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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It's Not Easy Being Green (but do it anyway!)

The environment has been a hot topic in the last few years, and the Library Commission has recently added more books on this subject. For example, we have The Green Revolution by Ralph McInerny and Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How it Can Renew America by Thomas Friedman.

The future of Mother Earth seems to be on everyone’s mind. I know there’s more that I could be doing to be environmentally friendly in my own life, but sometimes all the information about going green can be overwhelming!

From reading the books we have in our collection, I’m learning that it doesn’t have to be so hard. Here a few simple things you and I can do to “go green,” from 50 plus One Tips for Going Green by Alicia Smith.
  • Give away things you don’t need anymore, instead of throwing them away. One website I have used in the past is You can claim items people are giving away or post things you want to get rid of that someone else might use.
  • To save gas, keep your car tires inflated and aligned. Also, remove unnecessary items from the car.
  • Take shorter showers.
  • Turn off the computer monitor if you’ll be away for over 20 minutes, and turn off the computer if you’ll be gone for over 2 hours.
  • Don’t print documents or emails unless absolutely necessary.
  • At work, take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Use a microwave to reheat food instead of the oven.
  • Unplug appliances when they are not in use.
  • Reuse a washable water bottle, instead of buying bottled water. (This is the one I really need to do!)

In addition, you can participate in Earth Hour on March 28. All around the globe, folks will be turning off their lights for one hour starting at 8:30 local time. Some of the places going dark include the Sydney Opera House, the New York Public Library, the Eiffel Tower, and the Coca-Cola billboard in Times Square.

Have questions about how to be more kind to the environment? Let us help!
Smith, Alicia Marie. 50 Plus One Tips for Going Green. New York: Encouragement Press Llc, 2008.

Monday, March 23, 2009

From the Top: Toponyms.

I was looking for a slang dictionary for a patron the other day and was browsing one of my favorite areas -- the 422s and 423s (if you immediately know what those numbers mean, you are either a librarian or a huge nerd — or both) -– and came across A Dictionary of Toponyms by Nigel Viney.

A toponym is a word that gets its name from a place or region. Some of them were familiar and some were pretty surprising. Check it out:

academia – In Academia, outside Athens, Plato founded his Academy.
cantaloupe – The tasty melons take their name from Cantalupo in Sabina, near Rome, where they were first grown in Europe in a papal villa after they were introduced from Armenia.
cayenne pepper – The name comes from the town of Cayenne in French Guiana, where the trees are grown.
epsom salts – A mineral spring was discovered in Ebbisham (later Epsom), England in 1618; starting in 1675, magnesium sulfate was made there, and thus became known as Epsom salt.
limousine – In the old province of Limousine, citizens once wore a particular type of hood. This led to the French word for a “closed carriage,” which led to the word limousine being used to describe the first motor cars with closed bodies.
magenta – My favorite crayon was named for the immediate discovery of the bright red dye after the Battle of Magenta in the Franco-Austrian War of 1859.
paisley – The swirly pattern gets its name from the city in Scotland, where shawls have been made for over 200 years.
pilsener beer – Nope, it’s not German beer after all. It gets its name from the city of Pilsen in the Czech Republic.
spa – This word comes from the mineral spring discovered in Spa, Belgium in the sixteenth century.

I’d love to stay and tell you more interesting toponyms, but I’m putting on my magenta paisley shawl and taking a limo to the spa.

Viney, Nigel. A Dictionary of Toponyms. London: The Library Association, 1986.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Meebo on the Mississippi

A few minutes ago, we were asked this interesting question on Meebo: Why did the Mississippi River shrink from 1883 to now? I was immediately intrigued! Unfortunately, everything I run across seems to point to the river's expansion. The Mississippi River seems to be trying its best to get bigger.

