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Reference Question of the Week – 7/19/09

   July 25th, 2009

Dictionary Missing PagesHere's something you never expect. A patron calls in and asks:

I want to get a cat, but I don't know what some of the words mean that they're using to describe this breed. Can you tell me what docile, placid and amicable mean?

I knew the general sentiment of these words, but whenever someone asks me the meaning of a word, I like to look it up in a dictionary to give them the real meaning. In this case, I looked up docile and placid with no problem, reading the patron the definitions.

However, when I went for amicable, I got a surprise - our (newly purchased this year) dictionary skipped from aggressive to baby. That seemed like a bit of an omission, so I checked the page numbers - sure enough, our dictionary was missing pages 25-88. Wow.

I quickly switched to the internets to finish answering the patron's question, and since he was on the phone, he never knew the difference.

One of the criteria I use when evaluating books for the reference collection is, "can we answer patrons' questions even if our internet connection is down?" But when it comes to resource redundancy, I've never asked myself, "will I still be able to provide definitions even if 60+ pages are missing from a book?"

I sure hope Merriam-Webster gives us a new dictionary.

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5 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 7/19/09”

  1. Hope Rider Says:

    After reading this post, I had to run and check our copy of the same edition. Thank goodness ours has all its pages!

  2. Arthur Bicknell Says:

    We’re sorry to hear you received a defective copy of the Collegiate Dictionary. Occasionally there can be errors in the printing process that may result in missing pages. If you have not already contacted us directly about the problem, please email me, abicknell, at Merriam-Webster.com.

  3. Lauren F. Says:

    Those are the tricky ones to find–the upside-down books and the books with actual mold growing on them are easy, but those books missing pages from the middle don’t usually get found until someone actually uses the book. I’ve had that happen to me twice, both times with fiction books.

  4. Phillip Kwik Says:

    Why wouldn’t you have started with the Internet on this question? I would have.

    And what do you mean, “since he was on the phone, he never knew the difference.” If the patron was in front of you, would you have not used the Internet, pretending it to be inferior, and instead used a print source?

    It’s 2010. The Internet is reference.

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Phillip: I didn’t mean to imply the inherent inferiority of any resource. All resource have pros and cons. In this case, I picked a print dictionary, because it was closer at hand than a computer – which would have still been true if it had been an in-person question. Plus, I like using print resources.

    I continue to use as wide an array of resources as possible, because they are all just individual tools available for reference. Different situations call for different approaches, and I think that will still be true in 2010.