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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving Treats

A while back, we used to collect interesting names that we ran across in the U.S. Census. It's been a while since we've done so. We've decided to keep our Thanksgiving themed week running by offering you these Thanksgivingy names. Enjoy!

Thomas Turkey

Bertha Gobbler

Ham Mack

Emma Dressing

Olive Stuffing

Joe Pumpkin

Cranberry Wilkson

Anna Maize

Joe Apple Pie

Harry Feast

John Football

Walter Parade

Mayflower Day

Edna Thursday

Nina Abercrombie

Pinta Koon

Santa Maria Craig

Cato Wampum

William Pilgrim

Cicero Thanks

Bink Giving

Have a great Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving Nuggets.

Since it's Thanksgiving week, I was thinking of trying to find some Thanksgiving-related nuggets for your entertainment. I did some Googling (as you do) and thought that perhaps it would be easier if I could find a good Emily Dickinson poem about the occasion instead. However, this led me to try to ascertain if Thanksgiving was celebrated during Emily Dickinson's time, which means I ended up with Thanksgiving nuggets after all!

According to Diana Karter Appelbaum's Thanksgiving: An American Holiday, an American History, the date of the "first" Thanksgiving is debatable. 1621? 1623? 1630? All have been claimed to've been the first.

While the holiday has been celebrated since [see above], it was first declared a national holiday by George Washington in 1789. Before this, various days were declared "Thanksgiving" in order to either fast, pray, feast, or celebrate military victory. (Note: I sure am glad that whole "fasting" thing died out.) However, it must be noted that the south saw Thanksgiving as a Yankee holiday; eventually it changed its mind. (Note: thank goodness.)

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday in November to be Thanksgiving, but "a Thanksfiving proclaimed not in celebration of military victory but in gratitude for a 'year filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies'" (153). After this, Thanksgiving was celebrated by proclamation each year, but didn't become an official federal holiday until 1941.

Think the holidays have become too commercial? You can blame Franklin Roosevelt if you want. He's the one who had the big idea to move the holiday to the third Thursday in November instead of the last Thursday in November in order to allow for an extra week of Christmas shopping. This led to some folks calling the new date "Franksgiving" or "Democratic Thanksgiving" and the old date "Republican Thanksgiving."

During World War II, the Army promised that no soldier would eat canned turkey on Thanksgiving. . .and apparently they made good on their promise (although prisoners of war in Japan and Germany were sent canned turkeys via the Red Cross). Check out this guy enjoying his turkey leg:

So there you have it! Thanksgiving nuggets! (And in case you're wondering, there are plenty of Emily Dickinson poems that address Thanksgiving-esque themes.)

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Appelbaum, Diane Karter. Thanksgiving: An American Holiday, an American History. Facts on File, 1984.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What's in a Name?

With Thanksgiving only a week away, family is on everyone’s minds, and I’m no exception. It seems that nearly every project I’ve worked on over the past week can be linked to the subject of family in one way or another. A project I’ve been working on since my second day on staff here isn’t explicitly about family, but family is one of the aspects of the project I’ve found most interesting. I’m creating a finding aid of all the state legislators for Mississippi. Basically, this entails combing through old copies of Mississippi government documents and recording who served what counties when. Riveting stuff. One of the most interesting aspects of it all is trying to determine who’s related to whom. It’s not part of the my assignment, but it’s a little game I like to play. I’m not about to give you a detailed listing of related names, but no worries – I have another list of names for you.

Many of the names I’ve encountered during this project have initials instead of spelled out first names, which was, and still is, a fairly common practice. The full names for some of these initials remain abbreviated in every document I consult, but others are eventually spelled in at least some of the later documents. Here are a few of the interesting and unconventional first names I’ve found:

Electious (It’s catchy for a politician)
Greek Lent

Some of the names don’t seem so unusual at first glance. In fact, many of them wouldn’t be out of the ordinary as last names. Then, I remember that these were first names. I’m not sure I could fathom calling someone Bland, Flake, or Greek Lent on a daily basis. Initials definitely make a lot of sense when you think about it like that. I’m not done with this project, yet, so if I run into any more interesting names, I’ll be sure to pass them along.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Blog on Beauty

Like most everyone, I’d like to think my particular form of handsomeness has a sort of timeless appeal. I mean, has the tall, rebellious, bookish type ever been considered unattractive? I doubt it, but even I have to admit that a culture’s idea of beauty changes with the times. Let’s go to the stacks to see if we can find some examples of how the perception of beauty has changed over the years!

