Archives for Reference Question:
January 5th, 2013 Brian Herzog
This has been a heck of a holiday season for some reason, and I'm still trying to get caught up. So, this is just a quickie reference question - although it's more like "readers advisory gone wrong."
One of our patrons submitted a purchase suggestion through our website for the DVD Amongst White Clouds, a documentary on Buddhism and monks. Since it wasn't already owned by any libraries from which it was easily requestable, I looked it up on Amazon to check it out, read reviews, and see if it was worth purchasing.
Most of the reviews were positive, which is good, but sometimes the bad reviews are more informative. This time though, one of them made me laugh out loud:
After reading the documentary description and several rave reviews, I was anxious to watch this movie. It provides a lesson in Buddhism, but not the one I was expecting. ... I got more wisdom from watching Kung Fu Panda with my son, than I got from this movie.
Pretty harsh, but funny. One of my favorite features of professional review journals is when a reviewer says a book isn't very good, and then provides titles that are better. But in this case, I don't think my patron would have been happy with this Amazon reviewer's alternate suggestion.
And actually, after reading about this DVD, I really want to see it now - thanks for the good suggestion, patron.
December 15th, 2012 Brian Herzog
This is actually a "personal experience" reference question - I liked it because it was a fun challenge, but also it made me laugh because it shows you what I get up to in my free time.
Earlier this week I received an envelope in the mail at my house, and it was obviously a Christmas card. However, it wasn't addressed to me - it had my address, but not my name, and I didn't recognize the return address.
Being a reference librarian (and very neighborly), I thought I could just find the right person and deliver it myself, instead of sending it back to the post office to be returned all the way to Texas (based on the return address) - which means it wouldn't have arrived in time for Christmas.
So, looked up the name in the phone book to get the correct address, but it wasn't listed. I also tried searching online, but couldn't find it there, either.
At the library, we have a "List of Residents" which lists people both by name and by street address - however, I don't work in the same town in which I live, so I called my own town's library to see if they had a similar list.
I explained my situation to my colleague there, and of course she was happy to help. She looked up the name I gave her, but it wasn't listed. Then, she went to the "by address" section and, starting with my address, looked at my neighbors' names to see if any matched. I live and #36, and she got all the way to #3 before she found something - but not an exact match.
The first name matched, but the last name, compared to what was written on the envelope, contained a couple extra letters. Phonetically the names probably sounded the same, and I figured that if the sender got the address wrong, she might have misspelled the last name too.
This all took place on a Wednesday, and when I drove by the house after my night shift at the library, all the lights were off in the house so I didn't stop.
However, the next morning on my way in to work I did. I rang the doorbell twice, but no one answered. Just as I was getting back into my Jeep, an older man stepped out of the doorway. I think he regarded me with a little suspicion, but when I walked up and said I lived down the street, he relaxed a little. I gave him the envelope and asked him if it was his name, and it was (although misspelled). We had a little laugh over it, he thanked me, and I continued on to work.
The funny thing is, not a single Christmas goes by that there isn't someone who comes in to look up a neighbor's last name, or a friend's street address, so they can send them a card. Our List of Residents is one of my favorite resources - hyper-local, authoritative, and there is nothing else like it that is as exhaustive.
December 8th, 2012 Brian Herzog
If this question were a tweet, the hashtags could be #bestguess or #thisiswhycitationsareimportant.
A patron walked up to the desk and asked if I could help find the source of a quote. She slid me a small piece of paper with this written on it:
The punishment which the wise suffer who refuse to take part in the government, is to live under the government of worse men.
My favorite quote resource is Bartlett's (I still like print resources - sue me) but it wasn't in there - not under government, punishment, wise, or Plato. I checked a few other large quote dictionaries we had on the shelf, but still no luck.
So I turn to the internet, and am able to find the quote mentioned in plenty of places - but they just attribute it to Plato, without citing where in Plato's work this quote appears.
Until I find the quote on PoemHunter.com, which gives a citation of
Plato (428-347 B.C.), Greek philosopher. Quoted in Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Eloquence," Society and Solitude (1870).
Emerson's Eloquence wasn't hard to find - one place is in the Google Books copy of The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson: Society and solitude. I scrolled in to where Eloquence started and then skimmed until I found:
And the footnote is:
From there, I merrily skipped on over to Google Books' The Republic, and did a series of searches for "punishment," "government," "wise," and "suffer" - but didn't find the quote.
From the context, I really couldn't tell if Emerson was directly quoting Plato, or just paraphrasing his sentiments from Republic. Since the search didn't turn up the quote though, I'm leaning towards paraphrasing.
I brought everything over to the patron, and let her know what I found. I offered to get a copy of Republic for her, in case she wanted to read it herself more thoroughly to find the quote, but she declined. She thought the Emerson source was good enough for her need, and was happy.
