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

New Biography Selection Criteria

   April 22nd, 2010 Brian Herzog

BiographiesMy library's ever-shrinking book budget has made me be more discerning when it comes to selection. However, one area that is always difficult for me is biographies.

It seems like every troubled athlete, aging celebrity, recovering musician, reality television personality, unfaithful politician (and their wives), have all signed book deals. I don't pay much attention to pop culture personalities, so it's hard for me to tell if the person is someone significant.

So I was joking with a coworker about a new selection criteria for all of these celebrity memoirs. Since the importance of many of these people is based on social zeitgeist, I thought I could use Google to help me decide. I figure that if a person is important, a Google search for that person's name should return at least one million webpages. If they're above that (arbitrary) threshold, I'll buy their biography - if not, then I'll check again when the paperback comes out.

Granted, not all my ideas are practical, but here's how some current biographies fare with this "hive mind" selection criteria:

Obviously, not flawless, but this Google criteria might help tell me who I should pay attention to. And in addition to traditional reviews and ratings, another one of my tactics is to wait until requests for a book reach a certain number before ordering it, but that method only addresses demand after the fact, and leaves out the patrons who didn't think to request it.

Selection is a fine art, but when it comes to biographies, most my crayons are dull.

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Reference Question of the Week – 8/3/08

   August 9th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Andre Agassi[Note: I'm starting to feel bad that most of the "reference question of the week" questions lately have just been humorous or interesting, but not challenging or requiring strategy or unique reference resources. I'll try to do better in the future.]

A patron walks up to the desk with "Memories coming from a Tennis Star by Alfred A. Knopf" written on a piece of paper. She hands it to me and says, "I read about this book in the paper, about Andre Agassi - can you request if for me?"

That's pretty straightforward, but it didn't show up in our consortium catalog. It didn't show up in the state-wide catalog. And I couldn't find it in either WorldCat or Amazon. Hmm.

Each time I didn't find the title, the patron insisted she read about it in the paper. Patrons are notorious for being simultaneously confident and inaccurate, so I asked her which paper she reads, in the hopes of tracking down the article and learning more about the book.

She couldn't remember where she read it, so I just searched the internet for "memories coming from tennis star agassi." The first result linked to a new story entitled Memoirs coming from tennis star Agassi, from USA Today, and the patron said "yes, that's what I read."

When we clicked into read the story, though, we found that she had slightly misread the article. It said that publisher Alfred A. Knopf had acquired the rights to publish Agassi's memoirs (not memories), and that "his book is not yet titled and no release date has been set."

The patron was a little embarrassed, but recovered by asking:

Well, can request it for me anyway?

When I said that no, I couldn't request it until it's been published and we have a record in our system, she got upset and left.

Which made me feel bad, because there are other books about Andre Agassi out there. But hopefully she'll read again in the paper when the book is published, and come back to request it then. I'm definitely buying this whenever it comes out.

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