Back In The USSR

September 6, 2013

Colleague S checked in with me to see if I had any suggestions for a question a patron had posed her… and then we discovered a bit of confusion.

The query, as I heard it, was for the combined populations of Russia and the United States.

I Googled it for starters and got an answer to each country, separately, from the World Bank (Russia = ~143.533 M, est. through 2012) and U.S. Census Bureau (U.S. = ~316.7M, est. through August 2013), respectively.
So, total, approximately 460.233 M

But then the patron asked, “That part, is that just for Russia or the whole Soviet Union?”

Awkward silence as S and I look at each other uncertainly.

“The Soviet Union.. doesn’t exist anymore.”

“It doesn’t?”


“Oh. Huh.”

Where Art Thou?

April 12, 2013

The library is trying to get some information on art we have in the library.  We have some things we own and others that are on extended loan and only intermittent certainty about which is which. 
I got a hold of one gentleman who had a letter about one of the art items in our Kids department fairly readily, but was prepared for an uphill battle for the creator of not one, not two, but three pieces of artwork: two small (well, 22″H x 21″W x 18″D and 34″H x 24″W x 28″D, respectively) Steel Drawing[s] Of A Tornado and a larger (60“H x 72“W x 65“D) sculpture, the title of which was now missing. 

You see, the labels had gotten peeled off of one of the tornadoes and the information sheet was AWOL on the larger piece.  Which staff members thought, variously, was named “Wind” or “Juniper Tree” or “Joshua Tree“.  And the artist was purported to have moved west (California, Colorado, and Arizona were all cited as possible destinations by staff members who’d been around for this period). Then moved back, then moved again.  So consider me unsurprised that a search for the artist’s name – Stephen Winters – turned up dozens of hits in

After cold-calling the two local-ish listings that did come up, on the off-chance, I started the next step of my search with the terms: artist tornado “stephen winters”.  This actually turned up a useful site, wherein I found the above-linked images and the name of the large sculpture, “Essence of the Wind“.  Excellent.  Next search, though, including the title and the artist’s name, did not turn up anything more.

Time to pare the terms down a little more: artist “stephen winters”

Hello – Art + Culture has some images for a Stephen Winters whose style looks a bit familiar.. and a website is listed! 
Oh, but the domain’s defunct.

Time for The WayBackMachine-!
The January 2012 (latest) capture of the site shows a tattoo artist’s page.  Is this the right Stephen Winters?  Hard to say…
In 2010’s archives, however, there’s the same colorful rectangle that was the profile icon for Stephen Winters on Art+Culture. And different links! Sculpture 05′-08′ (don’t ask me about the apostrophes) shows “Essence of the Wind“!  AND the last link is for tattoos.  This seems like a good sign connecting Stephen Winters the sculptor with Stephen Winters the tattoo artist.  Who has a tattoo/fine art parlor in Wicker Park!

I called and left a message with a gentleman at the shop.  We’ll see if this bears fruit, in terms of the information we seek (specific year “Essence of the Wind” was created, its cost for insurance purposes, and any other identifying information the artist can share with us).

Conclusion: WIN? Fingers crossed!

Impractical Peacocking

January 10, 2013

This is less a how-the-reference-question-was-addressed post and more an anthropological secondhand anecdote, spiced with self defense tips.

I told the tale to A and she coined the phrase “impractical peacocking” to describe the posturing, then made me promise that that would be the title of my next post.
So here we are. :p

H, a martial arts instructor, was in Sydney, Australia for the holidays.
At a large fireworks display, he saw three separate fights start with the aggressor (two males and one female) using the same M.O.:

    throw whatever s/he was holding onto the ground as hard as s/he could
    stick chest out, shoulders back, arms down and slightly held out from the body
    stalk toward the target, body language screaming “I’m going to kick your ass!!”

(Aside: this reminded me of a Christopher Titus sketch.)

Relating this to his students, the class started laughing, naturally.
Who wouldn’t be charmed by an attacker that threw away her/his weapons and presented the torso – rife with targets! – before slowly attacking..?

This was a lead in to discussing the practical uses of the front kick to a vertical target, wherein the defender lashes out a kick not in an arc (like you would for a groin kick) but as if it were a punch. Unlike a push kick, which is used to make space more than to cause damage, the front kick to a vertical target stabs the attacker’s center and usually folds them up while propelling them backwards.

