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.

Thursday, May 19, 1994

Anatomy of a reference question

Ever wonder what a librarian does exactly? Then check out this week's column, written by Moira Armstrong, one of our Philip S. Miller reference librarians. I call it, "The Anatomy of a Reference Question."

May 17 - Gina Woods (Oakes Mill Branch Manager) calls with a question. "What is the symbology of the new Russian flag?" She knows that it is tri-colored. She hasn't found the information in any of the common sources including books on flags, most of which have been published before 1990. This is for a sixth grader, and the assignment is due in 5 days.

Gina and I discuss whether we would still look anything up under "Russia," or the "Commonwealth of Independent States" (CIS). I check The Statesman's Year-Book, which is our most current information on the political, economic, and social status of the nations of the world. There is no information about the flag.

I then check the various almanacs, encyclopedias, and flag books in our collection. I check the Time and Newsweek articles devoted to the events surrounding Boris Yeltsin and the Russian Coup d'Etat. In Time Magazine there is a picture of the flag, but nothing explaining the symbology.

I then call Denver Public Library�s Interlibrary Loan Department, which is usually our next step. I explain the question, and the sources that I have used to this point. DPL calls back a day later and tells us that they can find nothing.

At this point I remember that Jeff Long (another Philip S. Miller reference librarian) has, in the past, called an obscure organization found in the Encyclopedia of Associations. Listed under Flag Research Center (with a pointer to the subject heading, "Vexillology") is a phone number for Dr. Whitney Smith, who is Executive Director of the Center.

Listed under International Federation of Vexillological Associations, I find that Dr. Whitney Smith is the Secretary General. Hmmm. (I picture a small, dark, one room office, staffed by an elderly man with a handle bar mustache, wearing a boy scout uniform.) I call and leave voice mail. Dr. Smith, as it turns out, is out of town.

I consult the Washington Information Directory, and look under �Russia.� No. Soviet Union? See Independent States and Commonwealth Affairs.

Under Regional Affairs is the following: State Dept., Independent States and Commonwealth Affairs handles relations with the former Soviet Union; assists other agencies in dealings with the former Soviet Union. I call, I get voice mail, I leave a message. No return call.

Next day, I call and speak with a secretary who gives me the number of another State Department desk. I call, voice mail, no return call.

Back to the Washington Information Directory where I look up Embassies, foreign (list). Under Russian Federation I get yet another number at the State Department - a Desk Officer. I call, voice mail, no return.

I try again, and am referred to another number at the Russian Embassy where lo and behold an actual person answers with "Hello." But this is not just any "hello," this is a growly, wonderful, Russian hello. I explain my question and he tells me he doesn't speak English. He gives me another number.

I make the next call. It rings, and rings, no machines, no voice mail, just nobody there. I try again several hours later and after the eighth ring, a very hesitant, shy, female voice responds with "allo"? Again, no identifier, and This Is The Russian Embassy !!!

I go through my speech, explaining how it's so nice to finally speak to someone who can help me with this, and on and on. There is a long pause at the other end and I finally ask, "You do speak English, don't you? To which she replies, "I don't know."

Ah, but she has given me a number. I make this final call and speak with an ebullient young Russian named Gennadi Syomin, who is, as it turns out, the Managing Editor of the new publication Russian Life. Gennadi informs me that he is "most pleased to share this important information with me," and I am indeed relieved to learn that the state flag of the Russian Federation is rectangular with three horizontal stripes: white, blue, and red.

The Russian tricolor dates back to 1694, when Peter the Great chose the colors of the Dutch national flag, but in a different arrangement, for the flag that was raised on Russian trade ships. In 1883 the tricolor became the official state flag of Russia, until the revolution of 1917. At that time any mention of the flag was wiped from historical records and Gennadi told me that several generations, including his, had never heard of this flag. This, until Boris Yeltsin adopted the tri-color during the August 1991 Coup d'Etat.

Gennadi Syomin was warm and endearing and I enjoyed our conversation. He sent me the latest edition of Russian Life Magazine, explaining that the magazine had been in forced hibernation for a year and a half. The issue is at the reference desk for anyone who wants to browse. It is filled with full-color photographs, and has an interesting article on ... the history and symbology of the Russian Federation Flag.

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