Need quotations? Look to books, not the Internet

  • Article by: MIKE BEMIS
  • Updated: April 3, 2013 - 7:18 PM
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The library at St. Catherine's University.

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A Variety section story about misquotes was interesting and informative, yet it omitted some important details (“You don’t say,” April 1).

The thrust of the article was that misquotations, whether by accident or design, are running rampant on today’s manifold electronic media outlets, such as the so-called “blogosphere” and “Twitterverse,” not to mention the Internet itself.

What the article failed to mention is that readers have other, better options at their fingertips when searching for authentic utterances from their fellow human beings. Chief among these are printed books.

“Familiar Quotations” by John Bartlett, to cite just one example, has been available in various editions for 150 years. As a reference librarian, I can assure readers that this is an authoritative source. Reference books undergo a vetting procedure in which proofreaders ensure that spelling and grammar are correct, fact-checkers do what their title implies, and editors weed out bias while cutting the fat from flabby writing.

Little to none of this occurs in the electronic world, where anyone can spew opinions, hearsay, rumors or whatever else they like for public consumption. This is great from the standpoint of freedom of speech; less so for those who wish to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff.

Whenever one of my patrons quails at my suggestion that they engage in the anachronistic act of consulting ink on paper, I ask them this: “Do you want just any answer, or do you want the right answer?”

One need not be intimidated by the rows of hefty tomes lining shelves like so many silent sentinels. If you don’t know where to look, just ask us librarians, and we will be happy to get the answer for you. Not only will you get the straight stuff, but it won’t cost you a penny.

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Mike Bemis is a reference librarian who lives in St. Paul.

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