According to the Mississippi River Commission's website, "by the mid-to-late nineteenth century, the great need for navigation improvements and flood control on the Mississippi River was obvious." In 1879, the Commission was created to help try to control flooding and ease navigation down the Mighty Mississip. Interestingly enough, this agency reports directly to the Secretary of War. In 1883, Mark Twain "remarked on the seeming futility of controlling the Mississippi" (PBS). The river has consistently tried to break its banks and take over vital land and wetlands. Be sure to check out the two great websites listed below!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Parenthetically Paraguay

Yesterday afternoon I was flipping through my favorite reference book, The New York Public Library Desk Reference, and ran across this line: "In Paraguay, dueling is legal provided both parties are registered blood donors" (938.) I think this is among the most fabulous policies that I have ever seen! I decided to look around and see if there were any more nuggets about this tiny South American country of which I know essentially nothing. It turns out that there are quite a few!
  • There are only two completely landlocked countries in South America: Bolivia, and you guessed it, Paraguay (Bolivia, Oxford.)
  • The country's name means "land with an important river" in Guaraní, the language of the native peoples of the area (Paraguay, Hutchinson.) How succinct and practical can you get?!
  • "Paraguay produces more electricity per person than any other country" (Paraguay, Oxford.) Shocking!
  • According to National Geographic's website, Paraguayans are "the most racially homogeneous in South America." The population tends to be of Spanish and Guaraní descent.
  • From 1865-1870, Paraguay fought a bitter war with Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay. Ninety percent of Paraguay's male population, the ones that were able to fight, that is, were killed (National Geographic.) That's such an astounding number!

  • Ñandutí lace is one of Paraguay's famous traditional crafts (Paraguayans, Cassell's.) Isn't it beautiful?
Isn't it strange how little we know about other places? I hope these tidbits have made your mind ponder the rest of the world, if only for just a moment!

The New York Public Library Desk Reference, 3rd Edition
"Bolivia" Oxford Guide to Countries of the World. Peter Stalker. Oxford University Press 2007. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Mississippi Library Commission. 19 March 2009
"Paraguay" Oxford Guide to Countries of the World. Peter Stalker. Oxford University Press 2007. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Mississippi Library Commission. 18 March 2009
Paraguay. (2008). In The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather guide. Abington: Helicon. Retrieved March 18, 2009, from
PARAGUAYANS. (2005). In Cassell's Peoples, Nations and Cultures. London: Cassell. Retrieved March 19, 2009, from

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Some Things Never Change

The latest reference work I’ve been doing has me flipping through an interesting source. The History of the Mass Media in the United States covers everything from advertising in the eighteenth century to prime time television and women in journalism.

One thing that has surprised me as I’ve been using this book is how things really haven't changed much.

For example, tabloids are no new invention. These publications grew from the penny press in the 1830’s to the grocery store magazines we can’t help but read when we’re standing in line at the grocery store (629). The Daily News, a scandalous tabloid which began in 1919, had a circulation of over three million by 1922. See, even people living in “the good old days” loved a juicy story.

Readers of The Daily News received an “entertaining version of the news” with sensationalized articles of events such as Charles Lindbergh’s flight and the execution of Ruth Snyder by electric chair (629).

The History of Mass Media in the United States says that the issue of The Daily News that covered the Ruth Snyder execution sold a million extra copies! Apparently, a photographer hired by the tabloid attached a hidden camera to his leg, and was able to catch a photograph of Snyder being electrocuted. (And Britney thinks she has problems with the paparazzi!)

The photograph was published in that issue, hence the million extra copies. Well, obviously, I had to find out who Ruth Snyder was and what she did!

The New York Daily News states that Ruth was executed for the murder of her husband, Albert. Poor Albert was still in love with his dead wife. He even named his boat after her, and kept her picture up in the house. Ruth wasn’t too happy about that! Over time, she began to cheat on Albert with Judd Gray, a corset salesman (See Tracy's post on Friday.) Ruth was later able to talk Albert into getting a hefty life insurance policy. After an unsuccessful attempt at killing her husband (make that 3!), Ruth finally coerced her boyfriend into doing it for her.

Sounds like a modern day episode of Law and Order (dun-dun), doesn’t it? It was 1927.

Blanchard, Margaret A., ed. "Tabloids." History of the Mass Media in the United States. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn, 1998. 629-30.

