A Challenge For The New Year: 'Learn Something New Every Day'

In her book, Learn Something New Every Day, NPR's reference librarian Kee Malesky provides readers with fun facts about everything from the scented cinema experiments of the 1950s, to why baseball managers wear the team uniform. Malesky talks with host John Donvan about why learning facts boost confidence.

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JOHN DONVAN, HOST:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm John Donvan; Neal Conan is away. Journalists on a good day might say that theirs is a noble profession: getting to the heart of a story through facts, tidbits of knowledge that can help to clarify and sometimes to determine the truth. But we are not in it alone.

Behind every breaking story, behind every byline are librarians who are doing their jobs, checking the fact-checkers. It's a job our very own Kee Malesky knows well. You know her as NPR's longest-serving librarian, and people here on deadline know her as a lifesaver.

She's made a career of finding facts, and now she is sharing over 300 of them in a new book in which she poses a challenge and an opportunity to bring learning into your life every day. And today we'd like to do the same for her with your assistance. If you have an interest out there that is uncommon, an expertise, something you know about that most people don't, tell us your best fun fact about it.

Our number is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can also join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION. Later in the program, a Jewish parents' guide to Christmas television specials. But first Kee Malesky is NPR's longest-serving librarian and author of "Learn Something New Every Day: 365 Facts to Fulfill Your Life." It's one of the books that we missed talking about earlier this year. So she joins me here today in Studio 3A. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION, Kee.

KEE MALESKY: Thanks, John.

DONVAN: And you actually have more than 365 facts.

MALESKY: Well of course, as a librarian, I felt I had to insist with the publisher we needed a fact for leap year. So there's a bonus fact, which is about leap year.

DONVAN: All right, 365 plus one, plus one fact. Let's go to the - and you structured these as every day of the year, you could open the book and turn to the date that we're in and find a fact. And if we were to open the book, it's a fact about Christmas tree lights.

MALESKY: Not surprising.

DONVAN: Yes, a Christmas story.

MALESKY: That one was an easy one.

DONVAN: So tell us - first of all tell us the interesting facts that you uncovered about Christmas tree lights, and what goes into finding it?

MALESKY: Well, it turns out what the little tidbit I pulled out that first person to put a string of electric lights onto a Christmas tree, and it was an associate of Thomas Edison, Edward Hibberd Johnson. As well as it can be documented, this appears to be a true fact. In 1882, there was a reporter for the Detroit Post and Tribune who visited the Johnsons' home and saw what he described as a large Christmas tree presenting a most picturesque and uncanny aspect.

It was brilliantly lighted with many colored globes about as large as English walnut and was turning some six times a minute. The scintillating evergreen was a pretty sight.

DONVAN: Lovely. So was that something that you dug because an NPR reporter was asking for it?

MALESKY: This particular one no. I actually read about this in the Washington Post, in a little Christmas feature that they were doing, and so I looked into some of the background detail and combined it with some information about the presidents lighting the national Christmas tree, and there I had a fact.

But many of them do come, in fact, from stories that - questions that we have researched for the NPR reporters and editors, not just myself, any of the other librarians. Sometimes I get the idea by hearing the finished story on the air or reading about it on npr.org.

DONVAN: So those are the kinds of facts we are asking our listeners to call in with, something you know something about that you think most of us don't. I mean, I'll share one, to give an idea. I'm actually in the moment writing a history of autism, and the small fact, and it's not critical to anything, but it's one that grabs people, is that the first person, the first child ever to be technically diagnosed with autism, which was in 1943, is still alive, and he's a 78-year-old man, and he lives in a little town in Mississippi, and he drives a Cadillac.

MALESKY: Fascinating.

DONVAN: And people love that. And I wonder, I'm trying to figure out what is the magic of a fact. Why did that just fascinate you and the kind of thing you're talking about in this book, these little facts together, what role are facts playing in our lives when we call them facts? And, by the way, what is a fact?

MALESKY: A fact is a datum of experience, a datum, a piece of information. So it's certainly something that can be modified. Something that was a true fact 100 years ago may no longer be true or may have been changed by events, by science, by whatever it might be, by people's opinion.

But what attracts me is I think it's because of working with journalists for so long, I think of them as storytellers, and that's what I'm looking for, the interesting little story. So yes, many of us know a lot about autism, may have personal experience with it, but never thought about that, who was the first person, how was he or she diagnosed and how has this story evolved.

And I've been looking at the world that way for as long as I can remember. As a small child, I wanted to hear the whole story. I wanted to know, you know, well what happened next, well what happened before that. My mother would sing to us. I remember one in particular, "My Darling Clementine." Well, who was Clementine, and what really happened to her? And she would get quite exasperated with me.

But I think that's what really formed my love of reading and my love of information.

