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


Book-Related Diversions and Professional Development

   July 18th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Here is an assortment of things people have sent me recently, or just random items from the internet (so I can clear out my "to blog" folder):



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/22/12

   April 28th, 2012 Brian Herzog

W.E.B. Griffin's "Under Fire" coverA friend of mine from library school, who now works in a library in Northeastern Ohio, told me about an interesting reference transaction that is worth sharing here:

On a recent Monday, a customer approached me with a stack of paperbacks from another library. We don’t carry many, preferring to stock our fiction shelves with hardcovers and replacing with paperbacks only when necessary, so I assumed he wanted to order some more. Instead, he said, “I don’t think W.E.B. Griffin really wrote these books. I would like to know who did.”

The question took me by surprise. “I’ve read all of his books,” the customer insisted, “and these aren’t like his other ones. I want you to let everyone know that he didn’t write them. Including this other library that I got them from.”

My friend knew, which I did not, that Griffin was currently writing his books with a co-author (his son, William E. Butterworth IV). The titles in question were from Griffin’s early writing career though, so she searched Fantastic Fiction and NoveList but could find no evidence that Griffin hadn't written the books himself.

Her mind went to the same place mine did: James Frey, The Last Train from Hiroshima, and the many other book hoaxes and fake memoirs that have been identified.

My friend is a writer, and she explained to the patron that the difference could be attributed to the author’s age, his style changing over time, and the influence of his son’s writing style. I thought this too, and it reminded me of an NPR story of someone applying textual analysis to Agatha Christie's books. They found that, although never acknowledged in real life, the vocabulary and writing style of her last book seems to indicate that she was suffering from Alzheimer's when she wrote it.

The patron seemed satisfied with her explanation, although he still wanted my friend to “let the other libraries know” - she felt a responsibility to the patron to do so, but just wasn't sure how.

We have had this same discussion in my library, most recently with The Last Train from Hiroshima. We discussed putting a note in the catalog record, a label on the book itself, or shelving it in fiction, but ultimately just sent it back to the publisher. In a cut-and-dry case such as that, I think it'd be okay. But in this case, with just a single patron's suspicions, I don't think there can possibly be any library responsibility here.

Finding out a non-fiction book is false is one thing - just one person suspecting an author of a fiction book didn't actually write is entirely different. My friend went on to say that if the patron had kept pushing, she would have found contact information for the author and publisher, so the patron could contact them directly. I agree - I don't think we can investigate claims like this, but we certainly can handle them once they've been proven. In this particular case, I think my friend did the right thing - made the patron happy.



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Coming Soon: Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library

   August 19th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Kurt Vonnegut Memorial LibraryKurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors, and I first read many of his books at a time when my personality and outlook on life were still impressionable as wet cement. His writing style, and both of us being from the Midwest, played a large part in my love of reading and writing.

So I'm happy to hear that the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library is opening in his home town of Indianapolis in this Fall.

It is fitting to call it a library, because he was certainly a prolific writer and a great supporter of libraries. However, the description on the website makes it sound more like a museum, community center and art gallery. It's collection will house many of his letters and works and so will be a research center, and they also plan to publish a literary magazine and sponsor writers workshops.

They have a newsletter and are on Facebook, and all of it makes me really look forward to visiting.

via LISNews



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Life, the Universe, and Street Names

   December 11th, 2007 Brian Herzog

42nd Street signIt's not uncommon to honor someone by naming a street after them. To honor one of my favorite authors, a group in Portland, Oregon is trying to get 42nd Avenue named after Douglas Adams.

What a great idea. It is so much better than just changing the name of "Elm St." or "Main St." to the name of a famous person - 42 actually is relevant to Douglas Adams' life, works, and his fans.

Here's a few more reason, from the group's website:

  • It will reflect Portlanders’ commitment to the arts.
  • It will reflect Portlanders’ respect for the environment.
  • It will reflect Portlanders’ desire to provide technological access to all.
  • It will reflect Portlanders’ passion to further education to all people.
  • It will remind all Portlanders’ the most important lesson in times of uncertainty and fear…
    …DON’T PANIC.

I hope that the Portland Library has gotten behind this effort, as it is a great way to promote reading and fun. This is also something other communities could do, as well - well, those with 42nd streets.

via slashdot

42, 42nd avenue, author, authors, books, douglas adams, rename 42nd



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