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


Reference Question of the Week – 1/23/11

   January 29th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Giant Squid fighting Sperm WhaleThis week's question is yet another one in which I wasn't involved: my library is a funny place all around.

The Children's librarian told me about a young boy she helped in the Childrens Room. He came up to her, all excited, and asked for help looking for information on sperm whales.

No problem, she thought. Animals and endangered species are big topics will school kids in Chelmsford, so we do have a lot of resources for questions like this. And before too long, she was able to find some sperm whale books for him.

The boy was happy, but not satisfied - next, he asked her for books about the "giant colossal squid." That request gave her pause, but every year we all get asked for information on an endangered species that we've never heard of before, so she started looking.

She checked the catalog and subscription databases, and had no luck. Next she went to the animal books and started searching through the indexes of anything that looked remotely promising, but again just could not find anything.

This is the way it continued, with my coworker expanding and expanding her search, trying to locate even a mention of the "giant colossal squid." But no matter what she tried, she couldn't find a thing.

Just then, the boy's mother walked up. After my coworker related to her what she was looking for and how it was going (not well), the mother replied,

Oh, don't worry - he only learned about it in a movie he watched last night. The "giant colossal squid" isn't actually a real animal.

This is why I love librarians - who else would work this hard just because a child was curious about something? Actually, now I'm kind of curious which movie it was this patron watched. Hmm.



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How Sexy Is Your Bible?

   March 11th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Princess Bible book coverHere's another one of those coincidences with the same topic popping up in different contexts throughout the day.

On my way in to work one day last week, I heard a story on the radio (via the BBC) talking about how children are becoming more sexualized. I wouldn't have thought this was possible, but the report described how, for decades, society has told little girls that they need to be thin and pretty. But recently, society has ramped up this message, telling them they need to be thin and pretty and sexually-attractive to boys. It seemed to say that now it's not just about looks, but that sex appeal is also required.

Later at work, our Teen Librarian asked me if I'd heard of a "princess bible." I hadn't, so I looked it up, and sure enough they are for sale. Our reactions were the same, and echoed the point of the radio show earlier: isn't this an odd mixture of religion and sassy sexy self-image?

Not necessarily, of course, because I know my niece likes Disney princesses, and that is totally innocent. Perhaps I'm just being over-sensitive on the little girl sex angle. Maybe it's just the marketing gimmicky feel of it I don't like - it seems akin to using a cartoon camel to peddle cigarette to children. I guess I just question what this princess message is trying to appeal to in young girls - and whether that should be necessary to sell Bibles. It seems a bit at odds with the pious modesty of Christianity.

Interestingly, this book appears in WorldCat.

And just for a counter-point, BoingBoing reports that Campus atheists offer free porn in exchange for Bibles. I guess there's more than one way to connect religion and sex.



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Reference Question of the Week – 1/31/10

   February 6th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Child poetPerhaps it's just my hyperactive paranoia, but anytime someone asked me an unusual question or acts strangely, I think it's some kind of "secret shopper" evaluating my performance. Case in point, a little while ago the reference desk received the following email:

is there a contest I can use to make my kid a famous poet?

That was it - no name, no other information, just that one line. The email address seemed legitimate, so I researched it a bit and replied:

I think I'll need a little bit more information from you, but I do have some suggestions. It would be helpful to know the age of the child, and also what you're looking for in a contest: are you looking for a venue for live readings, a mail-in contest with winners and prizes, just somewhere that will print poetry from children, or something else entirely?

Our Childrens Rooms subscribes to lots of magazines that accept poetry submissions from children. They're not exactly contests, but the poetry is judged to see if it's worthy of publishing in their magazines. One magazine that publishes a lot of poetry is "New Moon" but others do as well.

The Chelmsford Library has a "poetry slam" every April, which is open to all ages. It is a contest in which winners are chosen, but as our website says, it is a gentle contest. And it's held in April because that is National Poetry Month - during that month, there are a lot of other local poetry-related events, but those usually aren't announced or publicized until closer to April.

There are also lots of online poetry contests - here are a few websites I found:

Another resource is the Massachusetts Poetry Festival website, which is building a database of both poets and venues. It doesn't seem like it's ready yet, but their website has a list of the people building the database, so they may have information on contests they could provide you with.

Lastly, I found a article on the eHow.com website that probably says a lot of what you already know, but also had a few interesting tips relating to childrens' poetry contests.

The woman here who organizes the poetry slams is out for the first part of this week, but I think she will have more ideas. I'll ask her when she comes back, and will email you with whatever else she can suggest. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any questions, or if you can be more specific about what you are looking for. Thanks, and take care.

This was at least a month ago, and I never got a response. I'm not sure if it was real or not, but if it was, I hope it was helpful. However (and granted, I am not a parent), it always bothers me when people refer to their child as "kid" and when it seemed parents are forcing their kids* into something for their own benefit. To wit:

Bruno Parenting FAIL video:

 


*Oddly, although calling one child "kid" bothers me, referring to a group of children as "kids" is perfectly fine. "Lady" works the same way - calling one woman "lady" seems rude, but referring to a group of women as "ladies" is okay. I am a complex person.



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