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Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Ripe Question

This morning I logged into the reference desk computer and found a somewhat cryptic Meebo question waiting for me. “When do these ripen?” I expected the question to be accompanied by the name of a fruit or veggie, or by a picture or link at least. But no. The only thing that followed this question was a lonely, seemingly errant backslash symbol.

I had no idea which food or foods our Meebo patron would like to know about, but Elisabeth had a wonderful suggestion, which was to direct our patron to the resources offered by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce. Their website has several features that can help you determine the best times to find ripe vegetables and fruits.

The Fresh Produce Availability Calendar shows what times of the year specific foods are available. It includes a planting guide if you want to try your hand at planting your own crops. The guide features a section that divides crops into those that are planted in cool weather and those that are planted in warm weather and gives corresponding planting dates for each food in each category.

The MDAC website also provides a fruit and vegetable directory for the state. Organized by fruit/vegetable and county, the directory gives the names and contact information of commodity producers and sellers throughout the state. It’s an excellent resource if you’re looking for sellers who specialize in specific foods.

If you just want to learn more about some of your favorite foods, the MDAC website has a place for that, too. With the Mississippi Agriculture Commodity Directory, you can learn more about several of Mississippi’s agricultural products. There are fact sheets for some vegetables and fruits grown in the state, like blueberries and muscadines. There are also fact sheets for several other commodities, including catfish, beef, poultry, and soybeans, just to name a few.

I hope this helps you find what you’re looking for, Meebo Patron. If not, let us know!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Where Oh Where Has Academic Search Premier Gone?

If you're one of the many Mississippians who uses MAGNOLIA, you may have noticed that Academic Search Premier, the most-used database, has gone missing. Fear not! We still have access to it! I have no explanation for why it's no longer listed, BUT I do have information on how to access it.

When you're looking at the A-Z list, feeling sad that your friend Academic Search Premier is gone, click on another database instead. It needs to be one of the standard EBSCO titles, so choose anything that's not Credo, Worldcat, Literary Reference Center, or Consumer Health Complete. I've been scrolling down to MasterFILE Complete, since it is very similar to Academic Search.

Once you're in, click on "Choose Databases." A list will pop up of other databases to add to your search. From here, you can select Academic Search Premier and, if you wish, deselect the one you chose in the beginning.

A little roundabout, yes, but hopefully soon this issue will be fixed.

If you have any questions, MAGNOLIA-related or not, please let us know!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

RIP, Elizabeth Taylor

You may have heard by now that film legend Elizabeth Taylor died this morning at the age of 79. She appeared in 70 films and TV movies in a career that spanned over sixty years. We'll miss her greatly.

I've commented before about how I enjoy seeing Hollywood's take on novels when they turn them into feature films. It turns out that over twenty of Ms. Taylor's Films started life as good old page turners. Here they are:
  • The Mirror Crack’d 1980 The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side Agatha Christie
  • The Driver’s Seat 1974 The Driver’s Seat Muriel Spark
  • Secret Ceremony 1968 Ceremonia Secreta Marco Denevi
  • The Comedians 1967 The Comedians Graham Greene
  • Reflections in a Golden Eye 1967 Reflections in a Golden Eye Carson McCullers
  • Cleopatra 1963 The Life and Times of Cleopatra C.M. Franzero
    Histories Plutarch
    Histories Suetonius
    Histories Appian
  • BUtterfield 8 1960 BUtterfield 8 John O’Hara
  • Raintree County 1957 Raintree County Ross Lockridge, Jr.
  • Giant 1956 Giant Edna Ferber
  • The Last Time I Saw Paris 1954 Babylon Revisited F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Elephant Walk 1954 Elephant Walk Robert Standish
  • Rhapsody 1954 Maurice Guest Henry H. Richardson
  • The Girl Who Had Everything 1953 A Free Soul Adela Rogers St. Johns
  • Ivanhoe 1952 Ivanhoe Sir Walter Scott
  • A Place in the Sun 1951 An American Tragedy Theodore Dreiser
  • Father of the Bride 1950 Father of the Bride Edward Streeter
  • Conspirator 1949 The Conspirator Humphrey Slater
  • Little Women 1949 Little Women Louisa May Alcott
  • Julia Misbehaves 1948 The Nutmeg Tree Margery Sharp
  • Life with Father 1947 Life with Father Clarence Day
  • National Velvet 1944 National Velvet Enid Bagnold
  • Lassie Come Home 1943 Lassie Come Home Eric Knight
(This list does not include TV roles or uncredited roles.)

