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A Dictionary in a Small Public Library

My last couple of posts on dictionaries brought this, from my wife, who is the Branch Manager of the Rensselaer Falls Library:

Regarding your blog about dictionaries moving, perhaps, online, let me share this —

At a tiny library a few high school students were doing French homework.  Since there is a definite lack of space in all backpacks, no one had their English-French Dictionary with them.  Ah, so what do they do?  Why of course they ask the librarian if she knows French!  To which the reply came, “No, how about looking in the dictionary?”

The wonderment is not that they used this relatively small book, and ultimately completed the assignment, but that they continued to read the dictionary!  Truly, they all lounged about in the teen section of the library, taking turns finding words they would laugh about as they ‘translated’ into French.

So there is something to be said about dictionaries in libraries.  Tiny or large wonderful editions of Webster or Oxford, in English or French or Spanish, perhaps it is just that the word processor “squiggly red or blue lines” have made us all trust in the right-click-fix and there is not time to venture into the world of words – the dictionary.

“One can also see, from where I’m sitting, two dictionaries on lecterns in the ODY Reference Area.  They are both open, both, at this moment, open to the west like sunflowers tracking late afternoon sun, and neither is being used.” Next time you pass by them, check to see the pages of words someone was reading.  Those pages will change with time.  Dictionaries are not books to be read standing up, with the world watching, but sitting next to you as you read or write, good friends who are always there just when you need them, even when you think you will never need more than the word processor “right-click-fix.”

As Albert Jack Nock said, “As sheer casual reading matter, I still find the English dictionary the most interesting book in our language.”  Twenty minutes of ‘reading’ the dictionary and teens had a wonderful time.  What more can I ask for?

Good question, indeed.

~ by pdoty on September 27, 2010.

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