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

Traveling, and World Book in Chinese

   April 16th, 2009 Brian Herzog

chinese world book encyclopediaI'm going to Ohio for a week, and so won't be posting for awhile. But here's something:

In preparation for being away, I was trying to clear off my desk at work. A few layers of papers down, I found a scrap with "to blog" ideas scribbled on it. The only one still interesting is that, at the end of last year, our Children's Room purchased the Chinese version of the World Book Encyclopedia.

We have a large Chinese-speaking population, with varying mastery of English, so this will likely be useful to many of our patrons.

But being curious, and lacking a Chinese-speaking staff person, we asked one of the library's regular patrons, originally from Taiwan, to compare a few articles related to China in both editions. Her impression was that, despite the 2007 date on the cover, the information inside seemed to reflect the China of the mid-1980's. This opinion didn't come from an in-depth reading, but she felt that the last 20 years of political change was missing from the Chinese edition.

She also, of course, took great interest in the Taiwan article. Here she felt it was almost identical to the English edition, with only one significant difference. The very end of the article had an extra statement, indicating that Taiwan, as a whole, was looking forward to unification with mainland China.

I would have loved to have this patron (and others) do additional detailed comparisons, but her child was already using one volume to work on her homework, and needed her mother's help. I'm happy this is a resource my library can offer our patrons, and although I'd like to have a better understanding of what patrons are getting out of it, I believe it is playing an important role in our Children's Room.

Have a nice week - I'm off to play with my nieces and nephews.

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Library of Profanity

   January 8th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Bad WordsI'll warn you right up front: this post contains bad words.

While looking for a book on Amazon, I accidentally (really) found a book with the title Fuck this Book. Of course this caught my eye, so I read the description and found it actually sounded interesting (a la Postsecret, Found and Church Signs Across America).

I used the handy greasemonkey script to search my library's catalog directly from Amazon. I was surprised to see that my library had a record for the book, but it was In Cataloging - and has been for three years (there's got to be a story here, and I'm still trying to track it down [update: I asked around and learned the story, and the book has since, sadly, been deleted from our catalog]).

But this got me thinking: what other bad words are indexed in the library catalog? I ran some searches, and was surprised at the results. In my library's holdings alone, fuck has 12 matches and shit has 16 matches. I ran through a list of bad words, but most others also had non-bad meanings (pussy cat, Dick Cheney, etc).

I think it's important for libraries to provide unfiltered access to information, and not vilify a work or person because they violate a social taboos (besides, profanity is often in the eye of the beholder).

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