I received immense enjoyment scrolling through Elizabeth's list of film credits. I had forgotten how many truly great movies there are in which she starred. I think I need to get cracking on some of these books, though. Why don't you join me at your local public library?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

La La La...

This blog post originally appeared 8/8/2008.

Yesterday I had the Rhett Miller song "Our Love" stuck in my head; some of the lyrics are:

Kafka in his letters to his lover Milena was alive
But he was waiting for a love that never would arrive
Their rendezvous was singular
Her husband was his friend

The reference to Kafka (and Milena Jesenka; story here) got me thinking about other songs with overt literary references. The Simon and Garfunkel song "The Dangling Conversation" came to mind:

And you read your Emily Dickinson
And I my Robert Frost
And we note our place with bookmarkers
To measure what we've lost
I made a list of some others, but what are your favorite literary songs?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Things My Grandma Does

In a small study done in Texas back in 2005, a middle-school librarian found that 76% of students were usually swayed by cover art and 70% were led to choose a book by the title itself (Jones 44). You and I both know that adults fall prey to this, too. The latest book that reached out and grabbed me (this time as I was innocently walking by the new book shelf) is called Never Shower in a Thunderstorm: Surprising Facts and Misleading Myths about our Health and the World We Live In.

My grandmother was a serious proponent of the no-showering-during-precipitation camp, which never made sense to me. (Grandma also liked to unplug everything in the house during rain showers. Everything. Even during a drizzle. Oh, Grandma.) Surely nothing could actually happen? This book was a definite must-read for me, especially after I discovered that dear old Grandma was correct about when to wash up:
A bolt of lightning that hits a building... can travel through plumbing, into metal pipes and wiring, and shock anyone who comes into contact with a faucet or appliance. Metal pipes are not only excellent conductors of electricity, but they also carry tap water laden with impurities that help conduct electrical current. (O'Connor 159)

There have been reports of people being struck inside their homes while showeringbrushing their teeth, even while washing dishes. I knew my Grandma was a sharp one. The National Weather Service has
Natural Hazard Statistics for the United States on its website. It's broken down by state, which makes it easy as pie to find out that two people died in 2006 in Mississippi due to lightning strikes: one while sheltering under a tree (a big no-no) and another while talking on the telephone (Grandma knew.) 

By the way, my favorite eye-catching book for Grandma to read when I was small? I was always partial to Are You My Mother? A book sure to capture the eyes of any three-year-old... How could you go wrong with a bird on top of a dog's head?

Jones, Leigh Ann. "The Great Cover-Up." School Library Journal 53.6 (2007): 44. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. Web. 21 March 2011.
O'Connor, Anahad. Never Shower in a Thunderstorm: Surprising Facts and Misleading Myths About our Health and the World We Live in. New York, NY: Times Books, 2007. Print.

Friday, March 18, 2011

What's a Kumquat?

Overnight, we received a Meebo question from a patron inquiring about the average amount of kumquats exported from Hawaii. Now, when I read this question, the first thing I thought was “What in the world is a kumquat?” Before I even started trying to figure out how many of them were exported from Hawaii to other countries, I had to find out what they were.

Kumquats are native to East Asia and are in the same family as citrus fruits. About the size of large olives or small plums, they are bright orange-yellow in color. They’re round or oval in shape, and the taste ranges from sweet to mildly acidic. Actually, they look a lot like tiny oranges. Kumquats can be eaten in a variety of ways. They can be cooked, candied, canned, made into preserves, and used in salads. The most common way to eat them, though, is to simply eat them whole and raw.

I’ve consulted several sources, and it appears that Hawaii is not a big exporter of kumquats. In fact, I was unable to locate any hard facts concerning either the harvesting or exporting of kumquats from the state. This leads me to believe that if they are exported, then the amount is likely so small, the government doesn’t keep separate records of them. I contacted a librarian at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, who confirmed my conclusion. Sorry, Meebo Patron, if that wasn’t the answer you were hoping for.

Hawaii may not be a big kumquat exporter, but they do export other types of fruit. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, the data for 2008 indicates that Hawaii exported $43.5 million dollars’ worth of fruit, juice, and other fruit products to other countries that year.

