This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, October 17, 1990

October 17, 1990 - Reference services

Some people believe that cooking with aluminum is a prime cause of Alzheimer's. If that's the case, I must have been using aluminum pots since, well, since I can't remember when.

I have been cursed with a poor memory. The best you can say is that it is erratic. Ask me the secret identity of the original comic book speedster, and I've got it in a Flash. (Jay Garrick.) Ask me who I'm supposed to meet for lunch today, and I haven't a clue.

When you work in a library, you run across a lot of interesting stuff. If you could remember the answers to all the questions that come up in a day, by the end of a week you'd be a genius. The trouble is, at least my trouble is, I can't even remember the questions.

So I've come to depend upon three basic reference tools. The first one you've probably seen in grocery stores all over the country. It's called "The World Almanac and Book of Facts." No library is without one, and no home should be. A current World Almanac alone can answer close to 50 percent of the questions that come up in a day.

The second basic reference source is an encyclopedia. I think the best one for a family is still the "World Book" -- it's easy to use, written in language children can understand, and impeccably researched. Grolier puts out an excellent encyclopedia as well. Encyclopedias provide the more in-depth information you sometimes need.

A third reference tool -- and I could not live without it -- is a dictionary. I like "The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language." I'm the only person I know who will sit and read a dictionary for pleasure. But language defines us, gives us tools to invent or discover meaning, and English is the richest language in the world. The least we can do is learn to correctly spell and savor the words that inform our lives.

Together, an almanac, dictionary and encyclopedia will answer close to 95% of your questions about the world. Every literate household owes it to itself to invest in a home reference center.

But what about the other 5 percent?

The Douglas County Public Library System has over 100,000 volumes. Roughly 5,000 of them are reference books. Some of them -- like the "1990 New Car Cost Guide" by the Automobile Invoice Service, the "N.A.D.A. Official Used Car Guide," and various Consumer Report publications -- provide information that can save you hundreds of dollars.

Others, like periodical indexes, association directories, or college handbooks, can help you track down other kinds of current facts.

The truth is, there are reference sources for nearly anything. Some are esoteric. Many are prohibitively expensive for families. But that's precisely the point of the public library. We pool our money to buy what none of us can afford by ourselves.

In the technologically complex 'nineties, information may be the most important commodity of our culture.

So the next time you get to wondering about something -- a purchase, a career change, an adventure mental or physical -- you might want to give the library a call. (That's right, we'll even answer questions over the phone!)

It's worth remembering.

No comments:

Post a Comment