Friday, February 17, 2012

Kudos to Fred Shapiro

Congratulations to my old friend and former colleague Fred Shapiro, Associate Librarian for Collections & Access at Yale Law Library, who is praised in an article in the February 12, 2012 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education. (A subscription is required to access the article). Donald Altschiller, a librarian at Boston University, highlights several reference works and their authors in "In Praise of Reference-Book Authors."

As someone who has worked in academic law libraries since 1984, I had not encountered (or even thought about) most of the reference works Altschiller writes about since library school. He eulogizes Joseph Nathan Kane, author of Famous First Facts, who died in 2002. I had no idea that Kane hosted a radio program during the 1930s also called Famous First Facts and that he later wrote questions for the TV program The $64,000 Question. Kane wrote nearly fifty other reference works and did most of his work at the New York Public Library, "methodically combing library stacks and card catalogs to produce authoritative reference works." Norbert Pearlroth, author of the "Ripley's Believe It or Not" column, also worked at the New York Public Library, and is described by Altschiller as one of the most "indefatigable and meticulous researchers of factual information." The other reference-book luminaries that Altschiller includes are Samuel Johnson, Noah Webster, Peter Mark Roget, Henry Campbell Black of Black's Law Dictionary fame, and the Reverend Ebenezer Cobham Brewer who compiled Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, a literally irreplaceable reference work in the pre-Internet era.

More modern compilers of reference works are not neglected in Altschiller's piece, including Fred Shapiro, who employs "both painstaking book research along with modern library technology to produce landmark quotation books. His Oxford Dictionary of American Legal Quotations ... [is] "the standard work for law quotations, and later his mammoth Yale Book of Quotations emerged as the pre-eminent general quotation reference work."

It was refreshing to read Altschiller's article and rediscover some favorite reference works and to be introduced to some new ones. At a time when Wikipedia is considered authoritative, many people seem not to recognize or value the meticulous, detail-oriented work that once went into creating high-quality reference works and that is a shame.

1 comment:

Marie S. Newman said...

Talk about a small world! When I went up to New Haven on Sunday to see an exhibition at the Yale Center for British Art, I ran into Fred Shapiro and his wife, who were there to see the same exhibit. It seemed strange since I had blogged about Fred only two days before.