DONVAN: Did you read a lot as a kid?

MALESKY: Absolutely. I have many, many memories of working through, you know, the Bobbsey Twins or "The Curlytops at Silver Lake" and some of those little kids' books and being really proud of the fact that I could recognize words and sound them out and understand them.

DONVAN: So facts have been part of your life for a long, long time. I'm curious, one more thing about being a librarian. I'm a - I happen to be a very big fan of librarians, and I'm not just saying that because you're sitting here. I sent out a tweet back in October when I was doing some research on my book. I sent it from the library at the University of Chicago.

And I said OK, this is going to be out of left field, but I love librarians, not in that way. They're just such great professionals. And I get the sense that yours is an under-appreciated field, that unless people are really doing the work and know that you're there and can really help out and that you do have this special relationship to facts that they don't really get how great you folks are.

MALESKY: Well, I think that's probably true. Certainly many, many, many people do understand and appreciate libraries, especially these days, when there's just so much information, and it tends to be about quantity and not quality, and you really need the help of a librarian to guide you through to the information that you're looking for.

But, you know, we kind of have this reputation of a bunch of old ladies in sensible shoes, you know, telling people to be quiet. And that really isn't what it's about. Reference librarians in particular tend to be generalists, people who are interested in just about everything and know a little bit about everything or many, many things, and that helps you make connections.

DONVAN: And where to find it.

MALESKY: And it's always about where to find it and helping people find what they need.

DONVAN: Well, we're asking callers if they know facts to dazzle you with, actually, to give us a call. And I have to say, people are already lining up. So let's go to Amy(ph) in Tucson. Hi, Amy, you're on TALK OF THE NATION. I need to do this - hi, Amy, now you're on TALK OF THE NATION. That was my mistake. Hi.

AMY: Hi, so I love librarians, too. They've always been so helpful to me. So I just wanted to say that. And my fact is that I'm a midwife, I do home births in Tucson, Arizona, and my fact is, in the spirit of Christmas, when babies were born without...

DONVAN: Without what? Sorry, you cut out for just a moment.

AMY: OK, so if babies are born at home, and the mom is bleeding, if the placenta has already been birthed, then - and she consumes a small portion of the placenta, it can save her life, and her bleeding will stop due to the high amounts of oxytocin in the placenta.

DONVAN: It's a hormonal reaction?

AMY: Yes, I've seen it over and over again. It works better than any drug I've ever used.

DONVAN: Kee Malesky's eyes are wide with appreciation of that.

MALESKY: Not all of our facts are lifesavers. That's a really wonderful thing.

DONVAN: Thanks very much, Amy, for your call.

AMY: You're welcome, have a great day.

DONVAN: Thanks a lot. And let's bring in Edmundo(ph) from Oakland, California. Hi, Edmundo, you're on TALK OF THE NATION. What's your fact?

EDMUNDO: The fact is one that is well-documented in history but is just not part of our popular culture, and that's the Christmas truce of 1914 in World War I. Do you know - are you aware of that?

MALESKY: I think I do know what you're going to - yeah, go ahead, tell the story.

EDMUNDO: Well, it was, you know, just a few months after World War I had broken out, and there was just a, you know, horrendous situation out in the battle lines with the Germans and the British. But it was actually on Christmas Eve, when the troops on both sides, they started - because they were celebrating, they started, you know, singing Christmas carols, and then they heard each other, and they connected.

They actually formed a connection, came out of the trenches, you know, very, you know, timidly and, you know, fearfully at first, but then were just - reached across, even though they were walking over dead bodies. You know, they shared photos of each other, you know, they ended up playing a soccer game. It just speaks to this impulse of human empathy and connection with each other.

DONVAN: I was going to ask, Edmundo, why does that fact - you're sort of already giving the answer, but you sound - I get the feeling you are also a fact-collecting kind of guy. Why does that one work for you so well? What does it capture?

EDMUNDO: Why does it work for me? Because I think, I mean just with the horrendous events that happened in Connecticut and that are happening around the world that there's just such a need, you know, for people to realize that there - it is part of our human nature, you know, to love each other, to want to connect with each other, to feel what we feel.

And yet so much of our society is structured in a way that separates us from each other. And that example, the officers literally had to remove the men from the lines and threaten punishment for them for, you know, having this human impulse to connect with who - the people who were supposed to be their enemy.

So it just seems to me that there are things today like "Nonviolent Communicaton" by Marshall Rosenberg that are so much at the forefront of trying to develop, rather than quash, develop our human capacity for empathy and connection. And I think that's something that's really hopeful, and I wish it were more part of the popular culture.

DONVAN: Thank you so much for that call, and I just want to say to Kee Malesky that what Edmundo is really making the case, with that one little fact, something that took him a sentence, when I said and it means what, wow, it meant so much to him. There was a lot in the vessel of that fact.