Krajicek, David. Ruthless Ruth. 25 Mar. 2008. The New York Daily News. 16 Mar. 2009 .

Friday, March 13, 2009

When I Grow Up, I Want to Be A...

When someone calls the MLC reference desk and wants information from the U.S. Census, I could not be happier. The Census is one of my favorite tools and I find it totally fascinating. So when we got a question about the 1880 Census this week, I was happy to oblige—and even happier to spend a little time browsing the volume for additional treasures.

I’m always fascinated by the occupations section, especially when it goes into such detail. Did you know that in the United States in 1880, there were:

4,660 corsetmakers? 795 of them were men, and none of them lived in Mississippi. What was a custom corset-needing lady to do?

1,016 apiarists? That’s a beekeeper to you and me. And 17 of them were women! There were only three of them (all male) who lived in Mississippi.

1,543 billiard and bowling-saloon keepers? First, let us revel in the phrase “bowling saloon” for a moment. Sadly, there was only one billiard/bowling saloon keeper in our whole state.

2,992 actors? Now THIS is sad: in Mississippi, there were no female actors and only ONE male actor. I’m sure he put on quite a one-man show.

There were many professions that I made mental notes to avoid if I ever become involved in time travel. I just don’t think I’d be a good bleacher, dyer, or scourer, although there were 8,222 of them at the time. (I don’t even like scouring my tub once a week, much less as a part of my everyday duties.) I also think I would be a lousy flax dresser, which is a person who breaks flax and prepares it for the spinner (there is also an obstructive pulmonary disease called flax-dresser’s disease that one gets from inhaling the tiny flax particles; I wonder how many of the 1880 country’s 904 male and 990 female flax dressers came down with this after their careers were over?).

This category of worker sent me straight to the OED: Galloon, gimp, and tassel makers. There were 2,235 of them, most of them women, but what in the world is a galloon or a gimp? The tassel gives us a clue: a galloon is a narrow ornamental fabric, such as a braid or strip of lace and a gimp is a fabric twist with cord or a wire running through it used as a trimming. Two excellent new words you can use while choosing new throw pillows.

I also had to look up the category of Stave, shook, and heading makers. A stave is a wooden post used in the framework of a building or other structure; a shook is a set of staves used to make a cask (a wooden barrel made to store alcohol), and a heading is material for making cask-heads. It makes sense that all 4,061 of them were male in 1880.

(One more fun, completely random fact: there were two New Orleans dentists in 1880 between the ages of 10-15 years old. As terrifying as some people find the dentist, imagine how much worse it would be if your dentist was a surly preteen!)

United States. Census Office. 10th Census, 1880 Statistics of the Population of the United States at the Tenth Census (June 1, 1880). Washington: Government Printing Office, 1883.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Kiss Me! I'm A Hooligan!

With St. Patrick's Day arriving soon (it's next Tuesday, in case you haven't been keeping track), I thought I would explore a little Irish. Gaelic, that is. Did you know that all of these words have their roots in Ireland?

Banshee is taken from the Irish bean sídhe, which means "a female of the fairies or elves". It refers to a supernatural being which wails under the windows of a house where one of the people is about to die.

Bard is from the Irish word bàrd. It has come to mean "a lyric or epic poet".

Boycott was adopted from one Captain Boycott, an agent on an estate in Ireland. Apparently, he was not in great favor among his tenants. With the help of the Irish Land League, every single person working on his estate quit. It now means "to isolate and ostracize".

Hubbub is thought to come from the ancient Gaelic war cry ub! ub! ubub! The definition is "a confused noise of a multitude shouting or yelling".

Hooligan may be derived from Hooley's gang. It is defined as "a young street rough or a member of a street gang".

After immersing myself in all of this Irish English, I'm ready to go to the parade. The Hal and Mal's St. Paddy's Day parade. Don't miss it!

Oxford English Dictionary Credo Reference

Monday, March 9, 2009

Air Supply

A few weeks ago we received a question about land ownership. While researching that question, I found some interesting information. Did you know that you can own air? I had no idea!

