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Posts Tagged ‘reference

“Google can bring you back 100,000 answers; a librarian can bring you back the right one”*


Recently some folks at the New York Public Library discovered a box containing old reference questions from the 1940s to the 1980s.  They’re posting the questions to their Instagram account each Monday, noting that “we were Google before Google existed.”  Some of the examples include answers; others are…  well, probably unanswerable– but all are a reminder of the extraordinary value of the Library and its reference librarians.

People still use an updated version of the service, Ask NYPL; the Library reports that they receive about 1,700 reference questions a month via chat, email, and phone.

Read more at “Before Google, Here’s What New Yorkers Asked The NYPL.”

* Neil Gaiman


As we keep it down, we might send bibliographic birthday greetings to Archibald MacLeish; he was born on this date in 1892.  A Pulitzer Prize-winning poet (Conquistador) and dramatist (JB), MacLeish became “America’s Reference Librarian”– the Librarian of Congress– in 1939.



“Because the world is radically new, the ideal encyclopedia should be radical, too”*…

The current edition of The Encyclopaedia Britannica runs to 32 volumes of about 1,375,000 words per volume– 44 million words in all.  Wikipedia currently contains 2,537 million words across 4.3 million articles, the equivalent of over 1,900 volumes of Britannica.

 click here for larger (and constantly-updated) version

* Charles Van Doren (1962)


As we appreciate the prescience of Douglas Adams, we might send well-organized birthday greetings to Arnold Neustadter; he was born on this date in 1910.  A businessman with a flare for invention, Neustadter created the Autodex, a spring-operated phone directory that automatically opened to the selected letter, Swivodex, an inkwell that did not spill, Punchodex, a paper hole puncher, and Clipodex, a transcription aid that attached to a stenographer’s knee.  But his masterwork, created in 1956 with Hildaur Neilsen, was the rotary contact file, the Rolodex.


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