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Browsing, as in Booklovers

Mr. Traister raises three important issues in his letter (Almanac September 16), all of which are deserving of comment. First, the high priority given acquisition, when volumes are requested, is encouraging: it had been frustrating to learn this summer through discussion with librarians (confirming my disappointing on-line discovery) that Ms. Bacchilegas new Penn Press book was not available at Van Pelt. It is therefore a delight to learn that the library subsequently moved quickly on acquisition. Van Pelts acquisition of Dr. Stewarts poetry is equally laudable; nonetheless it remains my hope that staff approach such acquisition proactively.

Secondly, I commend Mr. Traister for helping support the Penn Book Center. Deborah Burnhams volume is only one example of the Penn Book Centers large in-ventory of poetry; I would also like to add my thanks to House of Our Own bookstore, and to all of West Philadelphias independent music and book stores, for their valuable contribution to our community. I share his hope that these small independent retailers continue to survive in West Philadelphia and that Penn administrators help to facilitate this survival.

Finally, I welcome Mr. Traisters opening the discussion regarding difficulties with on-line research. The concept of "unnecessary" or merely differing spellings is intriguing and the issue of circumventing problems related to spelling is germane to resolving on-line search difficulties. In particular one faces such problems when researching; authors with foreign or varyingly spelled names; the problems are compounded if ones search begins with citations from another author. While citations may be inaccurately spelled, names often differ by virtue of the date or locale of publication and all contribute to wreaking havoc with on-line searches.

Although my own author search for Bacchilega presented no difficultieswith such an unusual last name, adding merely the first initial of her given name sufficiently narrowed the fieldthe kind of problem Mr. Traister describes did occur in researching citations from Virginia Woolfs Three Guineas. Woolf had cited an obscure German author who was not found in Van Pelts on-line listings. An e-mail to Van Pelt elicit-ed the explanation that the on-line bibliography showed only the "correct" of two known spellings. On learning that this rightfully obscure author might receive a number of inquiries more because of Woolfs citation (using his "incorrectly" spelled name) than for the intrinsic value of his own militant ramblings, the librarian kindly of offered to list both with references to each.

The consistent use of alternate spellings for foreign authors or where other discrepancies are found, while admittedly a time- consuming task, would nonetheless be greatlyappreciated, I think, by the research community. In time, of course, one hopes that newer, more sophisticated "fuzzy" logic programming design for on-line systems might eliminate such headaches for both librarians and researchers.

--Deborah Alexander, MLA 98

Return to: Almanac, University of Pennsylvania, October 14, 1997, Volume 44, Number 8