Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Writing without a library

Lockdown threw into sharp relief how much I ordinarily depend on physical libraries. One of the greatest advantages of working in the City University of New York system is that you have access to university libraries across nearly two dozen campuses. Prior to March, I made much use of the physical library spaces at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, and I requested materials from other CUNY campuses incessantly. I frequently need academic books that have been out of print for decades, which are often difficult to find through online vendors and prohibitively expensive if I do find them. When it comes to nineteenth or early twentieth century publications, the only commercially available copies may be cheap facsimile reprints. So lack of physical library access has made a lot of resources harder to track down (through legal means, anyway).

The other major disadvantage to libraries being closed is that I did nearly all of my printing at the library. Until very recently, my husband and I had only a $20 Canon inkjet printer, which was sufficient for the occasional mailing label or last-minute quiz. For printing anything longer than a single page, though, it is abysmal. About half the time, it will pass multiple sheets of paper through at once, smearing a single page across two or three sheets. And while I suspect this isn't the printer's fault, since I updated to macOS Catalina, it refuses to print unless I reinstall its drivers before each job.

Now that I'm teaching remotely, I need to print a lot less than I used to. Still, access to a decent printer is important to me because I dislike reading on screens, especially if I'm going to be annotating. This is why I've never gotten a tablet—even with the help of a stylus, it still feels like reading on a TV (and e-ink tablets with stylus support tend to be hideously expensive). So my usual protocol for any digital resources I'm going to be reading closely is to print them out and mark them up with pen. After six months of muddling through reading PDFs on a screen, I got a laser printer for the apartment. The cheapest one I could find, naturally, but still several times the cost of the bargain bin inkjet it's replacing.

For the dissertation, I've come up with a simple (most likely stupid and terrible) system for keeping track of printed materials. I used to keep annotated print-outs in a big expanding file that I kept in my secondary bookshelf, but it was a pain in the ass to take out of the shelf and a pain in the ass to sort through. Soon enough, the expanding file just became a weigh station between the printer and the trash. What I've begun doing instead is keeping annotated print-outs in one of several dollar-store three-ring binders, each marked with a different chapter topic. I'm hoping this is marginally more effective than the expanding file, by virtue of the categorization being simpler and the binders being less of a hassle to store.

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