MALESKY: Right, it's nice to have a hopeful moment like that.

DONVAN: Let's go to John(ph) in Grant's Pass, Oregon. You're on TALK OF THE NATION, John, hi.

JOHN: Hi, I like to watch stars. I'm an advocate for clear skies. And, you know, we have a phrase as endless as the stars, but it turns out that if you have a clear, moonless sky that you can perhaps see as many as 2,500 stars. And even more fascinating, on that same clear, moonless night, the light that surrounds you, there is more light that is radiated from stars we cannot see than from actual, visible stars. And this comes from "The Story of the Star Universe: A Popular Science Library."

DONVAN: John, you are enriching our world, and I only have to stop you because we're coming up to a break. But thank you for that enrichment. We are talking also with NPR's Kee Malesky, our superstar librarian, about her book "Learn Something New Every Day." I'm John Donvan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DONVAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm John Donvan. And today we are talking with NPR librarian Kee Malesky. She is the author of "Learn Something New Every Day: 365 Facts to Fulfill Your Life." It is a day-by-day compendium that will see you through the year fortified with knowledge. It's one of the books that we missed when it first came out earlier in 2012, on October 9.

And if you picked up the book that day and turned to the entry for October 9, you would have learned about the origin of the daiquiri, you know, the mixed drink that is made with rum and lime juice and sugar that Ernest Hemingway liked. And if you'd like to learn about the oddest fish in the sea or when sliced bread first became the greatest thing, you can read more in an excerpt from Kee's book at our website, just go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

So if you know at all about an unusual topic, we want to hear from you. Call and tell us your best fun fact from your area of expertise, 800-989-8255 is our number, and our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can also join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Kee, I had to cut off John just before the break, who was sharing his information about the stars, and because of that, John I hope you're still listening, you didn't get to hear the enormous compliment Kee paid you. What did you like about what John did?

(LAUGHTER)

MALESKY: Well, he had a source for his fact, which of course all librarians like to see a fact attached to its source. And I did of course find as many reputable, authoritative, current sources as I could for each of the facts in the book, and in order to save some paper and to keep them updated because so many of those sources are online, we put them all on my website, keemalesky.com.

So if a fact is changed by events, or some new information comes out, I can keep going back to the website and adding them so that they'll stay current.

DONVAN: How has the Internet changed our understanding of the word fact?

MALESKY: Ah, well, it's changed everything, hasn't it? So certainly the idea of a fact not necessarily being true, a fact just kind of has become a statement of any kind.

DONVAN: An assertion.

MALESKY: From any place. And we aren't always willing or able to make the effort to find out if any particular attractive fact actually has any reason behind it.

DONVAN: Wait, you're saying that we're unable to bother to make the effort when in fact the most convenient tool ever imaginable, the Internet, is at our fingertips?

MALESKY: Well, it certainty is convenient, and it is at our fingertips, but the Internet and the search engines are basically machines, and it takes a lot of human effort to go through that huge quantity of information that is out there now that is available online and sort out what is actually - have a reputable source behind it, is authoritative, is current, is comprehensive.

Sometimes you find what seems to be exactly the thing you're looking for, but when you get to it, you discover that it's a paper from 25 years ago, and so it's probably not as useful as you thought it might be.

DONVAN: What's your take on Wikipedia?

MALESKY: Well, Wikipedia is a nice thing for information that perhaps has no consequences, if I want to check about a particular actor and see where he or she grew up or what some of their roles are. But for a journalist, I don't think Wikipedia can be anything more than part of a process of compiling information because we don't know necessarily who put in any particular piece of information. The sources may not be there, or they may not be valid themselves.

And - but it does sometimes save you time digging through the rest of what you're going to find on the Internet if you took at a look at a Wikipedia article, or you saw some of the references that it included or some of the external links that it had that might save me a little bit of time in a search. But for a journalist or anyone who's serious about information or information that has an important impact on your life or your health or your finances, then I think you want to be sure you're using something a little bit more authoritative.

DONVAN: We are of course asking listeners to call in with facts that they know from their expertise or their experience that we may not know that'll be just darn interesting to us, potentially useful or just fun because they're obscure. And I think we've - I think this one rises perhaps to the top of our list.

Virginia(ph) has emailed us from St. Louis. She says, it's one sentence: My sister told me today that beavers have lips beneath their teeth. And then the second sentence: I have not verified it.

(LAUGHTER)

DONVAN: But our producer, Sue Goodwin(ph), has verified it. Beavers have lips beneath their teeth.

MALESKY: Beneath their teeth.

DONVAN: Yeah, I can't picture it, but I'm going to try to use that fact in something.

MALESKY: I'm sure - so it must have some survival aspect to it that is...

