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Friday, October 29, 2010

An Irish-American Halloween!

This weekend thousands of children will dress up and walk door-to-door begging homeowners for candy. Halloween seems more popular than ever, and even though I’m not a big fan, I am curious to find out how all of these traditions started. I was lucky enough to find Lesley Pratt Bannatyne’s Halloween: An American Holiday, and American History. Now, before our Wiccan patrons get bent out of shape, Bannatyne is not arguing Americans invented Halloween. Instead, she’s showing how the holiday evolved in America. Her book spends little time discussing Halloween’s medieval roots, opting to focus more on how Americans have celebrated the holiday. Here are a few of my questions and the answers I was able to find:

How did the pumpkin become a popular Halloween symbol?

Bannatyne argues that once upon a time “Irish villagers” made lanterns from turnip or beet roots. Bannatyne claims, “When the Irish immigrants arrived in America, they delighted in the size and carving potential of the native pumpkin. The fat orange harvest vegetable was quickly substituted for the turnip, and the carved-out, snaggle-toothed Halloween jack-o’-lantern was born.” (78)

Why do we tolerate begging on Halloween?

While Bannatyne cannot fully explain why we allow our children to become panhandlers during Halloween, she does offer this interesting description:
The custom of begging for food from house to house on Halloween came from the old Catholic soul-cake custom. Once charitable in nature, “souling” took a popular turn as it evolved over the years. Irish Halloween begging always involved a masquerade and some sort of good-natured bribe, but who did the begging and what they were after varied from region to region.” (66)

What were weird ways people conjured spirits in Early America?

Bannatyne explains some interesting ways people tried to predict their futures:
While the men were out sounding their horns and drinking strong ale on Halloween night, young Irish women gathered and summoned up the realm of the spirit. Their concerns were similar to all who seek out the future: Would they be healthy or ill? Would they have a life of wealth or poverty? Most important of all, whom would they marry? (71).

“Cabbage and kale, unlikely magical tools that they may seem, were assumed by the Irish to possess great fortune-telling power. The foods were plentiful throughout the British Isles, and young people pulled up kale plants to judge the nature of their future spouses from the taste, the shape, and amount of dirt clinging to the root. The divination worked best if the kale was stolen; it was most telling if practiced on Halloween.” (72)

Overall, Bannatyne offers an excellent study of Halloween and a better understanding of how ethnic groups like the Irish influenced how Americans celebrate Halloween.

Bannatyne, Lesley Pratt. Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 1998.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Peanuts, Popcorn, Free Test Prep!

Psst...hey you need help with tests in nursing, fire-fighting, law enforcement, passing the GED, improving your SAT scores or many other areas of interest? If so, then take the time to access Learn-a-Test which has been provided by the Mississippi Library Commission in public libraries since 2003.

Besides practice tests for ACT, AP, CLEP, CUNY, PSAT, SAT, THEA, TOEFL, and TOEIC, Learn-a-Test also has tutorials on Business Writing (grammar, vocabulary, etc), interview skills, and resumes as well as prep for the U.S. Citizenship exam!

To register click here. Then click on Register under New User. At the Registration screen, enter a Username. Your local public library patron barcode number may be used or create your own username. Enter a password of your choice. Password must be at least six (6) characters long. Enter your password again to verify typing. If desired, enter your email address. An email address is not required to register for Learn-a-Test but does allow the system to send you your password if you do not remember what you chose. When finished, click Register.

If you have any questions about Learn-a-Test (or want to tell us all about your experience), email us at or give us a call at 877-KWIK-REF. happy testing!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wish Me Luck! (Let Me Tell You How)

This blog post originally appeared 6/6/2008.

The Reference Department just received a book that I personally believe to be one of the best ever written. The Encyclopedia of Superstitions references traditions and customs common in popular culture (like saying "bless you" to someone who has sneezed) while also giving a nod to some more, shall we say, farfetched beliefs.

•As long as at least one acorn lies on one of your home's windowsills, the house will not be struck by lightning.

