Spring 2001, Vol. 24, no. 2
Association of College & Research Libraries
© American Library Association
For a decade and a half now, Martinus Nijhoff International has offered a generous annual study grant for European research into books and libraries. This has resulted in a number of articles, books, lectures, conference papers, exhibitions and websites ranging the bibliotopical terrain from proportional price indexes to Parisian printing presses, from monasteries to migrations, from a Harvard bard to Italian avant-garde, from wars to wangling, from publication of journals to preservation by Germans, from Swiss society to Vatican propriety. In short, we extend our gratitude to Nijhoff for having subsidized studies of the European book in its native habitat that might have otherwise never gotten off the ground or onto the title page. Those ACRL members (ACRyLics) fortunate enough to have walked the Nijhoff research walk have felt their cranial expanse -- but also their heart, as that of the Grinch -- grow at least two sizes (metric, not imperial). Thereís no time for fussing or fretting, my friend: each time the earth makes one trip around the sun, a new opportunity for enabling-and-ennobling-and-travel-heavy research comes your way. The purpose of this short particle (slightly smaller than an article) is to help you fly the coop and walk the walk.
The number of applications for Nijhoff funding has dropped below a dozen for the past few years (often well below a dozen), and yet the number of research projects among WESS members (WESBERS) always exceeds a dozen. This is evident from the random sample of research interests you will find listed in this issueís "Personal and Institutional News" column. But even that list is just the tip of the sorbet above the syrup: other WESSfolk have more European-related research plans percolating in their brainpans than Holland has tulip bulbs. Let them blossom! Liberate that research! Free that bibliomania! Here are some tips on how you might start:
(1) The grant requires that you study "the acquisition, organization or use of library materials from or relating to Western Europe." That may sound "narrow" to an astronomer in Puerto Rico or a shipís captain in the Straits of Malucca, but to a WESS librarian it should sound like the words "blank check," especially given the further proviso: "Current or historical subjects may be treated." Your research grows naturally out of what you encounter, think and rethink on your job -- or somewhere figuratively close to it. No requirement says you have to discover the meaning of life, have a family name of "Pulitzer" or be employed in an ivy tower at an Ivory-League institution (nor the other way around, either).
(2) It makes good sense (and it could make good guilders) as youíre starting your investigation to get help upfront by e-mail or real mail from librarians, archivists, interview candidates, publishers, book dealers, vinegar distillers, or anyone else with expertise you need. Itís not cheating to ask them about the research facilities and hours, what materials are available on your topic, and what other humans might share your interest at the research location of your choice. You may be surprised to find a specialized bibliography or a crucial point of fact show up in response. Then, when you write your proposal for the grant, you will look as prepared and wizened as you are.
(3) Try to get to the point where youíre honestly more fascinated with finding answers to your research questions than you are with the prospect of a "free trip to Europe." Free trips donít exist any more than free lunches do. Be brutally honest with yourself about the value and methodology of what youíre planning. If youíre not, someone else will do it for you. This is what Librarian "X," near a large, sodium-rich lake, learned the first time he applied for a Nijhoff study grant. His proposal stank. He jettisoned the artificially concocted topic and, a few years later, went for something that spoke to him, so to speak, and it clicked.
(4) Perhaps thereís a kind of logic (sometimes spelled "latschig;" cf. German dictionary) that says: "I tried for the Nijhoff award, but they didnít give it to me. It wasnít meant to be. I give up." Even though the first try of Librarian "X" was a real loser, this is not true for most of you. Nijhoff award juries report having to make tougher and tougher choices in the past few years between viable and very worthy entries. Ergo, if you were not handed the brass ring in a silken etui in a given year, revisit your proposal, see if you can strengthen or focus the details, and reapply. Rethink it and reapply.
(5) In the cinema business, producers often save their best efforts for late in the year, since Oscar voters are likely to remember the most recent films best. This does not altogether apply to Nijhoff award juries: the application deadline is usually in December, itís true, but the advantage goes to those who have gotten their props and scenario together in plenty of time. Let the unnecessary celluloid fall to the editing floor, get that reel in the can, and then casually put the show on the road when you sense that the planets are aligned correctly.
(6) Enjoy the process.
(7) Go thou to the WessWeb
and click for more details.
Richard D. Hacken
European Studies Bibliographer
Brigham Young University Library