For obvious reasons, the first book I looked through was C. Willet and Phillis Cunnington’s The History of Underclothes. Willet and Cunnington study countless underwear advertisements to show how underwear shaped women (literally) to fit to the culture’s ideal body type. The most painful examples come from the 1830s, where a woman might “spend a quarter of an hour in lacing her stays as tight as possible, and is sometimes seen by her female friends pulling hard for some minutes, next pausing to breathe, then resuming the tasks with might and main, till after perhaps a third effort she at last succeeds and sits down covered with perspirations, then it is that the effect of stays is not only injurious to the shape but is calculated to produce the most serious consequences” (82). A smashed innards joke would be funny here if this weren’t true.

Up next is Elwood Watson and Darcy Martin’s “There She Is, Miss America”: The Politics of Sex, Beauty, and Race in America’s Most Famous Pageant. This book contains nine essays that explore how the Miss America Pageant embodies the idea of American beauty. This book is great because it explains how recent events shape the idea of beauty. Mary Anne Schofield’s article, “Miss America, Rosie the Riveter, and World War II” explores how women filled the role of being “useful” while remaining “beautiful.” She offers this awesome quote from Irene, a factory worker, in an interview with American Magazine: “When a girl lets her foreman know she can handle the job without his help, she might as well go home and stay there. I manage to get into trouble once or twice a day, just so the foreman can help me out. That makes him feel manly and superior—and friendly. Men want their women to be efficient--but not too efficient (56)”. Between you and me; I use this trick on Tracy all the time.

But what of the men you ask? It does seem like being beautiful is largely women’s work, but playing the part of an ideal man in America these days can be tough. When I need inspiration, I go directly to Margaret Mead’s Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World. In my favorite passage the author explains: “The plump man… with double chin, protruding buttocks, whom one has only to put in a bonnet to make him look like a woman, when put beside the equally plump woman will be seen not to have such ambiguous outlines after all; his masculinity is still indubitable when contrasted with the female of his own kind instead of with the male of another kind” (371). See, there’s hope for everyone!

Cunnington, Willett and Phillis Cunnington. The History of Underclothes. Faber and Faber, 1981.
Watson, Elwood and Darcy Martin (eds.). "There She Is, Miss America": The Politics of Sex, Beauty, and Race in America's Most Famous Pageant. Palegrave Macmillan, 2004.
Mead, Margaret. Male and Female: A Study of the Sexes in a Changing World. W Morrow, 1969.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Origins of the Poor, Poor Po'Boy.

Is there any food with a more mysterious name than the po'boy? Today, while reading an article in the New York Times about how New Orleans po'boys are disappearing (NOOOOO! SAVE THE PO'BOYS!), I discovered the origin of the sandwich's name.

First though, I'd already checked the Oxford English Dictionary for clues to the po'boy's meaning, and found this:

[< PO' adj. + BOY n.1 Compare POOR BOY n.]

More fully po' boy sandwich. A type of sandwich, originating in New Orleans, consisting of a hollowed-out French loaf variously filled with oysters, prawns, meat and gravy, etc. Cf. POOR BOY n.

Ok, sounds delicious. If you're not familiar with the OED, one of the more fascinating features is the Quotations portion of each entry (in both the print and the online resources). This lists the first time the word or phrase was used in print -- which, if you think about it, is kind of amazing. Think of the team of folks it takes to track this stuff down! Anyway, I was amused by the source of the po'boy's first printed form (and the rest of them for that matter):

1932 New Orleans Classified Telephone Directory 108/2 Po Boi Sandwich Shoppe Inc. 1951 N.Y. Herald Tribune 4 July 7/8 The beginning of the Po' Boy sandwich we credited to a sandwich shop in New Orleans. 1978 C. TRILLIN Alice, let's Eat 166 Three hours after we had arrived..I was settled under a tree, almost too full to finish my second hot-sausage po' boy. 1984 P. PRUDHOMME Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen x. 268, I think they're superb on sandwiches; we use them on our po boy sandwiches made with French bread and various fillings. 2003 Time Out N.Y. 3 Apr. 35/4 New Orleans raised chef Richard Pierce is serving po'boys and jambalaya at this new restaurant.

I am a big fan of the OED, and browse it for fun more often than you should know about. I have never seen a telephone directory used as a print source, but hey, it works.

This brings us to the article I read this afternoon. Allow me to quote at length from "Saving New Orleans Culture, One Sandwich at a Time":

That’s where Michael Mizell-Nelson, a University of New Orleans historian, came in.

Researching a violent 1929 streetcar strike, during which 1,100 members of the Amalgamated Association of Electric Street Railway Employees walked off their jobs, Dr. Mizell-Nelson confirmed how the sandwiches acquired their name and their form.

Similar sandwiches existed before the strike, Dr. Mizell-Nelson learned. And the term “poor boy” was already in use, applied to, among other groups, orphaned children.

But in 1929 a sandwich called the poor boy was something new. Fashioned to be wider, to accommodate generous and equitable slices from a loaf, the bread was first baked by John Gendusa at the request of the New Orleans restaurateurs Bennie and Clovis Martin. (Today, Jason Gendusa, great-grandson of the founder, still works the ovens at John Gendusa Bakery, playing a feisty David to the Goliath that is Leidenheimer.)