University of Hawaii at Manoa
National Agricultural Statistics Service
Credo Reference

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Don't Know Much About Tennessee...

Williams, that is. I was browsing the Internet yesterday and ran across an article that stated Tennessee Williams had died by choking on a bottle cap. What an ignominious way to go! Could it be true? (It is.) Reading this, I realized that I know absolutely nothing about Tennessee Williams. With the centennial anniversary of his birth approaching, I decided a few nuggets were in order. I mean, really. A true genius who rails against the slow crumbling of and defection from a classical art form? I'm already deep in intellectual lust with him:

"Literature has taken a backseat to television, don't you think? It really has. We don't have a culture anymore that supports the creation of writers or supports them very well. I mean serious artists." (Radar)
  • Tennessee Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams in Columbus, MS on March 26, 1911 (Pencak).
  • Tennessee's great-great-great-grandfather was named Preserved Fish Dakin (Leverich 18). I think Tom faired pretty well, don't you?
  • His father made him drop out off college during his junior year because he failed a class three times.(Leverich 111, 128) The subject? R.O.T.C. Dear old Dad then found him work in a shoe factory.
  • He finally received his Bachelor's Degree from the University of Iowa in 1938 (Pencak).
  • Williams held jobs as a waiter, an elevator operator, and a teletype operator while trying to make ends meet as a struggling playwright (Radar).
  • His sister Rose, a schizophrenic, was lobotomized in 1943. Williams took care of her until his death (Pencak).
  • Frank Merlo, who he met in 1947, was his life partner until Merlo died in 1961 of lung cancer (Pencak).
  • Williams never married. In a 1965 article, it says that "The great love of his life was a girl he knew in St. Louis, who married someone else and died early" ("Tennessee Williams Richer in 20 Years"). Hmm... Sounds like a publicist's story to me.
  • Won Pulitzers for Streetcar Named Desire, 1947, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, 1955 (Encyclopedia of World Biography).
  • In February 1979, he was "attacked by a gang of toughs as he strolled home from a discotheque." Apparently, Williams and NY author Dotson Radar were belting out "I Come to the Garden Alone" when they met the youths. Williams told them, "We're itinerant choristers, trying to make an honest living." The gang wasn't impressed and roughed them up a bit. Williams' reply? "Obviously they were New York drama critics" ("Special Squad to Clean up Key West").
I'm enthralled. While searching for nuggets, I ran across his sister Rose's obituary which is heartbreakingly fascinating and well worth a read. I also found another inspiring quote:

Williams was once asked what he thought of the Moral Majority and other groups campaigning for a limit on freedom of expression. Tennessee replied, "Art has to be free to deal with all aspects of human existence, regardless of how brutal or shocking. I don't set out to shock. I set out to tell the truth, and sometimes the truth is shocking." (Radar)

And there you have it, a mound of nuggety goodness, Tennessee (Williams) style.

Leverich, Lyle, Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1995. Print.
Pencak, William. "Tennessee Williams." Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered History in America. Ed. Marc Stein. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2004. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 16 Mar. 2011.
Radar, Dotson. "Tennessee Williams." Parade 17 May 1981: 16. Print.
"Special Squad to Clean up Key West." The Clarion-Ledger 5 Feb. 1979: A. Print.
"Tennesse Williams Richer in 20 Years." The Clarion-Ledger 13 June 1965: F-7. Print.
"Williams, Tennessee (1914-1983)." Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 16 Mar. 2011.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Hear ye! Hear ye! Announcing Lord and Lady Falderal Pipsydoodle

A curious Meebo patron asked me late yesterday afternoon what the order of rank is for nobility in England. I ran (read: walked sedately) to our most current copy of Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage and dove into the most complicated web of genealogical factoids I've ever seen. Debrett's lists everything. I mean everything. Younger sons of Dukes of the Royal Blood come before Marquesses' eldest sons come before Dukes' younger sons... for two pages of teeny-tiny print. The long and short of it is this:

