Saturday, September 5, 2009

This Week in Reference

Sometimes I like to write about amusing questions that cross my desk. Now I want to tell of some questions that really show off a great interaction with the reference desk.

A student came in a hurry, almost out of breath. "I need to know when the next full moon is." She explained that the full moon affects her and she need to take medication on the full moon. I looked the calendar and counted 15 days from Rosh HaShanna forward for October and backward for September. After she left I found the web site: . My answer was the same as the calendar, September 4 and October 4. The reason my calculation works is that Rosh Hashanna and other first days of Hebrew months are on the day of the new moon. The new moon is when the first glimmer of light is seen on the moon. The full moon is the middle of the lunar moon. Since the cycle of the moon is 29.5 days the full moon is on the approximately the 15th of the month. Actually the calendar date could vary from the 14th to the 16th because the calendar measures days not the hour of the full moon.

The precise answer for the full moon is: Sep 4 16:05 and Oct 4 06:11 . The times are listed in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) Chicago is GMT -5 (five hours earlier in Chicago during daylight savings time). Jerusalem is GMT +3 during daylight saving time and GMT +2 the rest of the year.

Person 2 asked, "There are supposed to be four new Lincoln pennies minted this year. Have they all been released?" I went directly to the U.S. Mint web site: The home page has a link to order the third Lincoln ( "Profesional life") one cent coins and says that they will be shipped after September 11, 2009. The first two in the series, "Birthplace" and "Formative Years." are listed as sold out. There was no date for the shipment on the fourth coin in the series.

Person 3 was a faculty member. Her first question was whether the library had an DVDs that she could show her class about World War 2. The quick answer was, "No the library does not collect DVDs they are all in the Media Services Department, but I can check them in our catalog." Since ee could find anything in the catalog they would help her, I suggested that we check the Internet Archive ( The site has more than 200,000 videos. (Actually almost 1000 were added from when I did the search in the and now when this is being written.) The faculty member said that her classroom didn't have a computer. I told her that was no problem. She could go to Media Services and reserve a cart with a computer and projector. No one had told her this before. The Internet Archive has historic videos including news reels, educational films, historic advertisements, cartoons, and even feature films. The site also has texts and audios. One only feature is the "Wayback Machine." This enables one to view a web site as it looked in a previous moment. If you thought a web site goes away when you change or delete it, this will prove you mistaken. Enter the URL and view previous versions of web sites.

We also searched the Public Broadcasting System, Library of Congress, and the BBC sites (, http:/, and and found more videos and texts to help with her classes.

This faculty member learned not only about new digital resources but also about what services the college could offer.

These questions are so much more challenging to answer than, "Where is the Science Building?"

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