Monday, September 14, 2009

Librarian's Lobby for September

After taking off from writing the column for the summer here is the first column for 5770 תשס"נ

Last August someone asked me why a writer used a particular system of Romanizing Hebrew. I gave a quick answer then, but the topic deserved greater study. The challenge of transcribing sounds or transliterating words from one script to another is an ancient challenge. The Romans when they entered ancient Israel were the first to have a need to write Hebrew words in Latin characters. No orthography fits the oral language precisely.

This month's column, Transliteration of Hebrew, may be downloaded from: It is in PDF format to accommodate the Hebrew and illustrations.

I wish everyone שנה טובה ומתוקה shannah tovah umitukah. May this year be one of peace, respect for one another, prosperity for all, and good health. May your family and friends be a source of strength and support to enable us all to make this a better place to live.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Visual Information

Information is organized data. Yesterday someone showed me an article in the July 1, 2009 issue of School Library Journal "It’s a Mad, Mad Wordle: For a new take on text" by Carolyn Foote. The article is about another way to present information. Wordle ( is a free program that takes words or an RSS feed to make a graphic representation. Words that occur more frequently at bigger or more predominate. This is a fun way to play with words or represent articles graphically. Read the full article on line at:

Below is a Wordle picture created from this blog.

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?"

Friday, September 4, 2009

Using First Names

I just received a phone call from someone who never met me whose first word was, "Daniel?" Right away this is red flag to me because none of my friends or family would ever call me by that version of my name. The caller did not even ask, "Is this Daniel? or "May I speak with Daniel?" I usually reply in my best public service voice, "This is Dr. Stuhlman, may I help you?" Sometimes they continue to use "Daniel" as if they are familiar with me. Sometimes they will reflect back, "Oh, Dr. Stuhlman, I'm Joe from XYZ company."

I went to visit a Chicago high school a couple of weeks ago. Everyone on the faculty there is addressed with a title, "Dr., Mr., Ms, etc." The person I was meeting with had never met me before. He introduced himself as, "Dr. A." No first name was given. I have not even sure how he spells or pronounces his last name. I replied, "I'm Dr. Daniel Stuhlman, nice to meet you." I handed him my calling card to make sure he knew my name.

Perhaps unsolicited callers have no training in derech erets (good manners)? Or perhaps manners don't exist any more? What if I didn't answer my own phone? What if the caller started talking and solicited or reveled something that the person answering should not know? Here are Stuhlman's Rules for phoning. 1) Make sure the person on the other end is the person you want to talk to. 2) Use full names to establish that the person is the right person. 3) Do not assume you can call someone by a nick name. For example I am not "Dan," "Danny," or "Don." Anyone calling me by those names will not get my attention. I will just think they are trying to find someone else.

I were calling from the place where I work I would identify myself ("Hello, this is Daniel Stuhlman from XYZ Library.") and then make sure I have the right person ("May I please speak with Sally Jones?")

How do you want strangers to address you?



ML: I first encountered the phenomenon when working for a bank in the early '90s. While helping a couple of departments with mail merges, I noticed that they were omitting titles of respect and using "Dear [first name] [last name]:" as the salutation. When I asked about it, I was told that this was because a) some women are offended by being called Ms. So-and-So, while others are offended by Mrs. So-and-So or Miss So-and-So; and b) with all the gender-neutral and just plain unusual first names that parents have chosen since the 1970s, you no longer know from the first name whether you're addressing a man or a woman. That, coupled with general a trend towards less formality in today's society, has led to the conclusion that you're less likely to offend someone by addressing them by first name or first & last name than by attempting to use a title of respect. In your case, you were talking to someone working with a list of first and last names and a script.

RF: Debt collectors are not allowed to use a last name until they have the correct person -- same with doctor's offices. This is for ensuring privacy.

DS: My point was that the caller did not establish he had the correct person. This morning's call was not a debt collector call; he was from a trade publication that I subscribe to.

RF: He was just rude.

DS: Yes. This is kind of rudeness is common. I was also seeking the experience of others.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Asking the best questions

Last night a class was sent by their English 101 teacher on a library scavenger hunt. They were given a list of questions to answer based on library resources. The questions were of the “busy work” type rather than the analysis type. For example, “Where is the library catalog?” Answer – “On line.” “Does the library own Time Magazine in microfilm and which years?” Answer -- “Yes, 1923-1997.“

One student asked where the book check-out desk was located. I pointed him to the big sign less than 15 feet from where he was standing. He then asked where can he find the reserve book collection. I answered right here. He looked puzzled. I asked him what he wanted to know. After much thought he wanted to know what books are on reserve for a biology class. He asked a question, got a correct answer, but the answer did not give him what he needed to know. The teacher wanted the students to know that the reserve books are found behind the circulation desk. However, knowing what is on reserve for a class they don’t take will not help them.

A better approach for the teacher would be to tell them how to check the list of reserve books. This listing system changed this semester and it is doubtful that the teacher knows about the changes. Students need to be taught how to ask questions that will lead them to what they need to know. Asking, “Does the library own any microfilm?” will not teach them how to find the titles they need. Some students asked “Where are the microfilm kept?” Since the New York Times and Chicago Tribune are the most frequently requested films, the students were directed to their storage space.

The task of a reference librarian is to help library patrons use library resources to their best advantage. It is better to teach the patrons the principles of looking up answers than to give them the full answer. Figuring out the best questions is the major part of the research.