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

Reference Question of the Week – 1/13/08

   January 19th, 2008

Captain Marvel coverReference questions don't need to be very challenging to be interesting. This is interesting for many reasons:

Early in the week, one of our regular patrons, a nice woman in her late fifties or early sixties, came up to me and says:

I'm part of an adult women's dance group, and for our upcoming recital, we all are going to dress as superheroes. Do you have a list of women superheroes?

I thought this was neat - I read a lot of comic books while growing up (mostly Sgt. Rock, G.I. Combat, The Punisher), so I like superheroes. I don't think I could ever bring myself to dress as one, let alone while dancing in front of people, but I often pale in comparison to other people.

Anyway, she said she had tried Google but had no luck with the internet, and so was interested in a book that might list them. We have a respectable collection of illustration and animation books, so I took her to the shelf of 741.5 to see what we could find.

While she flipped through books with titles like DC Comics : 60 Years of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heros and The World Encyclopedia of Comics, I went back to the desk to check the internet. I thought surely there would be some superhero internet resource.

I started with a simple Google search for "list of female superheroes," and the first return was a Wikipedia's List of superheroines article.

Perfect. It lists over 400 superheroines (as opposed to superheroes), and each is a link to more information about that character - often with a picture, too.

I went back to the patron to ask how she was doing. She said that everyone listed in the books were already taken by another dancer, or the costume was too skimpy or too complicated for her to make.

I brought her to one of the public computers and showed her how I searched and found the Wikipedia list, and she was amazed. She couldn't remember exactly how she had searched herself, but she could hardly believe that I could find something that she missed. So, she wrote down the URL and was said she'd look at the list at home.

Usually, that's the end of the story. However, yesterday, the patron came back in, with a printout. She came to the Reference Desk, held it up, and proudly announced "I'm going to be Mary Marvel!"

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