The Roving Reader

You never know what you might find in the Library, roving around among the shelves. I was upstairs the other day, looking for a particular book for some reason or another when a random book happened to catch my attention. (I’m also one of those people who gets horribly distracted by interesting and irrelevant words when using a dictionary. Online dictionaries, for whatever they have given us in convenience, have taken away that bit of fun, but that’s a subject for another day.). Anyway, the book that jumped out at me was called Annual Review 1968, which admittedly doesn’t sound that exciting. What was so interesting was that it was an annual publication of an organization called the “Center for Short-Lived Phenomena.” Now, really, who could resist that? Well, it turns out that the Center for Short-Lived Phenomena was a branch of the Smithsonian Institution that existed from 1968-1975 in order to “obtain and disseminate information on short-lived natural events such as volcanic eruptions, major earthquakes, the birth of new islands, the fall of meteorites and large fireballs, and sudden changes in biological and ecological systems.” Flipping through the 1968 report, I see that there was an Appalachian Squirrel Migration, a California Fish Kill, a Vermont Windstorm, a Schenectady Meteorite, and a Chilean Drought. It seems somehow poetic that an organization existed for the sole purpose of collecting and preserving information about ephemeral, momentary events and that they also published a report, a permanent record, of their findings about short term phenomena. It also seems to signify something about the human need to understand the world in which we live, the need to quantify, describe, and, most importantly, remember the events, no matter how small, that make daily life so meaningful. Browse around the next time you’re in the Library; you never know what you might find.

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2 Responses to The Roving Reader

  1. Niall K. Doyle says:

    Thank you for this review. My aunt was the secretary for this Center in the years 1968-1973. She brought to my house a copies of their annual reviews. I found them fascinating then. I began an internet search to find those reviews for my daughter when I came across your entry. My aunt was very enthusiastic about her job. The Center, even during the height of the paranoia of the Cold War, has ready access to any and all scientists who were behind the Iron Curtain. They quickly organized, co-ordinated and arranged the union of the interested scientists world wide. My aunt was very proud of the work that the Center performed. I am very proud of my aunt.

  2. Kate says:

    It’s interesting that the center itself was a fairly short-lived. And of course, I do that dictionary thing too…Oxford English Dictionary does offer a “word of the day” rss feed that might be an adequate substitute. http://www.oed.com/cgi/display/wotd

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