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


Reference Question of the Week – 5/1/11

   May 7th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Emporer TrajanThis week's question has a bonus happy epilogue.

A mom and daughter walk up to the desk. The mom starts to explain how the daughter has a homework project on ancient Greece, but the topic she originally was given was too hard so the teacher gave her a new one. The mom then blanked on the new topic, and so told the daughter to tell me what it was - the daughter said,

The Trojan Emperor.

I had never heard of an Emperor of Troy, or any Greek Emperors for that matter. But since there are lots of things that fall into that category, I took them down to the 938's and started looking through the indexes of books on Ancient Greece with them.

After just a minute or two of not finding anything at all, the whole thing just didn't feel right, so I told them to keep looking while I went back to the desk to try something else. In this case, the "something else" was to search the internet for "trojan emperor," thinking I would find a name or some other information to help with the search.

I did - Google's search result page prompted:

Did you mean: trajan emperor

Ha - I totally did. I knew "Trojan Emperor" sounded kind of right, but not completely. "Emperor Trajan" makes much more sense.

I walked back down to the mom and daughter to tell them what I found. As soon as I said it the girl recognized it as what her teacher had told* her. I switched them to looking at the books on ancient Rome (937's), and instantly the daughter had more than enough information for her project.

So that's great - the patrons were happy they got what they needed, and reference transaction over.

 

Epilogue
As I walked back to the desk, I kind of grumbled to myself...

So typically library - Google is smart enough to correct a mistake like that and suggest the right answer. Our catalog should be able to do the same thing.

By the time I got back to the desk, it occurred to me that I hadn't actually ever checked the catalog - I just knew where those books are on the shelves, and took the patron right to them. But I also know that our current catalog doesn't have any kind of suggestion feature.

However, my consortium will be switching to Evergreen over Memorial Day weekend. Our Reference Desk has gotten into the habit of repeating each patron search in the Evergreen demo catalog to see how it works (thanks for the idea, Katie), so I ran this search on our test server to see how it handled it. And guess what? It worked!

Few hits were returned for your search.
Maybe you meant: Trajan emperor

One problem with it is that it's just way too subtle at the bottom of the page, but the nice thing about open source is that I can lobby to have that changed. But just that fact that it's there at all is a huge step into the modern internet world. Yay for progress.

 


*This is why it's important for assignments to be written down. And why it's helpful to bring the assignment sheet to the library.



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Reference Question of the Week – 10/10/10

   October 16th, 2010 Brian Herzog

This question was interesting, and in honor of the nature of this question, the alternate title for this post is "Reference Question of the Week - X/X/X."

One of my brothers came across some old Roman coins, and asked me if I could help identify them. The cleanest one he had looked like this (front and back):

Roman Coin

He had found out about a book called Eric: The Encyclopedia of Roman Imperial Coins which should be a fairly comprehensive list, and wanted to know if my library had a copy. We don't, and according to WorldCat, it's not widely available at all. It is published by Dirty Old Books (which is the best possible name for a coin book publisher), and I found the full-text available as a PDF download [ZIP, 65MB!] from their website.

After it downloaded and I started flipping through it looking at the pictures, I was overwhelmed to see how many different Roman coins there were - but I guess that's what you get when you rule the earth for centuries.

So, I decided to try a different tactic. I went to Google Image search, and started searching on phrases that described the back of the coin - "roman coin two people tower," ancient coin two soldiers," etc. I started switching between both Images search and Web search, thinking the text descriptions in the Web search might give me more keywords, and that's exactly what happened with "coin soldiers standing tower."

On that search, the third return was titled Constantine, Roman Imperial Coins reference at WildWinds.com and had in the description "...two soldiers standing front, holding spears, heads turned inward at two standards between them..." which sounded promising. On that page I did a Ctrl+f for "two soldiers," and seemed to definitely be getting close. I also noticed that the words "GLORIA EXERCITVS" were printed on a lot of the coins. The writing on my brother's coin was too faint to read, but now that I knew what to look for, I could pick out the letters.

So I tried an image search for "GLORIA EXERCITVS" and hit the mother load.

Clicking on a few of those lead to http://www.romancoin.info which had a lot of information. I couldn't find the exact face on the front of the coin, but by scrolling down a bit, I found the exact coin back under the "Reverses" section of "Part 1 – The Era of Constantine the Great, his Sons and Rivals (320 – 337 A.D.)." So that seems to limit the coin's era and it also linked to a spreadsheet [XLS, 412KB] of all the coins that use that have that design on the reverse.

It didn't make much sense to me, but I sent all of this to my brother hoping that between the websites, spreadsheet, ERIC pdf and him using a magnifying glass to get more detail from the coin, he'd be able to identify it exactly.

But then again, narrowing it down to the reign of Constantine the Great might be enough. Unfortunately, it seems like these coins are fairly common and not very valuable. Still, pretty neat - I love my job.



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