August 20, 2009 by
I recently finished a housing search in Boulder, Colorado. After seeing nearly a dozen apartments, I ended up with a fabulous place to live. But along the way, I also saw the most frightening rental property I have ever seen. Let’s call it “the cottage.”
The cottage was advertised in the local paper with very little detail–just a price, a neighborhood, and a phone number. The price and location matched what I was looking for, so I called the owner to find out more about the property. He described it as a “rustic” one bedroom, single-family home, and warned that a tenant had just moved out, so it probably needed a good cleaning before anyone else could move in. I made an appointment to see it later that morning. I had a very what-the-hell attitude since it was the first day of my housing search, and I figured that it couldn’t hurt to just take a look. It wouldn’t waste much time, and I had other apartments to look at later in that same neighborhood.
I arrived at the cottage to find that it was an in-law building built behind another home and accessible only from an alley, not the street on which its address implied it sat. It was surrounded by overflowing dumpsters and recycling bins. The entire house was no more than 250 square feet, and it smelled of dead mice and mold. It appeared (and smelled!) as if it had been vacant for some time. There were no interior walls, and the ceilings were only about six feet high. There were holes and cracks in the wood flooring that appeared to be open to a crawl space below. There was no overhead lighting. A previous tenant had been heating the building with a space heater. The refrigerator was mid-1950s vintage–and not in a good way. I’ll spare you a description of the bathroom.
Basically, this place was a nightmare. The punchline to this story? The landlord wanted $900 a month plus utilities.
So why am I posting this on Librations? What does it have to do with libraries, or beer for that matter? First, I really wanted a drink after seeing this place. And second, this is a great example of how I could have applied my super-librarian powers of information literacy skillz to a real-life situation.
Even though the cottage was advertised in an actual newspaper (this wasn’t some shady Craigslist posting), and the owner paid money (albeit a small amount) for the ad, this doesn’t mean that any of the implied authority that comes with such a source should be automatically associated with the product being advertised. As librarians, we deal with this sort of thing all the time. Venerated publishers can do sleazy things (like Elsevier publishing fake journals to sell pharmaceuticals). And Wikipedia (the anti-Elsevier?) has a large number of well written, clearly cited, and authoritative articles, particularly on topics related to popular culture and technology.
The owner’s use of the term “rustic” probably should have set off alarm bells in my head. In a similar vein, pseudo-research about controversial topics can often be spotted based on the language and style used to discuss an issue.
And finally, sometimes you just have to dive into something to figure out if its credible, relevant to your research, and appropriate for the task at hand. Man cannot survive on abstracts alone. It was in the owner’s interest not to tell me too much about the cottage over the phone, so I had to see it for myself and experience the horror first hand.
Seeing this terrifying building wasn’t a failure, just as coming across an article or a book you end up not needing isn’t a failure, either. It’s just part of the process. Research (and house hunting), isn’t always clean, linear, quick, or easy. Sometimes it involves dead ends, wrong turns, and readjustments.
And what’s a good house hunt without at least one horror story, right?