginia recently and found his theories “very intriguing.”

“Gilmore and Pine argue that the service economy is about to be superseded by the experience economy. Just as the service economy superseded the commodity economy, the experience economy is likely to transform the service industry.

onsumers today expect more than just good service -- they want to feel that they are being offered a memorable and enjoyable experience, too. Companies like Starbucks and Disney have already shown how to do this. How can libraries apply the experience economy to their own operations? Coffee areas? Live performances? Musical themes?”

As UBC’s rare books and special collections librarian, you’d expect Ralph Stanton to pack a few old and musty favourites into his knapsack, but his top pick is more recent.

Stanton says The Elements of Typographic Style (second edition) by Robert Bringhurst is a very technical and specialized book, and one that can be intimidating on first encounter. But it will appeal to anyone who wants to understand what good typography is and how it functions, or anyone concerned about how to communicate well in print, Stanton says.

“Bringhurst is both a poet and a typographer; his book is considered to be the ‘...undisputed standard reference in its field.’ A real mine of information, it is well and often poetically written,” adds Stanton, who recommends taking the book to the Nitobe Memorial Garden on “the calm of a day off so the reader can enter into the text and get caught up in the visual and written magic.”

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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