Sunday, June 24, 2007

Fun with Reference Books

From January through May, I got a temporary gig as a Library Assistant. That is one rung up the promotional ladder, and this was a valuable chance to hone my skills for the next time the job recruitment is posted. This job entails providing reference information, I call it "junior Librarian." We may not have the Masters degree, but the Librarians teach us all they know about helping match people with the materials they need. It slides into that nebulous career category called paraprofessional. As a Library Clerk, I don't think I even fall into that category.

While gaining this valuable experience, I had plenty of time to study, yes study, reference books. That smaller branch library is waaaaay slower than my usual location. Thus my earlier adventure with faery...that was my sample word that I plucked out of my brain to test Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Thus also my new obsession with blogs...I went to a library training on blogs, and consequently signed up for bloglines and subscribed to waaaaay too many blogs on books. Paraprofessional development, ya know. Working on whittling those down now....I blame the blogs for my now having over 100 items checked out on my library card.

OK, OK, so one book I attempted to familiarize myself with is Black's Law Dictionary. I have a complete lack of imagination when it comes to playing around with words of law. What could I look up? I found the section on Legal Maxims. What good are legal maxims? The dictionary tells me, "Of course many scholars have long been intolerant of those who use maxims.... But there is an element of fun in legal maxims: they sometimes express surprising insights--and these from ancient writers. Though they will not clinch arguments, they will delight many readers who have a historical bent."

I said to myself, fun eh, well maybe it could tell my fortune?

I said as much to my co-worker seated next to me, and I opened the section to a random page, pointed blindly, and found "Scripta litera manet." The written word endures. (Take heed, Heidi. Get cracking on that written word.) Hers didn't go so well. I didn't think to write it down, but I seem to recall it had an ominous tone to it.

Around that time, I was watching the TV show, The Riches. I think I've met some travellers here and there...especially in my past life as a convenience store clerk, and especially as a convenience store clerk in Nevada. I thought to myself, now Doug Rich could use this book. Need an argument? Open at random. A grifter pretending to be a lawyer could make a lotta hay with those maxims.

As exciting as it was getting to know some of those books better, often gripping them with a covetous need for tangibility, I found the experience didn't much loosen my use of Google to do that job. Sometimes I would go to the shelf, pull this book or that book out and peruse tables of contents and indices, find something close but not quite what the patron needed...then I would go to Google and find an answer in 5 seconds. The more experienced workers next to me admitted to same.

Uh uh uh...before you start repeating the admonition that Google is replacing libraries...just how quickly can you discern the legitimacy of the websites you find? Librarians work at discernment. In fact, while Kids These Days may wear techno gadgets like newly grown appendages, have seductive photos on MySpace, and be super-quick to find websurfed answers, they may be pretty bad at judging those answers.

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