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


Reference Question of the Week – 7/31/11

   August 6th, 2011 Brian Herzog

The Outsiders, by S. E. HintonWhen I came into work one day, I was told that three people were already working on this question and no one could find an answer - we still don't have anything conclusive, so please let me know if you have any suggestions.

A student from a private school a few towns over came in to start her summer reading project. One of the books she has to read is S. E. Hinton's The Outsiders, and in addition to the typical "read and describe" work, this student's assignment also said,

...after you finished reading the book, answer the following questions. If you need help, ask the librarian at your public library for assistance.

  1. The Outsiders begins and ends with the same sentence - does this technique have a name, and if so, what is it?
  2. ...

First of all, it's great that the assignment encourages the students to seek out librarians for help - although bad in this case that we're failing her. Second, I dislike the "does this have a name, and if so, what is it?" - it makes me feel like we're not finding an answer because there isn't an answer, but I don't want to give up looking.

Anyway, of course the first thing I did was grab a copy of The Outsiders to check out the sentences (copy/pasted here courtesy of LibraryThing's Common Knowledge)
First sentence:

When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.

Last Sentence:

And I finally began like this: When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home...

After describing the question to me, my coworker said that they had consulted every literary dictionary and reference book in the library, and also any literary terms website they could find - but hadn't been able to find anything.

My first thought was to try the Descriptionary, which is perfectly designed for this type of question. It's a dictionary that lists information by description, rather than by word, so it lets you look something up by what it is and the book tells you what it's called. However, in this case none of the descriptions matched a story beginning and ending with the same sentence, so no luck there.

My next thought was to ask one of our library volunteers - when she's not volunteering for the library, she's a Professor of Literature in the English Department of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. If anyone would know this, she must.

Later that day I spoke to her and explained the question, and she said she had no idea. She felt that if there was a term for it, it would be a term of rhetoric, so I should search those instead of just literary terms. She also said she'd ask around the department and let me know if any of her colleagues knew.

I searched online for rhetoric terms, and found quite a few glossaries, and although many terms were extremely close, none were exactly right.

Later I heard back from the volunteer - she said that no one she spoke with could identify it, and the only suggestion anyone had, however dubious, was "circular construction." That sounds good on its face, but I couldn't find it listed in any of the glossaries I consulted.

Frustrating. This all happened on Thursday and Friday, and I haven't yet contacted the patron with an answer. So if anyone knows, please comment.

***WARNING: SPOILER ALERT***

Ouroboros - snake eating its tailI read The Outsiders when I was young and don't really remember it, so I was interested to learn about this first/last sentence trick in the book. The book ends with a student being assigned a writing project, and he begins his assignment by writing the first sentence of the novel. This leads to the conclusion that the novel itself was the student's assignment, which is fun because it blends reality with fiction, and turns the story into a sort of mobius strip of plot.

It also reminded me of the imagery of the snake eating its tail - which got me wondering if there is a term for that symbol. It turns out there is: Ouroboros. When I do call this student back on Monday, she'll have all kinds of paths to follow.

Update 8/26/11:
After getting comments on this post, I spoke with the patron by phone, and emailed her a few links. A couple weeks later, she emailed me back:

Thanks for the answer and all the hard work everyone did. I just e-mailed my teacher about the summer assignment and she said circular structure is the correct answer.

Alex

That's great - thanks for helping, everyone.



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Ich bin ein Bibliotecario

   November 4th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Babel Fish from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyLanguage is fascinating to me. I'm particularly interested in the idea that our brains are shaped by the language we use to interpret our environments and communicate - and therefore, people of different cultures do perceive the world differently.

So, apropos of absolutely nothing, here are the translations for a few library-related words, according to the Babel Fish translator.

English library librarian book reading information reference
Dutch bibliotheek bibliothecaris boek lezing informatie verwijzing
French bibliothèque bibliothécaire livre lecture l'information référence
German Bibliothek Bibliothekar Buch Messwert Informationen Hinweis
Greek βιβλιοθήκη βιβλιοθηκάριος βιβλίο ανάγνωση πληροφορίες αναφορά
Italian biblioteca bibliotecario libro lettura informazioni riferimento
Portuguese biblioteca bibliotecário livro leitura informação referência
Russian архив библиотекарь книга чтение информация справка
Spanish biblioteca bibliotecario libro lectura información referencia

Something else neat is that other language can be clever sources of product names - who among us wouldn't buy into a chat reference product called "Referencia?" But my favorite is the word for librarian - "bibliotecario" - I think I might change my business cards.



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Found on Flickr for Fun and Profit

   February 12th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Flickr Loves YouI've had a flickr account for less than a year. Last week, a group contacted me, asking if they could use one of my photographs in their upcoming publication.

This is the second time that this has happened to me (in less than a year!), so I'm guessing it is a common occurrence on flickr.