As I began to look into this further, I realized that it can get pretty complicated. So, I’ll just give you a bit of the basics that I’ve learned so far.

According to the book Real Estate Principles, the original thought was that when a person (let’s call him Burly Bob) owns land, he also owns all the land below the surface of the earth down to the center of the earth. Even better, Burly Bob also owns all of the space above it, out into the universe and beyond.

Today, things can get a little bit sticky. If Bob sells the mineral rights of his land, he no longer owns the land beneath the surface of the earth. Someone else (Sassy Sally) could buy the rights to the oil or coal found on Bob’s land, for example. In addition, airplanes can fly over space wherever they want without interfering with Bob’s air rights. However, if the plane flies too low, Bob could try to get compensation for the use of his property.

Air rights are generally mandated by city ordinance. Here’s where it gets really interesting.
According to the University of Michigan, air can be bought and sold. Cities will sometimes grant land owners a certain number of air credits. If you don’t use all your air credits, you can sell them.

For example, let’s say Burly Bob owns a little gas station, and Tycoon Tammy wants to build a high-rise hotel next door. Bob can sell Tammy his air credits. Then, Tycoon Tammy can build the hotel much higher than the original zoning height ordinance. Here’s a nice illustrated explanation from the University of Michigan: The University of Michigan also notes that the city of Philadelphia created its Transfer of Development Rights Program in 1991. Previously, there was an “…old gentlemen's agreement…not to build a downtown building higher that the hat on the sculpture of William Penn on the City Hall.” But as the city grew, this agreement became more difficult to enforce. The TDR was written to help keep the historic feel of downtown while allowing for growth.

Here’s an interesting article from the New York Times. A church in Manhattan sold its air rights to an apartment complex developer. How much? Oh, just a measly $430 per square foot!

I don’t know how they do it, making money out of nothing at all. (My apologies to the 80's power- ballad band Air Supply.)

Floyd, Charles. Real Estate Principles. Chicago: Dearborn Real Estate, 2002.

The New York Times 30 Nov. 2005.

“Transfer of Development Rights.” University of Michigan. 9 Mar. 2009

Friday, March 6, 2009

Pitas, Pittas, and Pies

I have been getting the first season of the TV show The Sopranos on Netflix. I admit that I haven't been overwhelmed by it. By far my favorite part has been the mentions of food, especially food that I haven't had for a while. (My Italian cook is out of the country.) Bracciole and ricotta pie are two that I particularly miss. Yum. Last night I went into such a reverie about ricotta pie that I missed about five minutes of the show and had to rewind!

Today I started thinking about my least favorite dessert as a kid, pittas. I remember them as being very pretty and looking like a smaller cinnamon bun. However, they tasted strongly of anise (Grandma loved anise), had currents, and were drenched in honey. Also, they weren't soft like a cinnamon bun, but were more crumbly and dense (more along the lines of a shortbread). Pittas were actually kind of hard to track down on the web, because of the similar spelling to pitas. It turns out that my childhood nemesis was probably a variation on pitta 'mpigliata. I never did find a recipe or picture that matched my memory. (Maybe we were the only ones who made them that way?) There are tons of Calabrese dishes that involve pitta, which is, you guessed it, conected to both the Italian pizza and the Greek pita. You can read a little more about it here.

It seems that one of my all-time favorite Italian cookies, the pizzella, is also related linguistically to the pita and the pitta. I find it funny that something so delicious can be so closely related entymologically to something I find so repulsive! I guess The Sopranos are good for something, after all... Making me hungry!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Findley Smack and the 15,000 Pounds of Bacon.