•To avoid bad luck, do not wash blankets in months whose names do not contain the letter "r" (May, June, July, and August.)

•Do not pick dandelions! This will cause you to wet your bed!

•You will have bad luck for two years if a strange cat kills your pet canary.

•The best days to cut your fingernails are Monday (brings wealth) and Tuesday (brings health).

•You are about to receive a letter if you sneeze on a Wednesday.

•To get rid of a wart, rub it on a man who has fathered a child out of wedlock without letting him know what you are doing.

•It is lucky to meet a left-handed person, except on Tuesday. This is very unlucky.

Oh! My left foot is itching! Instead of scratching it, I'll just knock on wood.


Webster, Richard. The Encyclopedia of Superstitions. Llewellyn Publications, 2008.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Beware The Bathwater!

I suppose I'm feeling exceptionally ghoulish today--perhaps it's because Halloween is only a few days away?--but I have murderers on the brain. Funnily enough, while looking for something completely different, I discovered that while you can search for people by name, nationality, etc... in one of our databases called Biography Resource Center, you can also search by occupation. And guess what one of the occupations is? Of course, of course! Murderer! (Imagine filling out a job application with that as a listing: Well, from 1992-1997, I was a waitress, but then from 1997-2000, it was strictly killing.)

Naturally, I found some other oddities that I thought might be fun to share:
  • Shoko Asahara and his cult followers were the ones who set off sarin nerve gas in a Japanese subway in 1995. It killed twelve and injured thousands. In my opinion, the most bizarre part? Asahara and his sheep believed that he could "teach levitation and telepathy" and that if you were to imbibe of his bathwater one would come closer to total enlightenment (Shoko Asahara). I'm sure I would come closer to something if I were to go around drinking other people's bathwater. Enlightenment? Perhaps not.
  • Why is it that I'm always the last to know these things? Did you know that the hit TV show and the movie The Fugitive were based on a real-life case? The real Sam Sheppard was retried after ten years of imprisonment, found not guilty, and set free. His son later brought a civil suit against the state of Ohio, citing wrongful imprisonment, but lost (Sam Sheppard).
  • Margie Velma Barfield (have I ever mentioned the bully from middle school whose name was Velma?) was known as the Death Row Grandma and had a penchant for poison. It seems that she added some rat poison to several people's refreshments. She managed to put ant poison in her mother's Coca-Cola and a fiancée's beer and, while working as a private nurse, rat poison into a patient's early morning vittles (Margie Velma Barfield). Scrumptious, and definitely one of my favorites: rat poison mixed with beer certainly enhances that hoppy flavor!
  • Last but not least, one of the contestants for ickiest murderess ever is Elizabeth Bathory. Her entry reads simply thus: Killed 610 servant girls; believed human blood baths essential to retaining youth.
Yes, I definitely recommend that you NOT drink the bathwater!

"Elizabeth Bathory." Almanac of Famous People. Gale, 2007. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 25 Oct. 2010.
"Margie Velma Barfield." World of Criminal Justice. Gale, 2002. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 25 Oct. 2010.
"Sam Sheppard." World of Criminal Justice. Gale, 2002. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 25 Oct. 2010.
"Shoko Asahara." Biography Resource Center. Detroit: Gale, 2004. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 25 Oct. 2010.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Knock Knock...

This blog post originally appeared 5/30/2008.

While browsing some new reference books, my coworker came across a great entry in an encyclopedia about the Great Depression: the fads of the 1930's! Times might have been hard, but read on to find out how struggling Americans spent all that free time.

1.Eating contests: including pies, EGGS, clams, oysters, spaghetti, and hot dogs

2.Rock-a-thons: rock continuously in rocking chairs without falling asleep!

