Rime thyme

Spelling is hardA wicked witch long ago cast a bad spell on the English language. Now there are hardly any common words that don’t rhyme with other words that have a very different spelling. Some people get confused.

George Hearst, father of journalist William Randolph Hearst, ran for governor of California in 1882 despite having almost no education. In defense against the jeers of political rivals, he said,

My opponents say that I haven’t the book learning that they possess. They say I can’t spell. They say I spell bird, b-u-r-d. If b-u-r-d doesn’t spell bird, what in the hell does it spell?

“Burd,” by the way, used to mean “young woman” in Middle English (800 years ago). But how was Hearst to know?

What would happen if all these rhyming words decided to trade endings? Would anyone be able to figure out what a sentence says? Can you? Try these. Continue reading

Travel information: government websites you should know

luggage travelIt’s election season. Want to get away?

The federal government can help. Really!

Government websites offer a great deal of travel information. They won’t book your flight or find a hotel, but some of them can suggest great travel locations.

They’ll give you safety tips and help you decide what to do if something goes wrong.

Do you have a 4th-grader? The feds offer a special deal to save you money—and maybe your sanity in years to come. Read on. Continue reading

31 tips to improve your writing skills

student writingHow long have you been a writer?

Since about first grade. As soon as you started to learn to read, you started to learn to write.

First you wrote letters, then words, then sentences, then paragraphs.

Do I need to remind you of term papers? Many people look forward to graduating as much to turn in their last paper as for anything else.

And many people, I suppose, look for jobs where they don’t have to write much. They have no faith in their writing skills.

You may have to write a lot more than you anticipated when you started your current career. But if you write nothing more than emails to friends or Facebook updates, why not make them worth reading? Continue reading

What happens when you need to look it up?

Research using a laptopI wrote this post for anyone who doesn’t know everything off the top of their head. You have to look things up from time to time, don’t you?

Once upon a time, we all looked up addresses and phone numbers in a phone book. We probably all still have them.

You can still use print to find a wide variety of information, but nowadays, you most likely look things up online more often. What happens between you typing your search query and the results appearing on the screen? Continue reading

The school librarian: an endangered species?

School librarian

School librarian

Every good school has a library. And a school librarian. Too many school districts have decided that having good schools is too expensive.

School librarians, like other librarians, have a master’s in library science They must also have a valid teaching certificate.

Unfortunately, many school districts are getting rid of their librarians. I wrote earlier specifically about Chicago, but the problem is nationwide and has been building for years. Continue reading

Treasure trove: New York Public Library Digital Collection

Miniature of annunciation, New York Public Library Digital Collection

Miniature of Annunciation, initials, linefillers, and border design, 15th century

The New York Public library holds many rare and valuable materials. The new New York Public Library Digital Collection makes them easily available.

Before the Internet, if you wanted to use them, provided you knew they existed, you would have had to travel to the library and consult them in person.

When the library first began to digitize them and put them online, you could have seen and downloaded a low-resolution images. You would have had to pay for, and wait for, a high-resolution image. Discovery and access were still difficult.

Perhaps its description of one of its major collection is representative of the library’s own concerns: Continue reading

22 ways to use the library

library signDo you know what’s going on at the library? Even if you’re a regular library user, you may may be missing something interesting.

Libraries represent a kind of “third space,” which is neither home nor work. Unlike many others, they are not a business. They don’t carry with them the expectation that you will pay for something.

Of course, libraries offer numerous services you can use. You’re paying for public library services with tax dollars. You’re paying for academic library services if you are part of a college/university community.

For most purposes, then, you never have to dig out cash or a credit card in the library. That makes a library suitable for a multitude of activities you couldn’t comfortably do in other third spaces.

Plenty of libraries offer unique services, but here are some that nearly all of them will have. Let’s consider the library as a building, a set of services, a collection, and a place for activities. Continue reading

Air on the side of caution: more misused pears

misused pears

Mixmatched pear of shoes?

That’s advice I saw somewhere about how not to fall for scams: “If you suspect the email could be legitimate, air on the side of caution anyway.” It’s an error of course, not an airor. The expression is err on the side of caution.

Air and err are two homonyms that someone mixed up. Something I like to call misused pears. (Although actually the preferred pronunciation of “err” according to the American Heritage Dictionary is ur rather than air.)

Lots of people err when typing, but not on the side of caution. I wouldn’t advocate being so cautious as to look up every word in a dictionary, but at least learn what the right word is and then proofread!

But that mistake somehow reminds me of a sign I saw posted in a town where I used to live: “Do not air out your dog here.” I wish I had taken a picture of it. That sign isn’t a misused pear, just a very strange euphemism. Whoever posted it certainly didn’t care how much air came out of a dog! Continue reading

Happy birthday, Wikipedia

 

Wikipedia's Twitter page

Wikipedia’s Twitter page

Wikipedia just passed its 15th birthday. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what online information and online research were like before it burst on the scene. It is one of the first and by far the largest ventures in user-written content.

It is not, I repeat, not an authoritative source of information suitable for student papers or other serious research—unless perhaps it is the only available source. But that’s not because Wikipedia is created by volunteers instead of recognized experts. It’s because it’s an encyclopedia.

Continue reading

Raucous good times at the library

Library action figure with real shushing motion. Modeled on a respected librarian with a good sense of humor!

Library action figure with real shushing motion. Modeled on a respected librarian with a good sense of humor!

I hope the stereotype of a librarian as a frumpy woman with no friends and a fetish for quiet had a decent burial long ago.

Librarians are very creative people who enjoy having fun as much as anyone else.

A few years ago, I presented some videos of library book cart drill teams!
You might find similar shenanigans at a parade. Some librarian conferences have regular drill team competitions.

But what about singing, dancing, running, riding book carts, and even laughing aloud in the library itself? At the reference desk and circulation desk! Even in the stacks!! Librarians do all that and more in parody videos of popular songs. Continue reading