The Martins were onetime streetcar workers who, at the height of the strike, pledged to feed their former colleagues at their sandwich and coffee stand. “Whenever we saw one of the striking men coming,” Bennie Martin later recalled, “one of us would say, ‘Here comes another poor boy.’ ”

Over time, by way of various elisions, both vernacular and purposeful, po’ boy or po-boy became the widely accepted renderings of poor boy. In the process, as vowels and consonants were swallowed, the roots of the sandwich were, too.

Mystery solved! Now who's going to go get me a shrimp po'boy with a side of fries?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Hypochondriac's Nightmare

Lassa fever – ever heard of it? I hadn’t until I received a question Tuesday from a student wanting to know if we had any resources on the subject. A quick search of our catalog told me that we did, and that was all there was to that request. The student only wanted to know if we had any resources – she didn’t actually want to know anything about the disease. But I did.

I warily clicked my way over to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. I say warily because my imagination has a small (large) tendency to run away from me when it comes to matters of health. I wouldn’t exactly label myself a hypochondriac (but my fiancĂ© probably would), but maybe I do spend a little more time than most contemplating the status of my health. Maybe I even overreact sometimes. For example, the other day I developed a headache after work, a tiny one, mind you. My instinctual reaction: I scoured WebMD and concluded that I must have a brain tumor. Then the headache went away and realized it was just eyestrain and tension. That kind of overreaction doesn’t happen that often, though. Maybe once or twice a day. Even though I’m not a hypochondriac, how can I not think about getting sick when there is so much junk out there lurking in our grimy, unsanitary world, constantly conspiring to ambush my immune system?

Cue lassa fever, a West African virus discovered in 1969. It’s a disease with so many varied and non-specific symptoms that doctors often have trouble diagnosing it. Possible symptoms include fever, sore throat, chest pain, back pain, cough, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, conjunctivitis, facial swelling, hearing loss, tremors, and encephalitis.  The next time I think I have pink eye, I’ll make sure my doctor includes a test for lassa fever in my exam, just to be on the safe side. Blood pressure? Check. Iron levels? Check. Lassa fever? Check.

The good news about lassa fever is that it’s treatable, and it isn’t usually fatal. It’s treated with the antiviral drug Ribavirin, and only about 1% of the 100,000 to 300,000 people diagnosed yearly die from the disease. The most common way to contract it is from the excrement of the mastomys rodent (ewww) or through direct contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids (ewww). Did I mention that this virus has only been found in West African countries so far?

So, maybe I can rule out lassa fever – for now. But if your interest (or worry) has been aroused, you can poke around the CDC website as well as our resources to learn more about lassa fever and other diseases.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go take some more vitamins.  I think I may be getting a cold ... or pneumonia.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

NYPL vs. Snopes: Round One

I was looking for an interesting nugget to share yesterday afternoon and ran across a tasty tidbit in The New York Public Library Desk Reference, Third Edition. According to them, "The interstate highway system requires that 1 mile in every 5 must be straight. These sections can be used as airstrips in time of war or other emergencies" (752). I envisioned something like a scene out of Red Dawn, with lots of paratroopers and explosions, and I-20 as a runway. Armageddon type stuff, you know? I decided I needed to know exactly when this peculiar plan would be put into practice, so I started trying to scrounge up a few more bites.

One of the very first things that appeared in my Google search was this entry from Snopes. Turns out, Snopes didn't agree with the Desk Reference. Awkward! Which to believe?! I'm a firm believer in checking out my sources, and a few clicks later, I ran into this article. It was written by Richard F. Weingroff, an employee of the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Infrastructure. Mr. Weingroff, it seems, is tired of trying to explain to the general public that the United States has never planned to convert its highways into landing strips. Poor guy! Not only has this story circulated on the Internet, it's also being published!

How do these urban legends get started?! I'm a little disappointed that I'll never get to camp out with Lea Thompson or Patrick Swayze while fighting the Russians, but completely satisfied with the way my search ended. By the way, the Mississippi Library Commission has several books on urban legends and their origins. Why not check them out?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Making Friends