3.Marathon Dancing: dance the longest total time to win a prize

4.Kissathons: stay lip-to-lip for the longest amount of time

5.Tree and flagpole sitters: began in the 20's but carried over; attempt to remain on top of pole for weeks, even months; partner on the ground collected money from spectators

6.Bike races: designed for setting records for the longest continuous time on a bike; usually took 6 days

7.Rollerskating derby: 4,000 mile roller skating race; also usually took 6 days

8.Chain letters: scratch off first person's nameon the list, send that person a dime, and mail out 5 more copies of letter; if it remained unbroken, original sender stood to amass a fortune in dimes

9.Goldfish swallowing: began when a Harvard freshman swallowed a live goldfish on a dare, Boston reporters showed up, and the news coverage resulted in college students repeating the stunt on their own campuses (one MIT student swallowed 42 in a row!)

10.Knock-knock jokes:

[Set Up] Knock knock.

[Response] Who's there?

[Teaser] Dwayne

[Response] Dwayne who?

[Punch line] Dwayne the bathtub, I'm drowning!

It's good to know that in the midst of all the struggles of the Depression and the threat of a second World War, Americans still found the energy to be silly and creative.

Young, William H. and Nancy K. Young. The Great Depression in America: A Cultural Encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

You Are Entering A Dimension of Sight, Sound, And Math

The other day, Tracy and I became completely sidetracked from our discussion about how to tackle our next reference request. Neither one of us could determine the proper subject/verb agreement for a sentence using a phrase containing a percentage. I turned to the Credo Reference database for answers. (By the way, did you know that if you're a Mississippi resident, you have access to this awesome database for free through MAGNOLIA? Be sure to go check out what's available here!) Credo definitely came through:
Percent can take a singular or a plural verb, depending on the intended focus. Thus both Eighty percent of the legislators are going to vote against the bill or Eighty percent of the legislature is set to vote the bill down are possible, but in the second sentence, the group of legislators is considered as a singular body, not as a number of individuals. The word percent without a following prepositional phrase may take either a singular or plural verb; both are acceptable.
I love vague grammar that allows me to be footloose and fancy-free in determining verb endings. It makes me feel downright decadent!

In a completely unrelated math question, my neighbor, who, funnily enough, is also a reference librarian, and I were watching an old Twilight Zone episode called A Game of Pool last night. (It stars Jack Klugman before he was in The Odd Couple or Quincy M.E.--definitely worth checking out!) About five minutes into the episode, one of the men mentioned that he bought his pool cue for $600 sometime before he "died" in 1959. You just can't throw that kind of thing out into a room of reference librarians and not expect some feedback! We all know about how things used to cost less back in the dark ages and that the value of "x" amount of money in the 1950s would be a vastly different number today. Neighbor Reference Librarian and I both immediately determined that The Value of a Dollar needed to be consulted.

According to this old reference standby, this formula needed to be used:
$1 in 1955 equaled $7.75 in 2007.

2007 was "the most recent year with reliable comparisons" according to The Value of a Dollar. Plug in your numbers and presto!
$600 in 1955 equaled $4,650 in 2007.

Now that is one snazzy pool stick! Now, I wonder what percent of Rod Serling fans own pool cues and what ratio of them own pool sticks worth over, say, $1,000.... Too much?
"percent." The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2005. Credo Reference. Web. 14 October 2010.
Derks, Scott. The Value of a Dollar. Amenia, NY: Grey House Publishing. 2009. Print.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bored Much?

This blog post originally appeared 5/23/2008.

If you ever find yourself wondering what you're going to read next, never fear, we have your next reading list: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. This is a quirky book full of works of critical acclaim as well as cult classics. The more than one hundred international critics that compiled this book recommend everything from The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan to Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

Here are a few more examples to further whet your literary appetite:

Pre-1700: Oroonoko; or, The Royal Slave by Aphra Behn

1700's: The Female Quixote; or, The Adventures of Arabella by Charlotte Lennox

1800's: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

1900's: The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

2000's: White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

Each book entry includes short bibliographical information, a brief synopsis, and related artwork, if possible. This book is part of the reference collection at the Mississippi Library Commission. You may search our online catalog here.

