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 – 3/28/10

   April 3rd, 2010 Brian Herzog

1040 starsThis isn't really a reference question, but it is a question from a patron. It's, well, you decide:

Patron: Have you see the monk hidden on the cover of the tax forms?

As Liz Lemon would say, "what the what?" The patron explained, somewhat cryptically, that the negative space between the stars on this year's 1040 instruction booklet cover design seemed to form a monk.

Can you see it? Hover your mouse over the image to see what he was talking about. It's slightly easier to see on a larger animated version on flickr.

I saw it after he pointed it out, but personally, I think it looks more like Darth Vader. The conspiracist in me knows it's not unusual that secret symbols appear in government printing, but they're usually more Masonic than Imperial (but maybe the stars were just to much to resist).

There must be a word for this - hidden pictures formed by positive space shapes. This is sort of like the distorted tessellations in MC Escher's art, but not quite. I looked around but couldn't find a name or description, so I'll keep looking.

In the meantime, if you're interested, here are a few examples of logos employing negative space.

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