Thursday, January 17, 2019

Two library databases and a web site for exploring both sides of controversial issues

At the back of the January 2019 issue of Toastmaster magazine, on page 30, there is a single-page humor article by John Cadley titled At the Library. (His columns are a series titled Funny You Should Say That). John opened by claiming:

“I’m sitting here in the Fayetteville Free Library in Upstate New York wondering if ‘free library’ is redundant.”

Then he just told us a bunch of Tall Tales about libraries. Unfortunately he didn’t bother to ask a reference librarian there if she had anything that would be particularly useful to Toastmasters (or others) trying to write speeches.

She would have replied that yes, they had a database from Gale called Opposing Viewpoints in Context that lets you explore both sides of an issue. EBSCO has a similar one called Points of View Reference Center (supplied, for example, by the Ohio Web Library or Utah's Online Library). And, if (like here in Idaho) your state library system does not supply either of those for your friendly local public library, then you instead can use a web site called ProCon. I mentioned ProCon in a comprehensive blog post on Feb 14, 2015 titled How to do a better job of speech research than the average Toastmaster (by using your friendly local public and state university libraries). Boise State University provides yet another database from SAGE called CQ Researcher, described as providing in-depth reports on today’s issues.

Librarians can keep you out of blind alleys. They are used to subject indexing, and are excellent at figuring out the right search terms to describe a topic. On August 22, 2012 I blogged about Avoiding blind alleys in research. On June 25, 2017 I blogged about how Pteromechanophobia is just a humorous, pseudo-technical term for fear of flying – from a satirical cartoonist.

One of the Tall Tales Mr. Cadley spouts is:

“America didn’t have a library until 1731 when Benjamin Franklin, who invented everything the Chinese didn’t, founded the Library Company of Philadelphia. This prompted U.S. Presi­dent James Madison to propose the Congressional Library in 1783. A section of the executive order for the Library read: ‘It is no longer permissible for politicians to know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Every member of the House and Senate is now required to read at least ONE BOOK so he knows something. ANYTHING.’ ”

He should have gotten smarter than a fifth-grader before cooking up the part about President Madison. In 1783 we didn’t have a Constitution, so we didn’t have a President. Our first, George Washington, served from 1789 to 1797. Our sixth, James Madison, was president from 1809 to 1817.

The real history of the Library of Congress is more interesting than his Tall Tale. It began in 1800 with President John Adams and $5000 worth of books in the Capitol building. After that building was burned by the British during the War of 1812, Congress accepted former president Thomas Jefferson’s offer to sell his comprehensive personal library of 6,487 books to restart the Library of Congress.

The image of arguing was adapted from one of a couple arguing at Openclipart. The image of a blind alley came from Francisco Anzola at Wikimedia Commons. I lightened it, and changed the sky to blue.

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