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

Reference Question of the Week – 10/2/11

   October 8th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Map of New York StateI've been out most of this week at conferences and meetings, so haven't been in the library enough to get a really good reference question. But I did get one directly from someone who reads this website, which I thought would be fun for other people to try. His question:

Here is a nice reference question for you. I tried to answer it but couldn't. It's a question I got from a colleague (at the university I work for) who got it from his daughter (a junior high student).

In the state of New York there are several places that are also found in a number of other states. Name the New York places that match these descriptions.

Place 1
Is also located in 11 other states: Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania.

Place 2
Is also located in 15 other states: Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa,Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, Wisconsin.

Place 3
Is also located in 27 other states: Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin.

Place 4
Is not only located in 9 other states: California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Oregon, Pennsylvania,Virginia, Wisconsin
But is also the name of a Canadian province.

I found a Wikipedia page (but not the right answers) and a page made by Dan Tilque which was about toponyms

I believe I found the Wikipedia page he referenced, as well as an About.com page, but they didn't answer the question. The reference to Dan Tilque ended up leading to a journal named Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics. He apparently was the author of an article in 2001 named Common Place Names, but when I tried finding that journal in our databases, the coverage only goes back to 2002 - that's frustrating.

The Most Common US Place Names Wikipedia article cites the Census Bureau's American FactFinder as the source, but I played with their interface and couldn't find any kind of listing that would help with this question (but did learn that they're releasing a new version of the FactFinder soon).

I tried searching online for things like toponym trivia "new york", but had no luck - does anyone know a resource to answer this type of question?

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Most Popular Computer Ebooks (at my library)

   September 22nd, 2011 Brian Herzog

Safari Computer EbooksSince getting back to work this week, I've been trying to get caught up on emails and feeds.

Stephen's Lighthouse linked to the top 25 most downloaded titles on Overdrive - which reminded me that I had recently done our year-end database usage stats, and compiled highest-access titles for our Safari Computer Ebooks database.

Our top 12 most-accessed books were:

Title, Author Accessed
Sams Teach Yourself Java in 24 Hours, Fifth Edition, by Rogers Cadenhead 706
CISSP Exam Cram, Second Edition, by Michael Gregg 684
CISSP Study Guide, by Eric Conrad, Seth Misenar, Joshua Feldman 677
The Green Screen Handbook, by Jeff Foster 577
Java: A Beginner's Tutorial, by Budi Kurniawan 462
Adobe InDesign CS5 On Demand, by Steve Johnson - Perspection, Inc. 358
SAP MM HANDBOOK, by Kogent Learning Solutions, Inc. 356
Microsoft Excel 2010 Step by Step, by Curtis D. Frye 340
Sams Teach Yourself Android Application Development in 24 Hours, by Lauren Darcey, Shane Conder 305
Beginning iPhone and iPad Web Apps: Scripting with HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript, by Chris Apers, Daniel Paterson 278
Ruby on Rails 3 Tutorial: Learn Rails by Example, by Michael Hartl 270
IT Systems Management, Second Edition, by Rich Schiesser 220

The Safari stats interface doesn't make it really easy to identify this. Finding the number of sessions isn't too bad*, but we have to report the total number of "circulations" for these ebooks - which to me means the number of times each one was accessed.

I was able to run one report that seemed like a master total usage report, which I think indicated that 433 of our ebooks have been "hit" a total of 12,256 times.

Also interesting, if I'm reading these reports right, those 433 books are only about 1/8 of the collection, meaning 7/8 never got touched even once. Also, of those 433, 250 were accessed five or fewer times (totaling 410 circs), and the top twelve books (which all had >200 "hits") have a combined total of 5233 circs. Which means that 12 books account for a little under half of our total activity.

That is shocking, but also should be a fairly good indicator of what the leading technologies are right now (at least for my patrons, and among the selections available in our Safari catalog) - and a good reason to supplement our Safari access with print copies.


*Incidentally, we had 963 patron user sessions for FY11

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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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