Thursday, August 18, 2005

I've been a little busy lately, and because we're in summer intersession, I haven't been on the desk very much. But this morning I got a comment from some kind soul saying "more posts, please." And because I live to oblige...

Two reference books today, because the desk is quiet and I need the practice. Taken more or less at random from our reference collection, we have:

The Language of the Civil War
John D. Wright
Oryx Press, 2001

This is a fun one. It's an alphabetical list of words and phrases that developed during the Civil War. There's a good bibliography of further readings, and a comprehensive index. Also includes a listing of terms in related subject groups at the front (i.e., all the terms having to do with horses, weapons, medical matters, etc. are listed in one place.) I've had good experiences with Oryx Press encyclopedias in the past; they seem to be a pretty solid little publisher. There are some images of Civil War-era people and places, which can be useful when students are looking for that kind of thing. Overall, it's probably what I'd call a "secondary" reference tool--it's not a source of hard data or statistics, and it's likelier to be used as a browsing tool than for a specific answer to a search. But these are entertaining books to spend time with, as evidenced by our student assistants' strong inclination to choose them when they have to review something for their Reference Gem.

A few interesting Civil War-era terms:

poor as Job's turkey: A common simile for poverty or lack of funds; e.g., "Every time the sutler comes around, I'm as poor as Job's turkey."

sutler's pie: A small pie that was an uninviting but still popular snack item for Union soldiers. The pies sold for 25 cents, and the ingredients within the thin crust were usually a mystery. One soldier described them as "moist and indigestible below, tough and indestructible above, with untold horrors within."

bull-head: A slang name for someone who acted stubborn or was stupid. The insult was first used about a decade before the war began.

Statistical Handbook on Women in America
Cynthia M. Taeuber
Oryx Press, 1996

It's an Oryx kind of day, apparently. I didn't realize these were both Oryx Press when I took them off the shelf. It makes me think (idly) that it might make interesting reading to intentionally review a few books from a single publisher at the same time. It could be a good way to get a sense for how authoritative or user-friendly a given publisher tends to be.

Anyway, this one's what I might call a "primary" reference book, full of facts and figures that answer specific questions about the status of women in this country.

It's a bit hard to neatly encapsulate a book with this much information in it, and in this case the ToC doesn't help too much. It's not particularly user-friendly; the arrangement is hard to read and I'd frankly rather turn to the index to find a specific figure. Fortunately, Oryx seems to give good index. There's a glossary of terms, and a one-page guide to information resources, which helpfully explains that the United States has a "decentralized statistical system." No kidding, say reference librarians everywhere. Still, it's helpful to know which agencies to call for which kinds of figures.

The broad categories of information in this one are the usual for demographic stats sources: education, health, employment, poverty, population change, etc. The sources are generally U.S. government agencies, and there's a certain amount of capriciousness in what's included. ("Hypertension among persons 20 years of age and over, by sex, age, race, and Hispanic origin: 1960-62, 1971-74, 1976-80, and 1988-91", for instance.) But there's also some very good information in here, that would answer a lot of questions we might conceivably get: divorce and annulment rates, birth rates for unmarried mothers, causes of death according to sex, etc.

We should update this one, if there's a new edition out.


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8:06 PM  

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