As H pointed out, in a large crowd, the attacker would quickly be swallowed up and you probably wouldn’t see them again.
And then you can rifle through the stuff they left on the ground to see if there’s anything you’d like. :p

Professional Help

October 30, 2012

I don’t think our Tech Clerks get anything like the acclaim they’re due. Helping people who aren’t comfortable with computers – or simply don’t want to make the effort to become comfortable with or understand computers – is a constant uphill battle. There’s a lot of pressure to just do the work for the patron, in the sense of impatient or professionally helpless patrons and in the sense of the staff member becoming impatient with the process, because they’ve been spending a considerable amount of time coaxing the patron, because they have other patrons waiting for help, or all of the above.

A patron who falls into the professionally helpless category asked for a computer in our careers room, so he could work on applications (the history of this patron’s issues with computer use has caused headaches among even those staff members with saint-like patience… among whom I do not number). The patron later approached the desk with the question “How do you spell [snyder]?” [this is what I heard]
I told the patron I would spell it S-N-Y-D-E-R, but that’s no guarantee that that’s how it’s spelled for the purposes of the patron’s search – it’s a name and names can be spelled various ways.
I asked the patron what the name was in conjunction with, where he’d heard it, etc. The patron said “they” told him about it (when I asked “Who’s ‘they’?” he answered “People.”) and that it was a CDL place. (I love acronyms. They can only ever stand for one thing! (This is false.))
I prodded the patron for more information, but he waffled and pressed me to spell the name again. While emphasizing that my spelling was not guaranteed to be the spelling he was actually looking for, I spelled [snyder] again.
The patron wandered a little ways off and decided to wait and ask another librarian – D, who was helping another patron – how he would spell [snyder].
Meanwhile, I poked the Googles with the search terms “Snyder” and “CDL” (which was, in fact, “Commercial Drivers License”, but I’d prefer not to fall back on my assumptions any more than I have to. See: [snyder]). What popped up was “”, an online trucking school.
I brought this to the patron and he seemed pleased, but the whole thing could’ve gone a lot smoother.

CONCLUSION:Keep on truckin’… :/


October 8, 2012

When we were small and came up to ask our parents what a word meant or how it was spelled, they’d tell us to look it up.  My older sister would complain because if she didn’t know how it was spelled, she couldn’t look it up.

I recently had a friend share her young daughter’s attempts to write the grocery list, including such items as “hees” (cheese), “ckukees” (cookies), “seerel” (cereal), “peesu” (pizza), and “isckreem” (ice cream).  And she’s a young but native English-speaker.

Moving on to my patron:  English as at least a second language, he’d seen a show on the History Channel that was about [unintelligible] and Christian Orthodox churches.  I asked him to repeat his question.  This time I picked up that it was in South Africa.  Still couldn’t understand the word that he was presenting as the primary focus of his information search.  To me, it sounded like he said “afubya”.  I asked him to write down the word.  He admitted he wasn’t sure how it was spelled, writing “Athiubia”.  This did not ring any bells. 

Sticking to what we were sure of – the History Channel, Africa, and churches – I began to search the Internet with very little success.  Searching the History Channel site itself didn’t spit up anything the patron recognized, he didn’t recall exactly when he’d been watching this show, and general Google searches gave us all kinds of chaff.

As with, well, everyone ever, when experiencing communication difficulties, he repeated himself, with emphasis and volume.  Somehow, though, this actually worked as my brain churned along with its recognition process, finally lining up “Athiubia” with “Ethiopia”.  ‘Ethiopia “history channel”‘ led us to a video of Cities of the Underworld (Season 3, Episode 4) which was called Secret Holy Land. 


Ethiopia is home to some of the oldest settlements in the world. This cradle of mankind is a country born from legend and shrouded in mystery. An ancient home to both Jews and Muslims, Ethiopia is also the world’s second oldest Christian nation. But if you were a Christian during ancient times, and if you wanted to stay alive, the only place to practice your faith was underground. From underground engineering marvels to remote, cliff-hanging caves, Ethiopia’s isolated churches allowed Christianity to evolve in ways found nowhere else in the world. From tombs of vanished emperors and subterranean cathedrals where orthodox priests have been worshipping for thousands of years, to the buried Palace of the Queen of Sheba and the possible resting place of the Ark of the Covenant, clues to Ethiopia’s lost legends and tribes are littered right here…in the African underground.


