Encouraging college students to use the library

Library circ desk
Library circ desk

Circulation desk at Newburyport Public Library

Classes have started at colleges and universities. Some time at the beginning of every term, academic librarians conduct tours of the library and visit classes to offer library instruction. Or perhaps meet them in the library’s own classrooms. What are they trying to accomplish?

What happens when they don’t get through to students? The results can be comical. They also help perpetuate a cycle of ignorance. After all, some students who never catch on graduate anyway. And some of them wind up teaching somewhere. Continue reading

Government websites you should know about: Medline Plus

Medline Plus front page

Medline Plus  front pageMedline Plus is a database made available by the National Library of Medicine. Most library databases require a subscription that only libraries can afford to pay. Because Medline Plus originates from the federal government, it is free.

As the name implies, it is something called Medline with additional features. Medline itself is the online version of Index Medicus. For anyone who remembers having to use Reader’s Guide, Index Medicus was one of a number of similar reference serials for specialists. Now anyone can use it and understand it. Continue reading

Reference librarians reach out: low tech this time

Books on bikes
Books on bikes

Seattle librarian Jared Mills backs his custom-made “Books on Bikes” trailer into its spot at a farmers market.

I wish I had read about this before I wrote last week’s post. Except for walking around the library, all of the means of outreach I wrote about entailed the use of computer technology and electronic communication. Who would have thought of a bicycle?  Continue reading

Reference librarians reach out

Reference librarian and patron. what librarians do
Reference librarian and patron

Reference interview

A librarian sits at the reference desk. Patrons come to the desk, ask questions, and receive answers. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

I have personally served at busy times with people streaming past the desk in both directions, but not stopping to ask questions.

That doesn’t  necessarily mean that none of those people had questions, either. Here’s a story I found on a librarians’ email list:

One student at an academic librarian sat at a table asking friends for help as they walked by. He used his cell phone to call friends in other parts of the library. He was sitting right next to the reference desk.

Not only did he not think to go ask a librarian for help, he refused help with the reference librarian came over to offer it!

The reference desk can be a lonely place to work! Continue reading

Evolution of words

Our word “blue” comes from an old “Common Romance” word blavus. So? Blavus seems to come from the Latin flavus, which means yellow. Over the years, neither the spelling, nor the pronunciation, nor the meaning of words stays put.

Well, stranger things have happened to words!

Well, stranger things have happened to words!

“Baroque” comes from a word that refers to a misshaped pearl. Music and art critics of the early and middle 18th century used it to refer to the style of earlier generations that they considered unnatural, overly ornate.

In other words, these critics intended “baroque” as a derogatory term. It referred to music, architecture, paintings, etc. that violated “modern” notions of reason and good proportion.

So what do we mean by “baroque” now? It’s simply a designation for the various arts of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. We like it just fine, even if we don’t necessarily agree about what it means, what it includes, and what it excludes.

Changing parts of speech

Red sunset off the California coast. Ominous?

Red sunset off the California coast. Ominous?

Sometimes words change meaning, or at least emphasis when they change form.

That is, a noun might have maintained a particular meaning over centuries, but becomes something a little different as an adjective.

Take “omen,” for example. In the dictionary, for example that word means a phenomenon that foretells something good or evil. Take the old sailor’s rhyme

Red sky at night, sailor’s delight
Red sky at morning, sailor take warning

A red sunset is an omen that the next day will have good weather for clear sailing. A red sunrise is an omen that a storm is coming and it will be rough sailing.

If an omen can be good or bad, then why is “ominous” only something bad? We might say a red sunrise is ominous. We often use that word for an accumulation of black clouds and strong wind. A bad storm’s coming.

If a red sunset or bright blue skies with puffy cumulous clouds and a gentle breeze foretell a glorious day, why don’t we call them ominous? They’re omens, too.

The “e” in the noun becomes “i” in the adjective. But then the same thing has happened to the related pair “portent” and “portentous.” A portent can foretell something good, but something that’s portentous never does.

Terror and horror are both intense forms of fear. Terrible and horrible have both become merely ways of calling something bad.

I went to a restaurant one time and vowed never to go back. I thought the food was terrible. It didn’t stay in business long. The other people who tried it out must have thought the same.

You know very well when I said the food was terrible that I wasn’t frightened by it. Would it have been any different if I had said the food was horrible?

You have probably used or heard others use both words to warn someone against a bad restaurant or something. But not to make anyone afraid.

Enormity of change?

Here’s a word that seems to be changing meaning in our own lifetime: enormity. It means, or at least meant, a monstrous evil, a violation of decency, an outrage.

In other words, we can properly speak of the enormity of the holocaust, the enormity of slavery, even the enormity of the gulf oil spill. Enormity entails a moral value judgment.

More and more, people are using it as a mere description of size.  If the enormity of the oil spill is a value judgment, the enormity of cleaning it up is not.

Would we lose a good and useful distinction if enormity becomes just another way of saying enormousness? I think so.

Is it worth fighting to preserve that distinction? Lots others must think so. Just google “enormity misuse” to see how many!

Can we do anything about it if that misuse becomes commonplace usage? No, unfortunately.

The pig manure is noisome. The tractor scooping it is  noisy.

The pig manure is noisome. The tractor scooping it is noisy.

But here’s another example of a word that doesn’t mean at all what it looks like: noisome.

It doesn’t have anything to do with noisy. It comes from “annoy” and has always referred to a stench, a foul odor. A manure lagoon is noisome. A loud welcome home to the Super Bowl winner is not.

So do we find as much outrage over “noisome misuse”? No. Hardly anyone uses the word at all any more.

If an author uses it properly, it probably doesn’t communicate much to the average reader.  If an author uses it improperly, the average reader probably, and quite properly, sees it only as an odd affectation for “noisy.”

If “noisome” hasn’t completely gone the way of “yclept,” it probably will soon enough.

Photo sources:
Evolution satire. Some rights reserved by tedmurphy.
Sunset. Public domain, from Wikimedia Commons.
Pig farmer scooping manure. Some rights reserved by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.