The fairer sex, as you'll have noticed, comprises its own list. (Think wives of the eldest sons of the younger sons of peers.) Check out this hummer of heraldic code:
If the daughter of a Peer marries a Peer she takes her husband's rank, but if she marries the eldest or younger son of a Peer she ranks either according to her own inherent precedence (i.e., as the daughter of her father), or according to that of her husband (i.e., as the wife of the eldest or younger son of a Duke, Marquess, Earl, etc), whichever happens to be the higher, no matter what the courtesy title may be.
I must confess, I've read that at least three times, and I'm still not exactly certain what they're driving at. I'm grateful the Americans overthrew the British back in the 18th century. Otherwise, I probably would have been beheaded for addressing a Knight of the Garter before a Marquess.
Kidd, Charles, ed. Debrett's Peerage and Baronetage. Richmond, Surrey: Debrett's Limited, 2007. P. 29-30. Print.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Poison Squads

If you visualize a meal taking place back at the turn of the 20th Century, you might think of an elegant dinner party with men and women dressed to kill, or perhaps a family sitting down to enjoy a hearty meal. This article I found in Slate completely kills that image for me.  In either of the aforementioned scenarious, you would probably never surmise that industrial chemicals like formaldehyde and boric acid were among the menu offerings.

But they were, because these were two substances that were commonly used in food preparation back then. You think those people knew that their tasty steaks had been soaked in boric acid and formaldehyde before they bought them at the butcher’s shop? Most likely, they were totally oblivious to it and to everything else that went into their food prior to purchase. Before 1902, the regulation of commercial food products was practically nonexistent. The food industry had successfully repelled attempts to regulate its products, which meant that there were no label requirements, no safety tests, and no monitoring of the stuff that went into the products. Worst of all, people had no information on the risks they were taking when they sat down to a meal.

U.S.D.A. scientist Harvey Wiley saw this as a major problem and set out to change it. His novel idea was to have volunteers essentially taste-test the nation’s groceries. Wiley built a kitchen and dining room in the basement of the Department of Agriculture’s building in Washington where, for six months, he served poisoned food to groups of volunteers, hence the moniker “poison squads”. Each menu would include one ingredient from a list of highly suspect preservatives and coloring agents commonly used in foods. Each time squad members sat down to a meal there, they knew that something on their plates was contaminated, but they never knew which specific course was tainted or what it was tainted with. Among the chemicals ingested was borax, which contained generous amounts of boron; copper sulfate, which is used as a pesticide today; and formaldehyde. Formaldehyde and boron were commonly used as meat preservatives. Butchers mixed borax and boric acid with salt and red dye to disguise old and rotting meat. Copper sulfate was used on expensive grades of peas to make them appear greener than regular peas.

Wiley’s intentional poisonings didn’t occur in vain. The experiment brought attention to some serious issues concerning the nation’s food supply, and four years after Wiley began his experiment, the nation’s first law regulating food and drug manufacturing went into effect. It is officially known as the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, but it also had a nickname. Can you guess what it was? That’s right – it was also known as the Wiley Act.

Source: Slate Magazine at, March 2, 2011

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

I'll Find You, McPheely.

The life of a reference librarian is never dull. Well, ok, sometimes it’s dull, but not usually. Monday mornings are particularly interesting around here, as requests have come in over the weekend. I find that the weekend requests tend to be a little quirkier than weekday requests. People are sitting at home, talkin’ with ma and pa, and things pop into their heads that they need evidence of/more explanation for.

For instance, yesterday morning I was looking to see whether or not a Civil War battle was fought on the land where my patron’s family would eventually, 100 years later, build their house. While searching, I found this great site with various Mississippi maps online.

My favorite so far is this one:

The text says:

Map of Jackson Miss and Surroundings
During the Siege July 10th-16th 1863
Location of the Cooper home whence
a Piano was carried by a Company of Pioneers
commanded by a Capt. McPheely, to the position
of 5th Company Washington (Louisiana) Battery, and
there remained during the siege, and played upon
while the Battle July 12th 1863 was in progress.

I tried to resist, but I did spend a little time trying to find out more about Captain McPheely and his piano-thieving Pioneers, but alas, I turned up empty handed. (I found Samuel McPheely, who joined up after this battle; Robert Macfeely, whose unit wasn’t involved in the siege; Lyman Mackfall, who wasn’t an officer; and a whole host of McFails, who apparently could’ve fought a war all by themselves.)

Granted, I didn’t spend a lot of time, as this wasn’t the real reference question I was working on, but one day when it gets quiet, I will turn my attention back to McPheely and friends. As for the original question, it doesn’t look like there was any major action on his family’s one-day-soon land, but I still have sources to check!
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