or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk



Reference Question of the Week – 8/22/10

   August 28th, 2010

gonzoThis was sort of a frustrating question, but in the end was fun - mainly because I get to tag this post "gonzo reference."

A patron came rushing up to the desk (literally) and said he quickly needed to know John Philip Sousa's religion. Since time was important, I gave the patron Encyclopedia Britannica and showed him how to find the John Philip Sousa article, while I searched Wikipedia. Neither identified his religion, so the next step was to grab the one Sousa biography we had on the shelf, and the patron looked through the index under "faith," "religion," etc., while I kept searching our databases and the internet.

Again, neither of us located anything quickly, except for a quote online attributed to Sousa:

My religion lies in my composition.

That didn't exactly answer the patron's question, but he felt Sousa must have meant that, regardless of what religion he was officially, he wasn't himself a very religious person, and that was good enough for the patron. He thanked me and rushed out.

But I was still surprised that such an simple fact wouldn't have been more readily available. I decided to keep searching until I found it, and then add the fact to Wikipedia - mainly because I can. I was already in the library's catalog, so I requested a Sousa biography from another library (John Philip Sousa: American Phenomenon) that seemed likely to have the information.

When it arrived, I started flipping through it, then wondered if this had been scanned into Google Books - turns out, it had. I searched the content of the book for "religion" and found the answer I was looking for at the bottom of page 102.

I then composed a little paragraph and added it to Wikipedia:

Although Freemasonry is an organization influenced by religious beliefs, John Philip Sousa himself was not. He was an Episcopalian, and while tolerant of religious beliefs in general, he personally regarded music as providing more Divine inspiration for people than Sunday sermons.[13] He is also widely quoted saying, "My religion lies in my composition."[14]

So I was feeling pretty good with myself for tracking down this information and contributing it to Wikipedia - with the logic of, "if you can't find a reference, make a reference." But then it occurred to me: if the book I found the information in is in Google Books, why didn't show up in my initial internet search.

I don't know if it did then and I just missed it, but now this book, linking directly to page 102, is showing up as the fourth result for a search on "john philips sousa religion." Hmm. So despite my boasting last week, even information professionals can miss things. Oh, and by the way, he was Episcopalian.




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2 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 8/22/10”

  1. Kersten Says:

    Funny, I clicked on your link to search for “john philips sousa religion” in Google and YOUR blog post is coming up fourth (!) – not the Google book — on my search that Google book is coming up sixth. Funny :)

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Kersten: oh no – that’s another example of gonzo reference, I guess, but I didn’t mean to push the real resource further down. Oh well.