A person once asked me if librarianship is lonely work. I had to say that it is not because we spend a great deal of time surrounded by books. I see all books as potential friends because each has its own ideas, voice, and character. Of course the best thing about having books as friends is that you choose when to start and end the conversation. This idea is interesting to me because I’ve recently realized how differently some people see the nature of friendship. Yesterday a companion (let’s call her Jill) and I were discussing a mutual friend of ours (Jack, of course). Jill was speaking of Jack rather critically and said she often found Jack “sarcastic, pretentious, and disingenuous.” I could not help but think, “but that’s what we like about him, right?”
The problem here is that Jill and I have two opposing views of friendship. Jill sees friendship as a tool for comfort. She needs her friends to confide in; to offer her advice and support. I see friendship in a somewhat different way. I see my friends as competitors who should push me to ensure I do not get lazy. If a friend of mine mentions an author or philosopher I’ve never heard of, I will feel deeply ashamed and embarrassed and immediately learn more about this unknown source. What’s great is that if you make friends with books they can provide both comfort and competition. The Mississippi Library Commission even has books that explore the nature of friendship.
One of my favorite books on friendship is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. This book is an excellent example of how society’s idea of friendship has changed. Carnegie first wrote this book in 1936 and we can see that era’s principles reflected in the chapter titles. Chapters on “Fundamental Techniques in Handling People” or “Six Ways to Make People Like You” accurately show how he saw friendship as a means to gain financial success. These titles may seem strange now (“handling people”?) but his book only reflects the time in which it was written.
Another interesting book on friendship is The Norton Book of Friendship edited by Eudora Welty and Ronald A. Sharp. This book contains poems, stories, and essays that explore the meaning and value of friendship. One of my favorite passages comes from Francis Bacon in his essay Of Friendship. Bacon sees friendship as primarily a tool for comfort: “For there is no man that imparteth his joys to his friend, but he joyeth the more, and no man that imparteth his griefs to his friend, but he grieveth the less” (88). Obviously, this statement goes against my definition of friendship but it is beautifully written. Welty and Sharp’s book is mostly positive and contains several examples of how friendship makes the human experience more pleasant.
Regardless of how you use friends, the nice thing is you can always find a new one at your local library.
Carnegie, Dale. How to Win Friends and Influence People. Simon and Schuster, 1981.
Sharp, Ronald and Eudora Welty (eds.) The Norton Book of Friendship. W.W. Norton & Company, 1991

Monday, November 2, 2009


This month offers the perfect opportunity for my MLC reference blog debut since November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and writing is a life lifelong passion of mine. If writing is one of your passions, too, or if you’ve always wanted to write, NaNoWriMo is the perfect time to dive in. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight November 30. This is supposed to be more of a personal challenge than anything else, but there are the rules from the official NaNoWriMo website:

- Write a 50,000 word novel between November 1 and November 30. And no – writing the same word repeated 50,000 times doesn’t count. Be original!

- You have to start from scratch. You can’t use any prose you wrote before November 1. You can, however, use material such as outlines, character sketches, plot notes, and research that you’ve previously compiled.

- Your finished work must be a novel – it has to be a lengthy work of fiction.

- Your novel must be the product of your own work – no writing teams allowed.

- Upload your novel to the NaNoWriMo website between November 25 and November 30 for word count validation.

And that’s all there is to it! If you submit your novel in time, and it meets the word count requirement, you’ll be considered a “winner,” and you’ll get an official web badge, a PDF winner’s certificate, and bragging rights. Oh yeah, and the best prize of all is that completed manuscript you’ve spent the last 30 days toiling over.

If all this sounds like fun to you, and you’re already bursting with ideas and motivation, hop to it! Channel your inner Faulkner, and let the words flow. If, on the other hand, you have no idea how to get this process started, keep reading. There are plenty of resources out there to help you crank out your novel. Help is on the way!

We have some great resources for all kinds of fiction writers here in our collection. For those writers who seek general advice and tips, have a look at The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing by Evan Marshall. Marshall outlines a 16-step program for turning your idea into a finished manuscript. You might also want to look at Novel Voices by Jennifer Levasseur, who gathers advice from several award-winning novelists on writing, editing, and getting published. There’s also Write Right!: Creative Writing Using Storytelling Techniques by Kendall F. Haven. I’ve heard it said that if you can speak or tell a story, you can write; Haven tells you how. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could try to sell your novel. R. Karl Largent offers some advice about this in his book How to Write and Sell Your Novel.

In addition to the titles I’ve just mentioned, we have several books tailored toward assisting writers with specific interests, including religious fiction, romances, mysteries, and science fiction.

Another great writer’s resource too valuable not to mention is the official NaNoWriMo website. This site has all kinds of goodies for writers. Be sure to check out the discussion forums for tips and strategies, helpful writing resources, and good old support and motivation from other NaNoWriMo writers.

So, there you go – NaNoWriMo in a nutshell. If you finish your novel by November 30, kudos! If you don’t, that’s cool, too. Maybe you’ll finish if you try again next year. Until then, don’t beat yourself up over it. December is NaNoFiMo – National Novel Finishing Month. And after you’re finished writing, you could take the next step and participate in NaNoEdMo – National Novel Editing Month, which takes place in March. You can polish your manuscript, and then who knows? You never know what could happen next.

It all starts with word number 1 out of 50,000.
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