We also invite you to check out the following article from the New York Times, which inspired this blog post:
Volumes to Go Before You Die by William Grimes.

Happy Reading!


Boxall, Peter. 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

Monday, October 11, 2010

Oh, Mother, Look--A Lady Angel.

Elisabeth found this awesome ad while looking through some microfilm last week. I wish the quality were better, but that’s just because I’ve become spoiled by the 21st century. But could the 21st century bring us this?

Only in a John Waters movie!

The text is smallish, so here are the highlights:

Return Sensational Match
You Must See Horror Face
Tonight at 8:30 PM
City Auditorium – Jackson, MS
Out of This World Comes the Only One Alive


The Lady Angel, Only One Alive

I’m going to have to do some research and come back with a longer post about the Lady Angel, but a quick search revealed this photo is available on eBay:

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Little (Third Person) Perspective.

If there’s one thing I truly love about media personalities it’s their ability to effortlessly go third person. Take our good friend Rick Sanchez for example. When asked if he would consider working for CNN again, Mr. Sanchez said, “absolutely. CNN is a wonderful, wonderful organization. CNN didn’t screw up. Rick Sanchez screwed up.” This response made me wonder why some people refer to themselves in the third person. Luckily, Jesse Kelley had time to search MAGNOLIA and find an article that offers some perspective.

Dorthe Berntsen and David C. Rubin’s article “Emotion and Vantage Point in Autobiographical Memory” looks into why certain perspectives are used when reliving certain memories. Here’s an example: let’s say you’ve been asked to remember your most severe punishment. Now, when you have this memory, do you see yourself being punished as an outsider or do you remember the punishment as it happened? Without question I see the punishment from a third person perspective. I can see me jumping around while my mother chased me brandishing a belt. What’s reassuring is that this is typical. Berntsen and Rubin state “findings from other studies also suggest that individuals with more severe reactions in response to traumatic events tend to have more observer perspective associated with their memories of those events” (1196). Basically, remembering unpleasant events in the third person perspective helps the victim create distance from the event.

So, when we see Rick Sanchez speaking about himself in the third person it’s not because he’s a narcissistic jerk. Well, maybe he is, but what he’s mostly doing is describing a third person perspective memory. What I’m saying is Rick Sanchez feels bad about what Rick Sanchez did and to distance himself from his actions, he’s blaming Rick Sanchez. It’s that simple.

Berntsen, Dorthe, and David C. Rubin. 2006. "Emotion and vantage point in autobiographical". Cognition & Emotion. 20 (8): 1193-1215.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Uncle Sam Wants You (To Get In The Water!)

A few weeks ago, I had to search through the microfilm for an article about a US transport ship that had hit a mine back in 1942. While I had to spend a little more time than usual trying to find the article, it was well worth it in the end. At first, there was some confusion as to when the ship actually sank. It turns out that although the ship went down towards the end of October, it was not released in the media until six weeks later. That's a far cry from our instant news of today, and yet, there were still journalists "embedded" with the troops.

The 22,000 ton ocean liner hit a friendly mine and started sinking quickly. The captain of the ship managed to run it aground on a coral reef (!) and proceeded to evacuate the ship in a most orderly fashion. All of the soldiers had been sent to quarters, and there they waited, playing music and passing the time, until their sections were called. Then they joined the throngs that were doing this:

