The Library of Congress Turns a Page

james billington 13th librarian of congress in  history

James Billington, 13th Librarian of Congress (1987-2015)

The Librarian of Congress is not an official who makes the news often, but the current Librarian of Congress, James Billington, announced his retirement last June. President Obama will appoint the next Librarian of Congress, becoming only the 10th President in history to have that opportunity. Billington was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1987.

You know that the Library of Congress is the library, well, of Congress. Congress created a library for its own use very early in the nation’s history. But it has become more than that. It’s America’s unofficial national library.

It affects the workings of every other library in the country. And you can use it without leaving home through its website Continue reading

How search engines and library catalogs work

Online library catalog
Online library catalog

OPAC = Online public access catalog

You know how to use a search engine. Decide what keywords you want to search and type them into the search box. Then see if the results returned the information you expected.

Do you know how to use a library catalog? Even though you will probably see a single search box like a search engine’s, if you expect it to work the same way you will be frustrated.

That single search box is not the only way to search the catalog. It’s not even the best way.

If you see a link to “advanced search,” click on it. Once you understand the difference between a search engine and a catalog, “advanced search” will return better results with a lot less trouble.

Search engines

server farm

This picture actually shows a Facebook server farm in Sweden. There’s a lot more than a photographer can cram into one picture. Google’s server farms surely look similar.

How does a search engine work? When you type your search, the search engine’s automated procedures have already performed two important tasks. Continue reading

What Everyone Ought to Know about Disasters: FEMA Website

FEMA relief effort
FEMA relief effort

Volunteers cleaning flood-damaged home in West Virginia

You don’t want to deal with FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It’s not because it’s a federal bureaucracy, which is bad enough.

It’s because the only time they come to town is when you’ve suffered a catastrophe: severe weather, wildfires, earthquakes, or various manmade disasters like chemical spills.

You don’t want to deal with them. But it’s a good idea to look at the FEMA website.

The home page is simple and attractive. The site itself is many layers deep and may require some hunting to find exactly what you need to know. It contains information not only for you, the property owner, but also for insurance professionals and other people in other important roles.

The screen shots below (captured June 23, 2015) show what’s in the menus at the top of the home page, and then what you find when you scroll down to the next part of the page. Continue reading

Eggcorns, a new word for misused pears

mistakes with homonyms--fun with homonyms
fun with homonyms

Mixmatched pear of shoes?

Children eventually stop growing. The English language does not.

Most new words catch popular fancy for a while, and then drop out of site.

Quite a few eventually get recognized by major dictionaries.

Merriam-Webster just added 1,700 new words. “Eggcorn” now takes its place alongside malapropism, spoonerism, and mondegreen to describe a losing battle with using or understanding words.

A malapropism substitutes a completely wrong word, as when Mrs. Malaprop (in the third act of The Rivals by Richard Sheridan) declares, “Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!” Not one of the italicized words means anything remotely like what she meant.

Eggcorn, on the other hand, sort of make sense, as when someone refers to “old-timers’ disease” instead of “Alzheimer’s disease. In 2003 a blogger noted that he knew a woman who said “egg corn” instead of “acorn” and that there was no word to describe that kind of mistake.

Linguist Geoffrey Pullam responded that “eggcorn” would be a very appropriate word. Its entry into a major dictionary’s word list indicates that, 12 years after the suggestion, “eggcorn” has demonstrated its usefulness and staying power.

How many of these have you encountered?  Continue reading

Government websites: National Park Service

Yellowstone national park service
Yellowstone national park service

Yellowstone National Park, tent camping

This installment of the occasional series on federal government websites looks at the National Park Service. Travel season will be here before we know it, and the national parks make wonderful vacation destinations.

Nearly everyone knows parks like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, but the National Park Service operates 407 national parks, national monuments, and other properties. Click on “Find a Park” in the header menu to find parks by name, location, activity, and topic. Here are the ones that begin with the letter E.

  • Ebey’s Landing
  • Edgar Allen Poe
  • Effigy Mounds
  • Eisenhower
  • El Camino Real de los Tejas
  • El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro
  • El Malpais
  • El Morro
  • Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Ellis Island
  • Erie Canalway
  • Essex
  • Eugene O’Neill
  • Everglades

Continue reading