May 14th, 2011 Brian Herzog
I'm using this question because, well, it's not funny, but I did find it remarkable.
One afternoon, a high school girl walked up to the desk and said she has to do a report on the girl that started the Amber Alert.
She wasn't sure what that Amber's full name was, and I didn't know either, but a quick internet search for just amber alert led to the Wikipedia article that gave the little girl's full name: Amber Hagerman.
I searched our catalog for her name, but got no results. Before I took the girl to our biography encyclopedias to just start flipping through the indexes, I wanted to check our Gale biography database. I logged in from our website, searched for her name, and saw this:
Occupation: Victim? Really? I'm sure that's just the name of the field, and they had to put something in there, and for 99% of the biographies, the person's occupation is why they are famous. But my gosh, how sad.
It didn't phase my patron one bit, but the articles from the database didn't actually help much. We checked a couple other databases, and between that and resources and references on the Wikipedia articles, she felt we found enough. She left happy, but that "Victim" listing really bothered me.
April 22nd, 2010 Brian Herzog
My library's ever-shrinking book budget has made me be more discerning when it comes to selection. However, one area that is always difficult for me is biographies.
It seems like every troubled athlete, aging celebrity, recovering musician, reality television personality, unfaithful politician (and their wives), have all signed book deals. I don't pay much attention to pop culture personalities, so it's hard for me to tell if the person is someone significant.
So I was joking with a coworker about a new selection criteria for all of these celebrity memoirs. Since the importance of many of these people is based on social zeitgeist, I thought I could use Google to help me decide. I figure that if a person is important, a Google search for that person's name should return at least one million webpages. If they're above that (arbitrary) threshold, I'll buy their biography - if not, then I'll check again when the paperback comes out.
Granted, not all my ideas are practical, but here's how some current biographies fare with this "hive mind" selection criteria:
- The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama, by David Remnick (51,900,000 for "Barack Obama")
- Oprah: A Biography, by Kitty Kelley (21,900,000 for "Oprah")
- Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin, by Hampton Sides (12,300,000 for "Martin Luther King")
- Bowie: A Biography, by Marc Spitz (10,400,000 for "David Bowie")
- Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea, by Chelsea Handler (3,450,000 for "Chelsea Handler")
- The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee, by Sarah Silverman (2,810,000 for "Sarah Silverman")
- Staying True, by Jenny Sanford (2,280,000 for "Jenny Sanford")
- A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future: Twists and Turns and Lessons Learned, by Michael J. Fox (1,430,000 for "Michael J. Fox")
- Raquel: Beyond the Cleavage, by Raquel Welch (1,250,000 for "Raquel Welch")
- This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection, by Carol Burnett (868,000 for "Carol Burnett")
- A Game of Character: A Family Journey from Chicago's Southside to the Ivy League and Beyond by Craig Robinson (504,000 for "Craig Robinson")
- When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man by Jerry Weintraub and Rich Cohen, (373,000 for "Jerry Weintraub")
- I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, by Nujood Ali (268,000 for "Nujood Ali")
- The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century, by Alan Brinkley (193,000 for "Henry Luce")
- Killing Willis: From Diff'rent Strokes to the Mean Streets to the Life I Always Wanted, by Todd Bridges and Sarah Tomlinson (141,000 for "Todd Bridges")
- Fighter Pilot: The Memoirs of Legendary Ace Robin Olds, by Robin Olds, Christina Olds, and Ed Rasimus (122,000 for "Robin Olds")
Obviously, not flawless, but this Google criteria might help tell me who I should pay attention to. And in addition to traditional reviews and ratings, another one of my tactics is to wait until requests for a book reach a certain number before ordering it, but that method only addresses demand after the fact, and leaves out the patrons who didn't think to request it.
Selection is a fine art, but when it comes to biographies, most my crayons are dull.
Tags: biographies, biography, Books, collection development, google, libraries, Library, memoir, memoirs, popular, popularity, public, selection, zeitgeist