Reasons to Write

Dawn Bazely
York University

I initially felt quite suspicious when I was first approached, in March 2012, about writing an annotated bibliography. After all, science doesn’t “do” these kinds of things – meaning annotated bibliographies. I was asked to write on Grazing Ecology .

But, my horizons had been broadened: I had recently completed a 5-year term as director of IRIS – the Institute for Research and Innovation in Sustainability, a pan-university research institute at York University, Toronto, where I got to collaborate with colleagues from faculties as diverse as Business, Law, Environmental Studies, and Education. Some of them had told me a bit about annotated bibliographies!

So, I didn’t dismiss the invitation out of hand. I asked a lot of questions about the project, looked up the Ecology Editorial Board , realized that there were lots of recognizable names, and that this was definitely something that respected colleagues were participating in. Plus, I immediately recognized, after reading David Gibson’s Succession bibliography , that these resources were something I would use – especially since they were intended to be living documents that could be updated as frequently as needed. We live in a time in which we are “data rich” but “information poor”. Who do you know who is actually able to keep up with the literature? If you are like me, you have 300 pdfs of unread journal papers in a file on your desktop, which just might be important for your research.

But, the main reason that I said “yes” was simply that I was on a year’s sabbatical, and was heading off to spend three months at Zoology in Oxford University. Being asked to pick out 100-150 of the key writings in Grazing Ecology and write something about them was going to be a mammoth task. But, I was going to be sitting in one of the best libraries on the planet , able to lay my hands on just about anything I would need.

I hung out a lot in the Radcliffe Science Library, where I had written the literature review on sheep grazing behavior for my doctorate in the 1980s. For relaxation, I would visit the dodo and dinosaurs in the next-door Natural History Museum . Researching the bibliography gave me a reason to read new papers, re-read old stuff, and reflect on the field as a whole, for the first time in over 20 years. Along the way, I consulted with lots of colleagues, asking them which grazing paper(s) had most influenced their research. This was a lot of fun, and stimulated some great conversations.

At the end of the day, I am very happy that I decided to participate in the project. Not only did I catch up with the work of a lot of colleagues from the 1980s and 90s who had diverged from my recent research paths, but I got to visit parts of the Oxford libraries in searching out books, such as the Radcliffe Camera that I had never previously visited in the 1980s. I had caused some excitement, when the cover of the copy of Clements’ 1916 book, Plant Succession , that I ordered from the stacks, fell apart in my hands as I removed the ribbon tied around the book – I suggested to the librarians that they consider digitizing the book, since it’s still read quite a lot!