I gave him the search phrase and site URL so he could watch the online videos himself.

Hooray for connections finally figured out!

Conclusion: WIN

What Hut?

August 29, 2012

Back when I first started at this library, I had a patron ask about quonset huts.
Apparently, there had been a subdivision’s worth of them constructed for returning WWII veterans, as temporary housing. The patron was particularly looking for pictures of the area and buildings.

At the time, I dug through all the pictures I could find in the local history collection, tried Google searching, searching, contacting the Chicago Housing Authority, etc. to no avail. I couldn’t find a thing supporting the existence of this temporary housing community. Big ol’ FAIL.

But then! The question was asked again, a couple of years later. Same results.

But then! The questions was asked again, about 3 months ago. I still found nothing for this area, but did get an article by Lee Bey about another temporary housing cluster by LeBagh Woods, visible from aerial photographs in 1951 but absent in 1938 and 1962. Same sort of place, but not the local one the patron(s) had been seeking.

But then-! Another coworker, D, was asked the same question, a couple months ago. I told him what I had (nothing) and he took to the Internet for his own searching. And found an update! A website called Forgotten Chicago had some posts from late 2011 about people seeking info about temporary veteran housing in Norwood Township (the target area). The posts named the housing area – Thatcher Homes – and, even more wonderfully, mentioned that there was a group on Facebook for people who’d grown up there.

And they’ve posted pictures!

Hobby genealogists and historians are a marvelous resource. 😀

I got in touch with all of the patrons I still had the initial query/contact information for and passed the new info on.

Conclusion: Eventual WIN!

Through A Glass Dorkly

April 12, 2012

Mo. and I were remembering crappy movies from our youth. Turns out there was one we remembered different parts of, though Mo. realized it was the same one.

Mo.: There was a library and this giant caterpillar, pulling books off the shelves. It was like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, but benign.
Me: I remember a scene where the boy is trying to get this apple to save his grandfather who’s sick or dying or something and there’s an evil witch that keeps the tree under this huge bell glass.
Mo.: We’re talking about the same movie! Except it was a girl, not a boy.
Me: Okay.

Mo. also remembered that it was a made-for-TV movie, so I took to the Internet with the following search terms: apple tv movie sick grandfather (tried some other variants, but this first search was actually the one that led to the answer, eventually; lucky!)

As is not infrequently the case with poorly-remembered stories, I had some of the facts wrong. Mo. was right – it was a girl (with a short haircut), but it was her grandmother that she was trying to get the fruit for, not her grandfather, and she wanted to make her grandmother young again.

Happily, imadork’s What’s That Movie? had the answer..! Thanks to both MystMoonstruck (who gave the title and official synopsis) and AngelaAllison (who asked about the movie) for dredging up “The Hugga Bunch” (1985, Hallmark Cards), based off of a set of creepy dolls from the ’80s.

This led to a discussion of old, weird favorite movies and modern counterparts (in terms of creepy vibes, fascinating strangeness, and mystical elements) and how they weren’t always as good as we remembered them as being, but still kinda awesomely weird: Legend, Labyrinth, Neverending Story, Return to Oz, Dark Crystal, Willow; Stardust, Pan’s Labyrinth (then the conversation veered off to movies like Snatch and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, so the counterparts list isn’t as fleshed out…)

Conclusion: WIN (P.S. You can watch the Hugga Bunch movie in six parts on YouTube-!)

Things I Learned From Librarians (1)

January 26, 2012

I learn a lot of interesting things from talking to my colleagues.  Our end-of-evening conversations, as we watch the patrons reluctantly shuffle out, tend to veer strange with plentiful use of Internet for illustrations and citations.


Last month, A informed me of the glorious goopiness of the hagfish. After watching a couple videos, I decided that that was the perfect descriptor for the cold that I had developed.  Are you ridiculously phlegmy?  You have a hagfish cold!


The other week, we were talking about body modifications*, including penile splints. (No, I’m not linking to that.)

