Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Grab Bag, If You Will

The Massillon Public Library's reference desk has been hopping for the past few months. Yes, hopping. Hopping so much, in fact, that there hasn't been much time for reference blogging. But fear not, loyal reader(s)! We're still here. And to make it up to you, we're going to give you a rundown of all of the interesting and/or bizarre and/or interestingly bizarre questions that have crossed our desk since last fall. And by golly, we have a lot to talk about. You might want to pull up a chair.

  • A few days ago, we got the ever-popular "How many people are there in the world?" query. And it was World Bank to the rescue, pointing us to the mind-boggling number of 6,692,030,277 (as of 2008).

  • A couple of days later, a patron visited our reference desk and asked us if carrot leaves were safe to eat. Not trusting the USDA's claims of the leaves' safety and remaining skeptical when a handful of cookbooks concurred with these rulings, our patron finally convinced our Head of Reference Services, Sherie, to call the Food Safety Division of the Ohio Department of Agriculture to obtain a triple verification. When they agreed that yes, carrot leaves are indeed safe to eat, our patron left the library with a simple answer and some major peace of mind.

  • Did you know that cooked halibut offers your diet more magnesium than a cup of dry roasted almonds? Neither did we, until one of our loyal elderly patrons called and asked for a list of magnesium-rich foods to add to her diet. We pulled up a very helpful chart from the National Institute of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements website and gave her the complete list over the phone. "I'm 86 years old now," she told us, "and maybe adding more magnesium to my diet will help me make it to 87!" We hope so!

  • During one of our recent KnowItNow exchanges, a student opened the chat session with a doozy of a question: where is Einstein's brain? And the answer? Much more complicated than one would initially expect. This is because Einstein's brain is... how should we say this? Einstein's brain is no longer one entity. According to various sources, including NPR's "The Long, Strange Journey of Einstein's Brain" and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's "Doctor Kept Einstein's Brain in Jar 43 Years," Dr. Thomas Harvey removed Albert Einstein's brain during the famous mathemetician's 1955 autopsy, divided it into 24o pieces, and kept each piece in separate jars throughout his home for 43 years. It was in 1998 when Harvey finally turned over the famous pieces of gray matter to Dr. Elliot Krauss, a pathologist at Princeton University (where Einstein's brain has remained since). Yet another answer to fall into the already jam-packed Jeopardy-worthy category of Who Knew?

  • Ever wonder if you had a couple of (hundred?) (thousand?) dollars sitting somewhere unclaimed? Believe it or not, a lot of our patrons do! We've found that referring them to the State of Ohio's Department of Commerce is usually the most helpful way to check on the possibility of unclaimed monies. Their Division of Unclaimed Funds includes an online search form and an exhaustive list of very helpful FAQs. You never know if you don't try, right?

  • And lastly, to round out the list, we had another always-entertaining celebrity query cross our path about a month or so ago. One of our patrons approached the reference desk and asked, very simply, "What is a Bennifer?" And, without flinching, we cited a Fox News article that fixated on the celebrity uniname phenomenon, explaining that a "Bennifer" is not a rare animal species. It is, in actuality, the merging of the given names "Ben" and "Jennifer," the most famous example being, of course, the ill-fated union of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez. Yes, indeed.

We couldn't make this up if we tried, we promise.