Lost Titles, Forgotten Rhymes

Abby Yochelson in the Main Reading Room, with the Granger’s Index

The following is a guest post by Abby Yochelson, English and American Literature Reference specialist at the Library of Congress’s Main Reading Room, Humanities and Social Sciences Division.

As Rob Casper and Peter Armenti have introduced themselves in previous blogs, I’ll try to tell you a little about myself here. My name is Abby Yochelson, and I am the English and American Literature Reference specialist in the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress. Rob told you about his grandmother, so it seems appropriate to tell you about mine.

My grandmother lived well into her 90s with a sharp mind and a love of reading. Unfortunately, her memory about books she had read decades ago got a bit fuzzy. She was delighted when I announced I was enrolled in library school with the aim of becoming a reference librarian in a public library. Once I began a practicum in a small branch library of the Fairfax County Public Library System, she put me to work! She had read a series of popular novels in the 1930s, and could remember some of the characters’ names but not the author or book titles. At the library, I found reference books listing characters’ names and quickly discovered the Jalna series or Whiteoak Chronicles by Canadian author Mazo de la Roche.

“The Soul of the Violin” proved more difficult. My grandmother had won an oratory award in school with this poem when she was fifteen, but by the time she asked me about it she was only certain of its title. In library school I had learned about Granger’s Index to Poetry, a wonderful, multi-volumed source for finding poems by title, author, first line, or subject. At both my local library in Washington, D.C. and at the Fairfax branch library, I had perused volumes of Granger’s. I couldn’t locate my grandmother’s exact title, but I brought home poem after poem with violin in the title. None were correct.

Once I became a reference librarian in the Main Reading Room at the Library of Congress—where I still can be found twenty-three years later—I discovered there were many more volumes to the Granger’s Index, and they went back to 1904. The first few volumes also covered recitations, a popular activity in schools and communities in the earlier part of the 20th century. I found a copy of “The Soul of the Violin” as a prose piece recitation and brought it home to my grandmother. A reference success after many years of hunting!

Her final task for me was to find a book titled Howard Had Two Daughters by someone named Zelda something-or-other. The card catalog in Fairfax failed me as there was nothing under that title and no way to search by an author’s first name. I discovered the Library of Congress began cataloging online by 1968 and that keyword searching could solve the problem. A search of Zelda and two daughters provided the actual title: Herman Had Two Daughters by Zelda Popkin.

These quests proved to be excellent training for my career here. Virtually all libraries receive numerous questions about books, short stories, and poems in which the complete information is unknown or something is just a little “off.” Look for a future post with fun examples of these sorts of questions and resources for answering them. We don’t always have the success rate I had with my grandmother, but we have made some patrons very happy after long searches!

11 Comments

  1. Gina Marie Frank
    November 11, 2015 at 12:46 am

    Hi my name is Gina I had 2 poems published in anthology books from the national library of poetry my house caught fire and burned the covers of these books I would like to know if you can repair them so as I may pass them on to my grand children

    First book is:Windows on the World
    Name of my poem is: What’s Life
    Page #:181

    Second book is: Best Poems of the 90’s
    Name of my poem is: My Kids and I
    page # 301
    can you please help me

  2. Peter Armenti
    November 19, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    Dear Gina,

    I’ve added your question into our Ask a Librarian system. I will be in touch with you soon with a more complete response.

    Best,

    Peter

  3. Dean DuBois
    December 29, 2015 at 6:39 am

    Hi,

    I had a poem published in the National Book Of Poetry an Anthology series, back in the mid-1980s I’d think between 82 to 87. At the time it was published by Vanity Press. I don’t remember the name of the poem but it was “How To Be Saved “, if I remember correctly, but don’t quote me on that. It was about how to get salvation and I was wondering if you can find it for me ( I have exhausted every avenue I can think of. Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated, thank you so much for your time.

    Sincerely

    Dean DuBois

  4. Peter Armenti
    January 4, 2016 at 9:39 am

    Dear Dean,

    I’ve added your question into our Ask a Librarian system. I will be in touch with you soon with a more complete response.

    Best,

    Peter

  5. Melissa frey
    June 19, 2016 at 12:26 am

    I am trying to locate a book that I had a poem published in through the the library in Owings Mills, Maryland. The name of the book was River of Dreams and I am interested in buying a copy of the book or atleast getting a copy of my poem. I believe it was in the late 80s early 90s. Please contact me. Thank you.

  6. Peter Armenti
    June 24, 2016 at 9:12 am

    Dear Melissa,

    I’ve added your question into our Ask a Librarian system. I will be in touch with you soon with a more complete response.

    Best wishes,

    Peter

  7. Debra Ewing
    June 6, 2018 at 10:47 pm

    Years ago I wrote a poem. I received a letter stating that the letter won. It was published and placed in a book. I would like to find out about the book and possibly buy it…Please assist

  8. Peter Armenti
    June 11, 2018 at 11:01 am

    Dear Debra,

    I’ve added your question into our Ask a Librarian system. I will be in touch with you soon with a more complete response.

    Best wishes,

    Peter

  9. Carolyn D Jackson
    September 24, 2018 at 3:14 pm

    How can I get my poems back that was supposed to be published and I written them on poetry.vom

  10. Carolyn D Jackson
    September 24, 2018 at 3:16 pm

    I had poems written in poetry.com and they was supposed to be published in international library of poetry

  11. Peter Armenti
    October 3, 2018 at 9:03 am

    Dear Ms. Jackson,

    I’ve added your question into our Ask a Librarian system. I will be in touch with you soon with a more complete response.

    Best wishes,

    Peter

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