A Tale of Guinness and the Library

March 17th, 2010

As I recall, one of the most-heavily thumbed reference texts in my primary school was Guinness World Records. We readers would deliciously speculate upon which records we could feasibly break and would gawp in endless wonder at the world’s curious inhabitants and their demonstrations of achievement.

Its use, though, has not been confined to school corridors but has informed any number of trivia exercises and sourced as a definitive answer to some of life’s more amusing disputes—which therein resides its genesis. According to legend (circa 1950s), Sir Hugh Beaver (then Managing Director of the Guinness Brewery) was caught up in a friendly dispute regarding which bird was the fastest game bird. When the answer could not be readily found among the resources immediately available to him, writers were contracted to compile a text of noteworthy facts and achievements.

While the Guinness company is no longer a player in the publication of this reference text, its name remains popularly-associated—at once familiar to librarians and generally a staple of their reference collections, including our own at UW-Madison. The current edition resides in the reference stacks of Memorial Library (whereas Steenbock maintains an older edition).

And, seeing as it is St. Patrick’s Day, I’ll raise a pint (responsibly) to that!

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