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


Reference Question of the Week – 1/9/11

   January 15th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Movie Suggestion FAILThis week's question wasn't difficult, and isn't particularly unusual, but I'm sharing it because I like the resource we ultimately found to answer it.

An older patron walked up to the desk and said,

I don't really follow popular culture, but I think I should start watching more movies. Can you tell me which movies were the most popular in each of the last five or so years?

My first suggestion was to check the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, but he felt that winning an award didn't necessarily mean it was popular. Besides, he said, he didn't just want a list, he also wanted to read summaries of the movies.

When he said that, I walked him back to where the film and movie books are (791.4375). I showed him Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, and a few others. None of the books on the shelve arranged films by year, but he did like all the reviews and ratings, and he especially liked 1001 Movies... because it listed movies by genre.

The patron took those over to a table while I went back to the desk to find a chronological list. At the desk I told my coworker about the question I was working on, and just then the phone rang. I answered it, helped the caller with their question, and by the time I hung up my coworker had already searched online and found the perfect resource for this question.

The website is Films101.com, and it lets you see lists of movies in all kinds of different ways - by rating, year, gross revenues, genre, award winners, and on and on. Clicking on any movie led to reviews, and the website's layout was uncluttered and easy to navigate.

The listing that best fit this question was their Yearly Top 10. Since the website format was clean with no sidebars full of ads, I was able to print a double-sided list all the way back to 2003 on a single sheet of paper. I brought this over to the patron, and his face lit up - he said it was exactly what he was looking for.

He came by the desk a few minutes later, saying he was checking out Leonard Maltin's latest book, so he could go down the list and look up each one. He also pointed out that he was happy foreign films were included, because "there's a lot going on outside this country."

Any kind of movie suggestions (or readers advisory) can be tough because once you get beyond award winners, everything is so subjective. Something else I liked about this website was that it continually took in new data, so rankings sometimes changed based on new review sources.

Yay for giving a patron what he wanted, and for teamwork.



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Reference Question of the Week – 9/23/07

   September 29th, 2007 Brian Herzog
The Simpsons Movie cover The Brink's Job cover

A patron called in with this question:

Can you tell me the box office grosses for two movies? I need to know how much The Simpsons Movie and The Brink's Job each made.

While he was talking, I quickly went to the Internet Movie Database and searched for The Simpsons Movie. I had never looked up box office figures there before, but it sounded like something they would have.

And they did - clicking on the Box Office/Business link under "Other Info" on the left side shows an extensive breakdown of box office grosses.

Unfortunately, The Brink's Job did not have this link, so I told the patron I'd keep looking and call him when I found it.

I next went to the general internet, trying various searches like "the brinks job +gross," "movie grosses," etc., but didn't have much luck. I did find a few useful websites to remember (some with pop-up ads):

But none of them had The Brink's Job - either it was too old (it came out in 1978), or it didn't gross enough to be noteworthy. I also tried all of our print film encyclopedias, but couldn't find this figure anywhere.

I called the patron back to let him know, and he said it was okay. It turns out these movies are his daughter's and mother's favorite movies, and he was just curious to compare their grosses.

But still - it bothers me not to be able to find an answer. Bleh. I'm going to be looking for this all week.



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