Libraries Refer Madness

Refer Madness: RefUSA! RefUSA!

rmRefer Madness spotlights strange, intriguing, or otherwise noteworthy questions I encounter at the library reference desk.

“It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.” Though John Adams wrote this passage about Independence Day, I’d say it works just as well for successful reference interviews that lead to unexpected but useful discoveries.

Example: A woman called the desk and said she was doing research for a documentary film being produced about immigrants, minorities, and women who owned small businesses in the North Shore area of Chicagoland. She wanted to find a list of the aforementioned people so she could contact them about participating in the project. My first question (to myself) was: Is that legal? Seemed like anti-discrimination laws would make that kind of info hard to find. But, after telling the woman I’d call her back as it would take a bit to do the digging, I went right to the librarian’s honeypot: ReferenceUSA. (Odds are your local library has access to it. If it does, you should be able to access it from home using your library card.)

The challenge I anticipated was not finding businesses in the specific suburbs, but pinpointing the ones owned by different categories of people — especially the ones without websites or info available elsewhere.

How to do this

Hop into the U.S. Businesses database (Custom Search), select the Geography facet on the left, and find Map Based Search. (Selecting Verified Businesses under Record Type makes sense but isn’t required.)ref2

This will bring up a map. If you don’t know exactly where you’re looking, you can Draw Shape or Define Radius to grab a general area. If you do know what you’re looking for, then Boundary Select is the way to go. At first it will only allow you to pick by state as the map will be zoomed way out. But as you zoom further in more options will appear. I chose Cities because that’s what the patron needed, but Zip Codes, Area Codes, Carrier Routes, and Neighborhoods could be helpful in different situations too.ref4

Once you narrow down your locations, click Done and go back to the facets. Then find the Executives category. It’ll allow you to narrow based on Name, Title, Gender, and Ethnicity. The problem with this facet is “Executive” is a broad term. It’s not clear whether it’s giving us the owner of the business or someone on the Board of Directors or someone else. If you’re seeking a specific type of business, then the Ownership category might be of use; otherwise you might be SOL.ref5

Click Update Count as you go so you can see the number of applicable records before you go to the last stage. If the search criteria are broad or cover a large area, it might be a long list of records and you might want to narrow the search. If you can’t, get ready for lots o’ names and numbers!


A Morning Brush With Rahm

This morning, I was catching a train at the Clinton green line stop when I go through the turnstiles to see a phalanx of reporters and cameramen gathered before a podium with the Chicago seal affixed upon it. Turns out Rahm Emanuel was due for a press conference on the L’s newly installed security cameras.

I waited for a bit to see Mr. Mayor give what probably ended up being a very boring presser, but before he could arrive a CPD officer kicked me out for “security reasons.” (Apparently my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, red beard, and perplexed yet slightly annoyed facial expressions were especially alarming.) I thought about staging my own “Occupy Clinton Station” demonstration, but didn’t feel like getting a mouthful of pepper-spray.

So I headed up to the platform, a bit disappointed I wouldn’t see Mayor F-Bomb himself, only to find yet another herd of journos waiting for Rahmbo’s train to arrive to get some film of him exiting the train-car like us real citizens do. So I stood there awkwardly between the pack of cameras and Emanuel’s exit point, hoping to get into some local news B-roll or at least do a man-on-the-street interview.

Soon enough, Air Force El arrived and out hopped the Mayor. I snapped a few pics before jumping onto the train before the doors shut. Apparently the very sight of an elected official using public transportation, however artificially, is deemed remarkable in Chicago judging by the news coverage. I thought about staying to try for a handshake or a shove from a bodyguard, but even my day had to go on after a brush with the second-most famous Emanuel brother.

And as a sad postscript, of all three big local news outlets, only one (ABC) used a clip from that moment. I wasn’t in it, much to my chagrin. Next time I’ll try to tone down the awkwardly-standing-and-gawking vibe.