I was doing a little Civil War research this afternoon and came across Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Mississippi in the Civil War by Bobby Roberts and Carl Moneyhon, which is a great resource. The photographs are mostly portraits, which feature the kind of insane facial hair that was apparently fashionable, like so:

The names of some of the soldiers, though, were most interesting. If you’re writing a novel and need some inspiration for your characters’ names--or a pen name for yourself--look no further. You may want to swipe one of these names:

Bird Calhoun Carradine
Alfonso Gooch
Adoniram Farmer
Winfield Featherton
Edward Otho Cresap Ord
Lorenzo Swagerty
Metellus Calvert
Mansfield Lovell
Carnot Posey
Halmer Swift
Rufus King Clayton
Eli Peel
Ellison Capers
Findley Smack

I think Findley Smack is my favorite, although I am intrigued by Edward Otho Cresap Ord. What a tongue twister!

I also found that when the Union troops advanced to Coldwater, Mississippi railroad depot, they surprised some Confederates, who lit the bridge over the railroad on fire and fled. Since the bridge was destroyed, the Union troops could not follow and therefore decided to burn all that was left behind. In Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson’s report on June 23, 1862, he writes, “Here, upon searching the depot, we found about 15,000 pounds of bacon, a quantity of lard and forage, which we rolled out, piled up, and set on fire, and saw totally consumed” (9-10).

I don’t know about you, but I can think of a better way to “totally consume” 15,000 pounds of bacon.

United States. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I—Volume XVII—In Two Parts. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1886.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Another Meebo Answer!

Today I received a question from a patron through meebo, but I never got the chance to fully answer the question.

Question: How do you punctuate a sentence that uses the abbreviation "etc." in a parenthetical phrase?

Here's the answer!

According to the Chicago Manual of Style, the abbreviation "etc." is always followed by a period (559). If, however, the abbreviation comes at the end of a sentence, then only one period is used (244).

For example:
He writes stories about ghosts, goblins, vampires, etc.

Regarding parentheses:
If an entire independent sentence is enclosed in parentheses, the period goes inside the closing parentheses. When information in parentheses is included within another sentence, the period belongs outside (244).

She eats eggs for breakfast every morning. (She owns several chickens.)
She eats eggs for breakfast every morning (except on Sunday when she sleeps late).

So, combining those two rules, the correct way to use "etc." within parentheses is like this:

On Sunday, she eats brunch at the diner (where they make waffles, pancakes, omelets, etc.).
On Sunday, she eats brunch at the diner. (She loves their waffles, pancakes, omelets, etc.)

I hope this answered your question, meebo patron! Let us know if we can help you again.

The Chicago Manual of Style. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Wisdom from Life

I love shoes. I think most women like (love) shoes. I’m always keeping an eye out for those new shoes that would be perfect with my wardrobe. I recently saw a pair at Nine West that I have been tempted--so tempted--to buy.

And then, I saw this:
It was prepared by the War Advertising Council and appeared in the June 5, 1944 issue of Life Magazine. The War Advertising Council was founded in 1941, and is now known as simply the “Ad Council.” The War Advertising Council campaigned during WWII to encourage Americans to buy war bonds and do other things to support the war effort, including conservation of money and resources.
They are also the ones responsible for Rosie the Riveter, Smokey the Bear, McGruff the crime dog, and Vince and Larry, the crash-test dummies. They now have campaigns that cover all types of issues, such as energy efficiency, lifelong literacy, and cyber bullying prevention. To learn more about the Ad Council, visit
This particular ad grabbed my attention right away. I thought it was very interesting, especially when you consider the state of our current economy. When I was younger, I watched my grandmother take a piece of used aluminum foil, wash it off, dry it, and put it in a drawer. I thought that was so strange! I had never seen anyone do that before.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that my grandmother, who grew up during the Great Depression, learned to conserve from a very young age. She continued to do so even when she was 80 years old and had plenty of money to buy more aluminum foil.

While I will probably never be one to start saving pieces of aluminum foil, I can definitely learn from the actions of my grandmother and others who lived through the Great Depression and WWII. To them, conservation was a necessary part of life. It was a responsibility that they gladly carried for themselves, their families, and their country.

The ad in Life Magazine is a little snapshot of the history of our nation. But the more I think about it, the more I think that it applies to my life today.

I guess that those multi-leather Nine West flats with the cute little buckle will just have to wait. At least, for now.
"United States War Message." Advertisement. Life Magazine 5 June 1944: 111.
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