Weird Massachusetts book coverThe first time it happened, I was almost awestruck: the editors of the Weird U.S. books and television show found me on flickr and wrote asking permission to use some of my photographs in their upcoming Weird Massachusetts book. The photographs they wanted were of Hammond Castle in Gloucester, MA. After exchanging a few emails, I think they're also going to use some I took around Westford, MA, of the Westford Knight and an Edgar Allan Poe memorial.

In exchange, they've agreed to send a couple copies of the book for me and my library, and also come to my library during their book tour.

Schmap LogoThe more recent flickr contact from last week was from Schmap, publisher of, I think, electronic travel guides and maps. They specifically asked about some pictures I took in Omaha, of where I stayed and a couple local businesses.

I didn't get anything in exchange for agreeing to that use, but that's fine. Most of my pictures go up under a Creative Commons license, so I don't really expect anything; just that other people aren't blatantly and secretly using them for commercial use.

If you're interested, I have a screenshot of the Schumap photo release webpage. Also, the text of their license agreement is below - very uncharacteristically of me, I actually read it. I found it interesting how tailored it was to pictures found on flickr - perhaps this is just another sign of how companies and legalese is shifting towards the Web 2.0 environment. It's cheaper to use other peoples' photographs than to hire your own photographers, and people who post publicly are likely willing to share for free.

TERMS OF SUBMISSION

THESE TERMS OF SUBMISSION (THE “TERMS”) REPRESENT A LEGAL AGREEMENT BETWEEN YOU, EITHER AN INDIVIDUAL PERSON OR A SINGLE LEGAL ENTITY (“YOU”), AND SCHMAP, INC. (“SCHMAP”). BY CLICKING THE “SUBMIT” BUTTON, YOU CONFIRM YOUR ACCEPTANCE OF THE TERMS.

1. PHOTOS
The term "Photos" refers to one or more photographs and/or images licensed by You to Schmap pursuant to the Terms.

2. LICENSE GRANT
Subject to the terms and conditions herein, You hereby grant Schmap a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, perpetual license to include the Photos in the current and/or subsequent releases of Schmap's destination/local guides.

3. FAIR USE RIGHTS
Nothing in these Terms is intended to reduce, limit, or restrict any rights arising from fair use, first sale or other limitations on the exclusive rights of the copyright owner under copyright law or other applicable laws.

4. LIMITATIONS
The license granted in Section 2 above is made subject to and limited by the following express limitations:

(a) Schmap may only distribute, publicly display, publicly perform, and/or publicly perform the Photos pursuant to the Terms.

(b) Schmap shall be required to keep intact all copyright notices for the Photos and provide, reasonable to the medium or means of utilization, the name of the original author (or pseudonym, if applicable) if supplied, for attribution in Licensor's copyright notice, terms of service or by other reasonable means, and a credit (implemented in any reasonable manner) identifying the use of the Photos in any derivative Photos created by Schmap.

(c) Schmap shall, to the extent reasonably practicable, provide Internet link(s) to your Photos.

(d) Schmap shall not sublicense the Photos.

(e) Schmap shall indicate to the public that the Photos are licensable to others under the Creative Commons license that you have assigned to the Photos prior to Schmap's initial short-listing of your Photos, and provide a link to this license, where reasonably practical.

(f) Schmap shall continue to make its destination/local guides available at no cost to end users.

5. RIGHTS
You confirm that You own or otherwise control all of the rights to the Photos and that use of the Photos by Schmap will not infringe or violate the rights of any third parties.

6. NO OBLIGATION
Schmap shall have no obligation whatsoever to reproduce, distribute, broadcast, or otherwise make use of the Photos licensed by You to Schmap hereunder.

7. NO AFFILIATION
While the Flickr website and/or Flickr API have been used to short-list your Photos, Schmap claims no affiliation or partnership with Flickr.

8. MISCELLANEOUS
If any provision of the Terms is ruled unenforceable, such provision shall be enforced to the extent permissible, and the remainder of the Terms shall remain in effect. The Terms constitute the entire agreement between the parties with respect to the Photos licensed hereunder. There are no understandings, agreements or representations with respect to the Photos not specified hereunder. If there is any dispute about or involving the Terms or the license granted hereunder, You agree that such dispute shall be governed by the laws of the State of California without regard to its conflict-of-law provisions. You agree to personal jurisdiction by and venue in the state and federal courts of the State of California, City of San Francisco. The license granted in the Terms may not be modified without the mutual written agreement of You and Schmap.



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Search Terms Study

   March 2nd, 2007 Brian Herzog

A post on Slashdot today talked about an interesting visualization of search terms used between 1997 and 2001.

Interesting because of the way the data is displayed (which took a little getting used to), but also interesting in how it shows the maturation of the web, and what people use it for. The data seem to show that in 1997, sex- and chat-related searches where the most popular, but by the end of the data set, people were searching the internet for information and shopping.

I wonder what the trends will be ten years from now, or if this model of searching will even still apply.

chris harrison, search, search clock, search terms, searchclock, searching, terms, visualization



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