December 2003

Michael Farrelly


Puzzles and Essays from "the Exchange": Tricky Reference Questions by Charles R. Anderson

If you need a question answered, ask someone who knows. If you need a difficult question answered, ask a librarian.

Librarians don’t know everything, but they do know where everything can be found. Information is the currency of librarians, it is their sustenance, too. A good librarian can give you five resources on a given topic in an array of formats. Need a book on post-literate cultures and their use of semiotics to denote meaning? Need it in Arabic? Done deal.

How is this possible? How do modern librarians manage to surf the information wave and stay ahead of the information crash? Besides being sexy knowledge gurus, librarians network better than any group on the planet. Well, perhaps not as good as those guys at Ain’t It Cool News, but they’re scary people. One of these resources is “The Exchange” a column appearing in “Reference Quarterly” magazine. Charles Anderson has compiled brain-teasers from “The Exchange” for his book Puzzles and Essays from "the Exchange": Tricky Reference Questions.

Just in case the lingo evades you, reference questions are librarian-speak for any involved question beyond the “Do you have books?” or “Why does the library let homeless people in?” stripe.

Reviewing this book is a bit difficult, since rather than a cohesive book with a beginning, middle and end it is more of a ready reference guide for librarians and knowledgeable types who like to have trivia handy.

Now, what I’m about to say is no insult to Mr. Anderson or his fine book, but this is perhaps the single best bathroom book ever written. I personally read the majority of it in the smallest room of my home and found that it was the brain book for the water closet I’ve come across. The qualities for bathroom reading are simple. You can open to any page at any time and find something entertaining. Sitting here writing the review I can leaf through and find snippets of poetry that often puzzle, biographical information on subjects as diverse as Paul Revere (his horse's name was Brown Beauty), Marie Anntoinette (who never said that line about "Let them eat cake") as well as strange little snippets of pop culture. How about the names of the flying monkeys? Ebu, Perker and Rango, and Rango is the chief monkey.

Also included in the book are snippets of poetry, knowing the first line to a poem andneeding to the find the title and the rest of the work is one of the most common reference questions.

Buy this book as the perfect holiday gift for that friend or relative who complains stridently about not having time to read but wanting to. Just wrap the gift and put it in the commode.

Puzzles and Essays from "the Exchange": Tricky Reference Questions by Charles R. Anderson
Haworth Press
ISBN: 078901761X
198 Pages