*(this one’s totally SFW)


Yesterday, A and I were discussing ABO blood types (have you heard of the Bombay phenotype? It’s called Oh!) and their relative tastiness to mosquitos, Rh factors, and the various other blood groups and factors – notably CMV in the blood.

We moved from there to blood loss  and death conditions (naturally).  Some research revealed that the body below the heart could be clinically dead for up to 30 minutes without irreversible damage (just from the clinical death state).  Hypothermic conditions can potentially double that time, but even so, the brain can only stand 5-10 minutes.  So calling in dead was determined to be hardly worth the effort.

{spelling edit}

Spell That?

January 26, 2012

A patron called in looking for a book.  This happens sometimes.

{} indicate the evolution of the name as I heard it.

Patron: “It’s by, um, {Grazinsky}, you know – the new one.”
That narrows it down, thank you.
Me: “Can you tell me the title?”
Patron: “Oh, no; I can’t do that. It’s by {Brazinsky}; he was on TV recently.”
Oh, okay then.
Me: “Can you spell the author’s name for me?”
Patron: “Oh, I don’t know… He was the Secretary of State for Jimmy Carter. It’s a new book.”
Me: “Hold on; let me do a search-”

[internet search for “secretary of state jimmy carter”
Directed to a Wikipedia article, CTRL+F to find “secretary” on the page.
The only Secretary of State listed is Cyrus Vance, but I manage to misread the Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev as possibly the name the patron was looking for.
(The actual answer was on the page, too, but unfortunately I missed that on the first pass.)]

Me: “Is it Leonid Brezhnev?”
Patron: “No, it’s {Brezinsky}. He had a Polish first name.”
Unfortunately, I suck at telling ethnicity from names, faces, and even geographical locations, so that’s not going to narrow it down for me.
Me: “Well, Leonid Brezhnev is the closest name I’m seeing, here… But he died in 1982 and you said the author was on TV recently, so that’s probably not it. I’m not seeing any other Secretary of State. If you can’t tell me the title or spell the author’s name…”
Patron: “It’s a new book. I think his name is… B-R-E-Z-I-N-S-K-I”
Me: “Let me try another search.”

[Nothing comes up in the catalog for that name.
New internet search for “secretary of state brezinski”
– first result: Wikipedia page for Zbigniew Brzezinski]

Me: “Okay, I’m going to mangle this name, but is it [mangles name]? He was the United States National Security Advisor to Carter.”
Patron: “Yes! That’s it.”

Having found the name, the title is readily turned up in the catalog as the most recently published book by that author:
Strategic vision : America and the crisis of global power

Conclusion: (despite a weird conversation about materials having to be returned in a set period of time) WIN

Ask, Listen, Repeat

October 5, 2011

The reference interview process can be simple or can involve a lot of interrogation, creative rephrasing, fighting down your own assumptions, massive intuitive leaps, and harrowing navigation of the myriad ways we can misunderstand each other.

Minor example:

A patron walks up and asks for a book titled “lock and key”. Doesn’t know the author, but the cover was blue.  (We joke about it, but that really is a common ‘identifying’ factor offered up by patrons. And at least half the time, the book isn’t blue.)

Having recently classified the latest volume in the graphic novel series and recalling it as having a bluish cover, I ask the patron if the title is spelled “L-O-C-K-E and K-E-Y”.  ‘Yes,’ the patron replies.  ‘Easy!’ I think.  ::shake head sadly::

I explain to the patron that the only title by that spelling is a graphic novel and I pull up images of the covers of the series, asking if the patron recognizes any of these. Eventually, the patron tells me it’s not a graphic novel we’re looking for.

Next up – ask again: ‘Are you sure it’s spelled with an ‘e’?’  The patron is now less sure; in fact, the patron would now like to look for a different book: Between Here and Forever.

We don’t own that one, but it’s listed in most collections as a Young Adult novel. Revisiting the initial search with what really should’ve been the K-I-S-S beginning to the search, I spell the title without the ‘e’.  There are three different authors for works titled Lock and Key, but one of them is Sarah Dessen, a popular Young Adult author.  I pull up the cover on Amazon and the patron identifies the book as the one that we were looking for.  Hooray!

Our copy is checked out, though. :/

Conclusion: WIN enough.