I have to admit, this is one of my favorite kind of research - where one resource leads to another, and along the way you uncover bits and pieces you wouldn't have expected. You'd think that with having resources like Google Books online, more and more people would be doing this sort of thing. However, I have the feeling that most people stop after the first website or two. Oh well - just more fun for reference librarians.
November 17th, 2012 Brian Herzog
I've said before that one of my favorite types of reference questions are those I can answer from personal experience. This time, unfortunately, I fell short of living up to my reputation.
A women I had worked with at another library emailed me this question:
...Have you got a pattern for a whistle cozy? ...I need one. And saw your dice pattern on ravelry...so... Got one?
She's referring to a pattern I created to knit a set of Yahtzee die for my brother. That actually wasn't far off from a whistle, but without getting myself a whistle and figuring it out, I had no idea how to modify the pattern to accommodate it.
So, I hoped I could find one online. But when I searched for "knit whistle cozy" (and variations), I kept getting patterns for cozys for penny whistles:
That pattern is basically a thin sock (with no foot), so it shouldn't be too hard to make. However, when she said "whistle," I was thinking more of a referee whistle - and now I wasn't sure what she wanted.
So, before I emailed her back, I kept looking to see if I could find a referee whistle cozy. I searched through Ravelry, a lot of other websites, and checked the index of all the library's knitting books, but I couldn't find one.
However, I did find something close (if you sort of squint your eyes and hold your tongue just right) - a pattern for an asthma inhaler sock.
That seemed shaped more or less like a whistle (and as the creator also noted, more or less like a small foot), so again the pattern is more or less a very small sock pattern. And the best part is that she came up with the pattern herself.
I wasn't sure if either of these patterns would help my friend though, so I put them both into an email, said I wasn't sure about the penny whistle/referee whistle thing, and sent it off.
Shortly thereafter, she wrote back to say it was indeed a referee whistle she was talking about. It turns out a friend of hers is a security guard, who could use something to keep the duty whistle warm and clean. Awesome.
The success of this answer really depends on my friends knitting skills, but hopefully one of these will work. If I were to try it, I think I might just go with the dice pattern and put a little spout on one end - but thankfully, I don't have to. Good luck, E.
November 10th, 2012 Brian Herzog
Sometimes, patrons know they're going to ask an unusual question, and they savor it. This patron had about a two minute preamble when he walked up to the desk - but he could have just lead with the punch line:
Can you tell me where the library bought the couch up in the Children's Room? It's the most comfortable couch I've ever sat in and I want to get one for my house.
This is the couch* in question:
And yes, it is quite comfortable, but the most comfortable? Hmm. During his story, he said he's been looking for a couch for awhile, has visited 20+ furniture stores, and all the couches seem to fall into two categories: not good enough quality, or way too expensive.
He has kids, and he figured that library furniture must be built to last. He was surprised how comfortable it was, and I guess that was it - he liked it, was sick of shopping, and was just done. I bet if I would have taken a check, he would have left with it that day.
But unfortunately, this happened on a Saturday - I didn't know the answer, and the woman who would wasn't back in again until Monday. So I took the patron's name and number and told him we'd call Monday.
When I checked with our office manager, it turns out the couch was from Demco, and cost about $1,200 (looks like our fabric is "cayenne"). So there you go - library as showroom.
People think that saying "I like working in a library because every day is different" is a cliche - but no, it's not. I never dreamed I would be asked this question, but almost anything can be answered. And I really hope this patron buys one for his house - for some reason, that would delight me to no end.
*This is probably more of a loveseat, but it sounds weird to me to refer to something in the Children's Room as a loveseat. My grandma, however, would have called this a davenport.
November 3rd, 2012 Brian Herzog
My coworkers know I'm always on the lookout for unusual reference questions. I was sitting at the desk with a coworker yesterday, when she answered the phone - of course, I could only hear her side of the conversation, but it was enough:
Coworker: Reference desk, can I help you?
Coworker: [turns towards me] You're looking for a version of the movie Casablanca that stars Bugs Bunny, but you don't know the title? Sure, let me check.
[she searches online for casablanca bugs bunny]
Okay, that version is called "Carrotblanca" and [searches our catalog] it looks like we have it, on a DVD called "The essential Bugs Bunny."
She put the DVD on hold for the patron, and everyone was happy. Especially me - patron gets what he wants, and I think "a version of the movie Casablanca that stars Bugs Bunny" is absurdly funny.
Interesting post-script: when I looked up the DVD record while writing this post, I noticed that "The essential Bugs Bunny" also includes Hare and loathing in Las Vegas - now that is something I've got to see.