By Mary Kelly
There is an episode of Friends where Joey was given a sales pitch for encyclopedia and ended buying a single volume of the letter V, since he couldn’t afford the whole set. Encyclopedia salesman, played by Penn Jillette, tells Joey that he can converse better with his friends by reading the encyclopedia. Unfortunately, he is still unable to converse unless the topic is found in the volume V. (IMDB Friends, Season 4 episode 3)
Reference materials, particularly encyclopedias, are a favorite of mine, both in and out of the library. I think it appeals to my short attention span and the desire to know enough about a topic to help someone navigate their information needs. The great thing about a database of reference material is that it can search across multiple items and get to the specifics of a topic quickly. This is helpful when trying to navigate a topic that is somewhat new. Think of it as something like a highlight reel.
Aside from the professional reasons, the personal and therapeutic nature of this database has often come in handy. Recently, my husband and I were discussing an article from a magazine about how this year was the 40th anniversary of the release of Fleetwood Mac’s album Rumours. I nearly burst into tears thinking that it wasn’t possible that I was that old. This led to further discussions of albums we had enjoyed decades ago. It was bad enough when I was getting AARP materials, but for some reason, this hurt more.
Naturally, as a librarian facing an age crisis, it was time to do some research and I popped Fleetwood Mac into the search box on the GVRL Database. Of course this confirmed my worst suspicions regarding my age. The Rumours album was indeed on the 40th anniversary. I am crushed! I am old enough to remember the album and attending a concert while I was in college. I also remember that people were outraged as the cost of the concert was 12 dollars a ticket. Concert tickets were usually under 10 dollars for students. (Naturally, I then started on the topic of inflation of concert ticket prices, bands from the 1970s, pop culture, history of coffee, Vietnam War and then cats. Don’t judge.) Although there are lots of databases, GVRL allows me obsessively hop from topic to topic without really re-thinking the research process.
GVRL came up with several options and I used the St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture.
Founded as a British blues band in 1967, Fleetwood Mac exploded as an American rock ‘n’ roll phenomenon in 1975, when a pair of young Californian songwriters joined the group. The bewitching Stevie Nicks and guitar genius Lindsey Buckingham rounded out the band of songwriter/keyboardist Christine McVie, bassist John McVie, and drummer Mick Fleetwood. Their first album together, the eponymous Fleetwood Mac (1975), hit number one with three hit singles; but these merits were far overshadowed by the follow-up album, Rumours (1977). Songs of love, anger, heartbreak, and hope launched the band into stardom, but the drama between the grooves mirrored that raging between the members of the band: Christine and John McVie divorced after seven years of marriage, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham ended their long-time romance, and Mick Fleetwood split with his wife, Jenny Boyd.1
The article was a bit longer than the above paragraph, but it was perfect for confirming my age related crisis.
As a reference librarian, the ability to quickly understand a topic, nail down a patron’s needs and deliver an appropriate result absolutely depends on reference style materials. As we established that I am old and evidently unaware of the passage of time, this is particularly helpful when I need a quick refresher on popular culture that ISN’T from the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s.
Aside from helping with aging librarian complexes, GVRL has a lot going for it in terms of general knowledge. I dabble in genealogy research for myself and I am always looking for another idea to pursue in my never ending quest. These broad searches in GVRL have produced a lot of interesting avenues for research. Articles in a variety of sources in religion, science and technology surfaced in a general search. I have also indulged in searches on other obsessive interests: old books, quilting, technology and history. It’s clear I had to become a librarian to support my information “habit”.
Regardless of the scope, reference materials can act as a road map for further research or give the user a taste of a topic. As we established from this writing, I am obviously old enough to remember the card catalog and a traditional ready reference collection. Meandering through the library was always a fun past time for me. GVRL is both a great start for an organized research project but also enough fun for the old fashioned meandering through topics that just pop into my head.
Maybe Gale needs to market this database as a therapeutic solution to satisfy all those obsessions, weird topics, and short attention span that is often the hallmark of a librarian’s personality. It’s okay. You can admit it. Acknowledgment is the first step toward a cure.
1White, Celia. “Fleetwood Mac.” St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, edited by Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast, vol. 2, St. James Press, 2000, pp. 114-115. Gale Virtual Reference Library