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


Reference Question of the Week – 10/2/11

   October 8th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Map of New York StateI've been out most of this week at conferences and meetings, so haven't been in the library enough to get a really good reference question. But I did get one directly from someone who reads this website, which I thought would be fun for other people to try. His question:

Here is a nice reference question for you. I tried to answer it but couldn't. It's a question I got from a colleague (at the university I work for) who got it from his daughter (a junior high student).

In the state of New York there are several places that are also found in a number of other states. Name the New York places that match these descriptions.

Place 1
Is also located in 11 other states: Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania.

Place 2
Is also located in 15 other states: Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa,Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin.

Place 3
Is also located in 27 other states: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin.

Place 4
Is not only located in 9 other states: California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Oregon, Pennsylvania,Virginia, Wisconsin
But is also the name of a Canadian province.

I found a Wikipedia page (but not the right answers) and a page made by Dan Tilque which was about toponyms

I believe I found the Wikipedia page he referenced, as well as an About.com page, but they didn't answer the question. The reference to Dan Tilque ended up leading to a journal named Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics. He apparently was the author of an article in 2001 named Common Place Names, but when I tried finding that journal in our databases, the coverage only goes back to 2002 - that's frustrating.

The Most Common US Place Names Wikipedia article cites the Census Bureau's American FactFinder as the source, but I played with their interface and couldn't find any kind of listing that would help with this question (but did learn that they're releasing a new version of the FactFinder soon).

I tried searching online for things like toponym trivia "new york", but had no luck - does anyone know a resource to answer this type of question?



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/25/10

   May 1st, 2010 Brian Herzog

Light bulb going on over headI know I'm late to the party on a lot of things. Sometimes I'll even know about the party, but it just doesn't occur to me to show up - until it suddenly does.

I don't mean to be cryptic - I'm just trying to be creative about to introducing you to my stupid side.

This week's reference question is one that I've been asked occasionally since the late 1990's (way before my library days). The question is this:

How do I get a list of the names of all of the file that are on my disk?

In Windows, I had never found a good way to do this, which meant either using a screenshot, or typing out all of the file names, or, on each file, Right-click > Rename then highlighted the text and Copy. I think other OS's, even DOS, do a better job of this, but or public workstations are limited to Windows.

But when a patron asked me this question this week, this very obvious workaround popped up out of nowhere: just browse to that disk using an internet browser.

When we plugged her flash drive into the computer, the contents of the drive popped up in a Windows Explorer window. I right-clicked on the Address bar and copied the directory path:

Files on Flash Drive

Then I pasted that path into Firefox's address bar and hit Enter (this will work for any directory, folder, floppy disk, CD, etc.). The contents of the flash drive were displayed, and I could highlight and copy the file names:

Files in Firefox

In this case, the patron wanted to paste the list into an email message, so I pasted them into Notepad to show them below:

Files pasted into Notepad

She had to delete the "File:" that was tacked on to the beginning of each file name, and I think she deleted some of the file details. This was much better than having to retype all of the file names, so she was happy about it.

I have no idea why this never occurred to me before - I guess this question can be filed under "eureka" and crossed-referenced under "d'oh."



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This Post Is Just Six Words Long

   September 10th, 2009 Brian Herzog

This has nothing to do with anything, but length of the domain name on this postcard made me laugh:

long domain name

It's no fault of theirs, really - just bad luck on the name of their organization. And actually, it's probably more memorable and less confusing that MARILFN.org or MANDRILN.org or any other variant.

And In case you're interested on this Thursday, here are a couple other long-URL related links to enjoy:

And the title?



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Reference Question of the Week – 5/6

   May 12th, 2007 Brian Herzog

I'm traveling to Ohio this weekend, to celebrate both Mother's Day with my Mom and Grama, and my brother Mike's 30th Birthday (May 9th). So, this week's reference question is family-related.

My sister announced in March that she's going to be having her third child, which got everyone excited. Her first two are boys (Andrew, 5, and Jake, 2), so needless to say she is really hoping for a girl this time.

Ultrasound image with 'Hello my name is Max' stickerOn Tuesday night she called to tell me that she is, indeed, having a girl. Hooray for Jenny. During the course of the call, we started talking about names for the baby, and she said she and her husband were having trouble picking a name this time.

Jenny is usually up on what's trendy, and the names of my two nephews turned out to pretty much be the "in" names for the years they were born. But with this one, they're stuck. They didn't like the idea of looking at baby-name books (I don't know why), so I suggested some fun online tools.

One, from the Social Security Administration, lists Popular Baby Names according to newborns registered for social security numbers. It shows which names were popular each year back to 1880, as well as allows searching by a name to see how popular it has been over time ("Brian" was #8 in 1974, but has since slipped to #63). There is also a by-state breakdown, to show which names are popular in different parts of the country.

The second fun website I use for baby names is the NameVoyager Baby Name Wizard. It requires java, but is visually-appealing. Type in a name, and it shows a popularity graph (which indeed confirms that "Brian" peaked in the early '70s). Mousing-over the graph gives a ranking by year for the last couple years, then by decade for the '90s and back.

A few other sites I pulled from the Librarian's Index to the Internet's listings for baby name resources are:

  • http://www.babynames.com: ad-supported searchable names database, which also provides short meanings (I am High and Noble) and origins. Also has lists of names from Shakespeare, J.R.R. Tolkien, and soap operas
  • http://tools.oxygen.com/babynamer: database of over 23,000 names - plus source, meaning, popularity, alternate spellings, teasing nicknames, and pronunciation. Also provides a bunch more information
  • http://www.babycenter.com: more of a "pregnancy central command," which does list names, but also lets expectant mothers chart their development, connect with other pregnant women, and also provides related articles

So, no word yet on what name they might choose. But I know what girl names they're not going to use. Below are the names I've reserved (on the off-chance that I ever have children) that my siblings can't use for their kids:

Girl Names

  • Samantha
  • Alexandria
  • Sylvia
  • Sophia
  • Anna (Brother Tim named my niece Annabelle, without clearing it with me first)
  • Emma
  • Abigail
  • Kathrine
  • Molly
  • Clarie
Boy Names

  • Edwood
  • Hunter
  • Samuel
  • Benjamin
  • Eliot

What? Don't like my names? Try making up your own. I just learned this morning that Jason Lee named his son Pilot Inspektor. Huh.

babies, baby, baby names, babynames, libraries, library, name, names, naming babies, public libraries, public library, reference question



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