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

Reference Question of the Week – 3/28/10

   April 3rd, 2010 Brian Herzog

1040 starsThis isn't really a reference question, but it is a question from a patron. It's, well, you decide:

Patron: Have you see the monk hidden on the cover of the tax forms?

As Liz Lemon would say, "what the what?" The patron explained, somewhat cryptically, that the negative space between the stars on this year's 1040 instruction booklet cover design seemed to form a monk.

Can you see it? Hover your mouse over the image to see what he was talking about. It's slightly easier to see on a larger animated version on flickr.

I saw it after he pointed it out, but personally, I think it looks more like Darth Vader. The conspiracist in me knows it's not unusual that secret symbols appear in government printing, but they're usually more Masonic than Imperial (but maybe the stars were just to much to resist).

There must be a word for this - hidden pictures formed by positive space shapes. This is sort of like the distorted tessellations in MC Escher's art, but not quite. I looked around but couldn't find a name or description, so I'll keep looking.

In the meantime, if you're interested, here are a few examples of logos employing negative space.

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New England Star Libraries

   March 3rd, 2009 Brian Herzog

Star Libraries mapLibrary Journal recently released its list of America's Star Libraries. The rating were based on data collected in 2006, and, on the whole, was pretty interesting.

Jessamyn brought up some good points about the relevancy and awkwardness of it, though beyond her post and a cursory reading of the LJ article, at first I didn't pay much attention (other than to see how my library ranked in the Google spreadsheet version).

But then a coworker of mine pointed something out which got me to take a more in-depth look. She said:

Did anyone else think it was weird that LJ used per capita figures to rate a library and 8 of the 11 commended [Massachusetts] libraries were vacation destinations?

Her point was that per-capita numbers are unduly inflated in vacation spots, as tourists boost the stats when they come in to check email, catch a storytime or author talk on a rainy day, or check out beach-reads on guest cards.

I am a visual person (and like maps), so I plotted the New England star libraries in Google Maps. It turns out that an easy majority (but not all) can be considered vacation spots - near either the ocean or ski areas. I'm not trying to detract from these libraries, or to imply that they're not playing an important role by serving (my) vacationing patrons. It just seems that the data used for these ratings is a bit skewed. So double congratulations to landlocked flatlanders like Dover and Newton - you guys must definitely be doing something right.

The authors did touch on this, and the article's various online components also offer useful information. But if a library wants to improve its rating, the way to do that seems to be to pick up and relocate to either the coast or the mountains.

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