The State of the Reference Desk

Booklist's Reference Reality column in its May 15th issue, by Rebecca Vnuk, provides a good snapshot of library reference work today.

...Celeste Choate, of Ann Arbor District Library (MI), made the dramatic revelation at this year’s PLA conference that the library is making one last, yearlong marketing push for its databases, and if there is not an uptick in usage, that’s it: gone.

This, from a librarian at the U. of Akron, made me laugh.  It's not quite this grim for us, but not far off:
...the questions we receive at the reference desk are consistent and maddeningly predictable. They are nearly all a variation of some kind of printing question—How do I print? Where do I pick up my print job? How do I fit multiple slides on one page? How do I print double-sided, in color, on larger paper?, etc. We do get the occasional question about how to use the scanner, providing a welcome respite from the printer questions.

Carolyn Mulac, at the Chicago Public Library, describes the new reality of reference work well:
Patrons today are more likely to ask “how” or “how do I” than “who,” “what,” “where,” or “why.” Although we may be answering fewer questions, the nature of those questions often requires more explanation and instruction, and thus more time, than a quick fact check. Explaining how to download an e-book or search a database or online catalog may take more time (and patience) than finding that elusive fact.

“Can’t you just type this into the computer?” is often heard, whether the question involves checking one specific fact or entails extensive searching of some kind. ...We’re often asked to “look up this website and tell me what it says”—basically, we’re being asked to be a human interface to Google.



R. and I were discussing my odd habit of scrimping on dental floss, using very short lengths of it more than once.  She blames a "save-the-planet" college roommate of mine, famous for his awful soybean lasagna and his refusal to use paper towels, favoring washable cloth rags.

It put me in mind of the song, "Montana", by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention, from their 1973 album, Over-Nite Sensation .


Hipster Hunt

Mentioned by Grant Barrett on the NPR radio program, A Way with Words.  I recently saw Anthony Bourdain on television, commiserating with an Asian foodie over the ruinous invasion of "hipsters" into an ethnic enclave on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

I can't blame anyone for not wanting to be so labeled.  The "-ster" suffix can have a derogatory, offensive, belittling quality.  But it looks as though they are stuck with it.

It reminds me of the "-nik" ending in "beatnik" and "peacenik".  Was it borrowed from Sputnik, the Soviet satellite?  The effect was to suggest that they were sympathetic to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, (now known as Russia, children).


Furst's "Mission to Paris", a film between book covers

I don't often write about what I am reading, but I can't help rejoicing in Alan Furst's new novel, Mission to Paris.  I can't name another author who has succeeded so well at capturing the atmosphere of cinematic suspense in his novels of wartime Europe in the 1930's and '40's, as exemplified by films like Casablanca and Foreign Correspondent.

I read Dark Star in the early '90's and was captivated.  I read the previous novel, Night Soldiers, and have followed him faithfully.  Mission to Paris is the twelfth in the "Night Soldiers" series.  I still think that Dark Star is his best, but they are all good.  When you have a new Alan Furst novel, you can look forward to a vivid and satisfying read.


The 2012 Ackies (Academic Novel Awards)

A fun piece by Emily Toth, an English professor at LSU, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Novel Academic Novels: the Sequel , and a response on the Chronicle's Innovations blog from Frank Donoghue, Thoughts on Ms. Mentor's 'Novel Academic Novels'.


Three-Day Weekend

A three-day weekend, a time to rest and regroup before another 7-day stretch at work on Monday.  We are down one full-time position in Adult Services, owing to a promotion.

A man came from Benson's Heating and Air to service our HVAC system on Friday.  They had left a message for us to set up a visit in January, but I let it slide until now.  The system is fine, though it could do with some re-sealing of the duct-work.

The workman was equipped with an iPad as a rugged device.  It had a thick rubberized frame with little "feet".  He generated my invoice on it, had me sign it with my finger, and e-mailed it to us.  He was unable to charge it to my VISA account directly, owing to some glitch, and had to write down my account information to do it later.

After a dry Spring, June has been very wet, excusing me from yard work.  It rained for much of Saturday.  I washed a couple of loads of laundry, put clean sheets on the bed, and spent the rest of the afternoon reading Nancy Mitford.

I am so weary of all the stories in the news, made worse by my microfilm searches at work, where I see that the same stories, or very similar ones, have been "news" for years and years.  While the Center for Disease Control is compelled to issue a denial of an imminent Zombie Apocalypse, I want to escape and read English country house mysteries.

We have a new bishop for the Diocese of Pensacola - Tallahassee, Most Reverend Gregory L. Parkes.  R. and I attended a Mass of Thanksgiving at the Co-Cathedral of St. Thomas More on Sunday.  Bishop Parkes is a large man, six-foot-eight, R. says!  It was the Feast of Corpus Christi, and several of our deacons from Blessed Sacrament assisted with the service.

Very impressive, with a remarkable choir, and it was good to have a look at the bishop.  I will be glad to return to my own Blessed Sacrament next Sunday.


Days On The Mountain

Robin and Linda Williams performed the title song of their new album, These Old Dark Hills, on Prairie Home Companion.

It is a captivating piece, made more soulful by the Shoe Band's accompaniment with its Hammond organ.  It reminds me of another one of theirs, Green Summertime.
On a gravel country road
By the bed of the old railroad
The dust follows turning wheels
And blows away across the fields
In this world of mine
In the green summertime
My feelings about this kind of rural mysticism are ambivalent.  Tallahassee still has something of a small-town feel.  Though I grew up in the suburbs of Orlando, I have lived here for most of my adult life, and when I return from visiting family in Central Florida, I confess that my heart lifts when I leave Perry behind, heading north into the hills of Leon County.

But "old dark hills" makes me think of the forlorn hills of Coosa County in Alabama, where my family lived a hundred years ago.