Have I ever mentioned my extreme fear of heights? I'm not sure I could have climbed down the side of this ship! It seems that several of the soldiers had a bit of trouble getting off the big boat, too.
The rescue boat that carried the writer to the ship's side found one young soldier clambering down a rope that was fifteen feet short of the water. He was very calm. He held to the rope with his two hands and looked down at us.
"Jump," our coxswain shouted.
"I can't swim," retorted the soldier.
"Jump, we'll catch you," we all shouted.
"Well, I don't know," the soldier mused. "I can't swim."
A stream of profanity was directed at him, but he swung there gently, listening us out, apparently too polite to interrupt. Then he said:
"Well, all right, but I can't swim a stroke." Then he began to count.
"One," he said; "two, three," and paused.
"Well, here goes," he shouted, counting, "four, five, six, and one for good measure."
When he got to "nine," he let go and hit just off our bow. He sank like a stone. We waited, boat hook ready for him to come up. It seemed he never would come up, but finally he broke water and we hauled him on board. Then we found out he had jumped with a fully loaded cartridge belt around his waist and had just plummeted on down. When he revived, spluttering, he protested: "I told you fellows I couldn't swim." (Troops, NYT)
I wonder what he was going to do with that fully loaded cartridge belt in the ocean. Perhaps it was his special fully loaded cartridge belt?

What could have been a total disaster resulting in large loss of life transpired with only two deaths. Or wait, was it three? Or maybe four... Initial reports (from 1942) said that as many as four or five men died, but looking at information from after the war points to only two men out of over five thousand that died ( What a beautiful miracle to come out of this:
Wolfert, Ira. "Troops on Lost Ship Sing During Rescue." New York Times. 16 Dec. 1942: A1. Print.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Banned Books Week in the Time of Cholera.

For my turn at Banned Books Week, I could take the easy way out and say that Go Ask Alice is my favorite banned book, since I wrote about it a few months ago. And while I read it and read it and re-read it some more growing up, the fact that the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez have been challenged is more upsetting to me. Sure, Alice’s “diary” contains sex and drugs (I can’t remember if rock and roll is involved), but those are elements that parents might object to. But Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, my all-time favorite book? I object!

Love in the Time of Cholera opens with the best first line of a novel ever (I dismiss you, Ishmael): “The scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.” Who could resist that? A parent in Montgomery County, MD who said it “should be removed from all county schools because it contained ‘perverse sexual acts’” (65), that’s who. The plot concerns the unrequited love of Florentino Aziza for Fermina Daza, and his devotion to her over the span of his entire life. More than that, however, is the absolutely gorgeous language. For example, there is this:

To him she seemed so beautiful, so seductive, so different from ordinary people, that he could not understand why no one was as disturbed as he by the clicking of her heels on the paving stones, why no one else's heart was wild with the breeze stirred by the sighs of her veils, why everyone did not go mad with the movements of her braid, the flight of her hands, the gold of her laughter. He had not missed a single one of her gestures, not one of the indications of her character, but he did not dare approach her for fear of destroying the spell.

It’s a very dense, somewhat difficult book that requires a mature reader to understand it—this factor alone should discourage the parent of a younger child from worrying that the child will be warped by reading it, as you have to understand it to keep reading. However, it is much easier to follow than One Hundred Years of Solitude, for which Garcia Marquez won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1982; I had to make a family tree and keep it in the front of my copy while I was reading in order to keep everyone straight. I am glad I did, though, because had I given up, I would’ve missed the part where Remedios the Beauty floats up to heaven—just one of the amazing moments of magic realism where something extraordinary is handled as the ordinary. One Hundred Years of Solitude has also been challenged on the claims that the book “was ‘garbage being passed off as literature’” (65).

Flipping through Robert P. Doyle’s Banned Books (which other staff members have referenced this week as well), there are tons of other fantastic books that I love that have been challenged: Native Son, The Catcher in the Rye, Brideshead Revisited, Song of Solomon, The Sun Also Rises, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Spoon River Anthology, Where the Sidewalk Ends, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gilly Hopkins, the Harry Potter series, Madonna’s Sex (I’m kidding!), The Headless Cupid, and My Darling, My Hamburger.

Librarians want to bring awareness to book challenges during Banned Books Week because we feel that information ought to be available to whoever seeks it. It is a parent’s responsibility to decide what is or isn’t appropriate for their child, and seeking to remove a book from a school or public library punishes the whole community.

Now it’s your turn: what’s your favorite banned book?

Doyle, Robert P. Banned Books. ALA, 2007.
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