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

Reference Question of the Week – 8/22/10

   August 28th, 2010 Brian Herzog

gonzoThis was sort of a frustrating question, but in the end was fun - mainly because I get to tag this post "gonzo reference."

A patron came rushing up to the desk (literally) and said he quickly needed to know John Philip Sousa's religion. Since time was important, I gave the patron Encyclopedia Britannica and showed him how to find the John Philip Sousa article, while I searched Wikipedia. Neither identified his religion, so the next step was to grab the one Sousa biography we had on the shelf, and the patron looked through the index under "faith," "religion," etc., while I kept searching our databases and the internet.

Again, neither of us located anything quickly, except for a quote online attributed to Sousa:

My religion lies in my composition.

That didn't exactly answer the patron's question, but he felt Sousa must have meant that, regardless of what religion he was officially, he wasn't himself a very religious person, and that was good enough for the patron. He thanked me and rushed out.

But I was still surprised that such an simple fact wouldn't have been more readily available. I decided to keep searching until I found it, and then add the fact to Wikipedia - mainly because I can. I was already in the library's catalog, so I requested a Sousa biography from another library (John Philip Sousa: American Phenomenon) that seemed likely to have the information.

When it arrived, I started flipping through it, then wondered if this had been scanned into Google Books - turns out, it had. I searched the content of the book for "religion" and found the answer I was looking for at the bottom of page 102.

I then composed a little paragraph and added it to Wikipedia:

Although Freemasonry is an organization influenced by religious beliefs, John Philip Sousa himself was not. He was an Episcopalian, and while tolerant of religious beliefs in general, he personally regarded music as providing more Divine inspiration for people than Sunday sermons.[13] He is also widely quoted saying, "My religion lies in my composition."[14]

So I was feeling pretty good with myself for tracking down this information and contributing it to Wikipedia - with the logic of, "if you can't find a reference, make a reference." But then it occurred to me: if the book I found the information in is in Google Books, why didn't show up in my initial internet search.

I don't know if it did then and I just missed it, but now this book, linking directly to page 102, is showing up as the fourth result for a search on "john philips sousa religion." Hmm. So despite my boasting last week, even information professionals can miss things. Oh, and by the way, he was Episcopalian.

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How Sexy Is Your Bible?

   March 11th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Princess Bible book coverHere's another one of those coincidences with the same topic popping up in different contexts throughout the day.

On my way in to work one day last week, I heard a story on the radio (via the BBC) talking about how children are becoming more sexualized. I wouldn't have thought this was possible, but the report described how, for decades, society has told little girls that they need to be thin and pretty. But recently, society has ramped up this message, telling them they need to be thin and pretty and sexually-attractive to boys. It seemed to say that now it's not just about looks, but that sex appeal is also required.

Later at work, our Teen Librarian asked me if I'd heard of a "princess bible." I hadn't, so I looked it up, and sure enough they are for sale. Our reactions were the same, and echoed the point of the radio show earlier: isn't this an odd mixture of religion and sassy sexy self-image?

Not necessarily, of course, because I know my niece likes Disney princesses, and that is totally innocent. Perhaps I'm just being over-sensitive on the little girl sex angle. Maybe it's just the marketing gimmicky feel of it I don't like - it seems akin to using a cartoon camel to peddle cigarette to children. I guess I just question what this princess message is trying to appeal to in young girls - and whether that should be necessary to sell Bibles. It seems a bit at odds with the pious modesty of Christianity.

Interestingly, this book appears in WorldCat.

And just for a counter-point, BoingBoing reports that Campus atheists offer free porn in exchange for Bibles. I guess there's more than one way to connect religion and sex.

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