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Dan's Discovery Dives #4

Thu. Feb. 18, 2021

Each month, our Collections Assistant Daniel Mathen explores a UWinnipeg collections story that is noteworthy, unique, or obscure. A full series list is archived on the Dan's Discovery Dives page.

#4  | "We Need More Science!"

A display of vintage science titles; one reads, "Outer Space."

Vintage science covers have the best graphic design

It was the week of the 2020 University Open House and the librarian in charge of our booth ran up to my desk. “Dan!” he exclaimed. “We need more science books!”

It is about this time of year that I typically put together a cartload or two of used book sale items for our space at open house. In addition to making a nice visual display, the books serve as a fun conversation starter with potential students. We ask what they are interested in studying, hunt with them through the carts, and send them home with a weird, unique memento of their experience that they will not get anywhere else. People often ask to see more book sale items from a variety of topics such as history, politics, religious works, dramatic works and art. Rarely do I receive a request for science material.

Throughout the year, people go through our book sale carts and raid the arts stuff, searching for specific editions and authors. The arts and humanities tend to offer a broad reflection of individuals or a group, often recognized for a particular perspective at a particular moment in time. It’s like how comic book collectors seek the first editions of a specific issue; they are trying to preserve the context in which the work was published. Collectors will continue to seek out new works of an author, but earlier work will always be the linchpin to their understanding and appreciation.

The sciences are about testing and updating what is known, what is theoretical, and repeating processes to see what will remain established. These disciplines move quickly, and libraries must update science volumes more frequently as new data is introduced. These materials age fast, culminating in an abundance of abandoned science material in our book sale.

But it turns out that there is a thriving underground market for these works - new  students at open house. Potential science students are intrigued and delighted by these aging works in a fun, genuine way, like finding a first print of Handmaid’s Tale or the collected works of Stuart Mills. They provide great talking points for us to discuss science literacy, academic research, and library service at UWinnipeg. Last year we cleared through an entire cart during the morning session. Sometime in the future, as they get access to online databases and eBooks, these students will probably forget about their welcome gifts. In this moment however, they are a masterpiece hidden in the shelves. Now I always make sure to have some science books on hand to entice the next generation of scientists.

The Author

Daniel Mathen is a Saskatchewan expat and Manitoba loyalist with too many facts and details to possibly know what to do with. He has a background, training, and certification in education and many interesting stories to share. He prioritizes conveying desired information to patrons in the most accessible way possible. Widely recognized as the Library’s “Guy with a Cart,” Daniel is a lover of story and drama, and likes to use five words where one would do.

Edited by Joshua Herter

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