DONVAN: Let's go to Sue(ph) in Portville, New York. Hi Sue, you're on TALK OF THE NATION. Have a fact for us?

SUE: I sure do. And actually I heard this, NPR, I believe it was SCIENCE FRIDAY sometime this year. I'm a recovered alcoholic. So having a bit of the hair of the dog that bit you is a common phrase, and it actually comes from I believe it was the early 1800s, and the way they treated rabies was to cut off some of the hair of the dog that bit you, burn it and place the ashes in the wound to treat it.

I haven't verified that that's actually true, but that's how they treated rabies. So that's where that phrase comes from, a bit of the hair of the dog that bit you.

DONVAN: But are you saying, Sue, that you have not verified this fact?

SUE: Well, no I haven't verified that putting burnt ashes in the wound...

MALESKY: Personal experience...

(LAUGHTER)

SUE: Actually works. I would believe that it doesn't, since we don't use it any longer. But that's where that phrase comes, and I just thought that would be a fun fact.

MALESKY: But many - there are many what we now think of as folk remedies that have the basic science or chemistry in them. So it may be whatever is used to treat rabies today is chemically similar to what's in, and that would kind of make sense.

SUE: Yeah, absolutely.

MALESKY: And if you heard it on SCIENCE FRIDAY, I would have to think that either they got it from the scientist, or they had the library check for them.

SUE: Well actually, I believe it was...

DONVAN: And if the library checked for them, it's got to be true.

MALESKY: Then it must be true.

SUE: I believe it was a couple who wrote - studied and wrote a book about rabies, a couple of scientists. Anyways, I just thought that was a really cool thing.

MALESKY: It is. It really is, thank you.

SUE: Thank you, and I love the show.

DONVAN: Thanks. And Peg(ph), hi Peg, you're in Denver, Colorado, and I hope you have a fact for us.

PEG: I do. I have a brand new fact, new to me, and I'm pretty excited to share it. It's - it has to do with drinking cranberry juice to prevent urinary tract infections. We have been told, we people in general, have been told that it is useful, cranberry juice that is, when, you know, either to prevent or to help with treating cranberry - or sorry, urinary tract infections.

I have it from a nurse, and now I'm looking in an article online, that it's actually a feature of the berry itself, that you can get the same effect by taking cranberry pills, cranberries in pill form. For most of us, cranberries are too sour, you know, too bitter, and so the juicemakers add a whole lot of sugar, which kind of negates the fact of the berries having - it has flavinol compounds.

DONVAN: Thanks, Peg, now we know about flavinol compounds, and it's interesting that you were just making the point about what were seen as folk remedies might actually have a little science behind them after all. Let's go to Jocelyn(ph) in Cheboygan, Wisconsin, and you're on TALK OF THE NATION. Hi Jocelyn.

JOCELYN: Oh hello, merry Christmas.

DONVAN: Thank you, you too.

JOCELYN: I have a fun fact about the movie "Psycho," if you remember that.

MALESKY: Oh yes.

JOCELYN: The star, Janet Leigh, the one that was killed in the shower, stabbed in the shower, said in an interview, I saw it many years ago, I'm older than I might sound, that she never took a shower again.

(LAUGHTER)

JOCELYN: After doing that. And also they used either chocolate syrup or chocolate sauce to look like the blood. You know, it was a black and white movie, and they wanted you to think, you know, it was a consistency that you could think ooh that looks like blood, you know. So I thought those were two fun facts.

DONVAN: You're right. They are actually.

MALESKY: Yeah, I can understand that.

DONVAN: Do you believe them both? Do you believe the first one?

JOCELYN: Yes I do because I saw her on TV in an interview. It was a long time ago. I can't even tell you who interviewed her but I know because it stuck in my head, you know, because that scene, I saw it when I was 14 or 15 in the movie, and that was very, very, very scary at that time.

You know, nowadays it's probably - well it's still scary. I have - I just got the DVD at Halloween, and it made me think of those two facts instantly, as I was...

DONVAN: Jocelyn, thanks for your call. Thanks for joining us.

JOCELYN: Thank you.

DONVAN: I want to go to read an email from Vicky(ph), who writes very glowingly of librarians. She says: Thank you, librarians. When my twin sister and brother and I were young, my father would take us to the library every week. He liked to read, so the visit was rich and something I looked forward to. Even as 10- to 12-year-olds, we would check out the library limit to read. When my father asked about what to encourage us to read, the librarian told him, let them read whatever they want as children, and they will read their entire lives. She was right. Exclamation mark.

Yeah. You buy that?

MALESKY: Oh, absolutely.

DONVAN: Yeah? Vicky also provides a fun fact: We marry people who are our opposites. I don't know that that's a fact. But she says: But when we choose a dog, we choose a dog with qualities we most admire in ourselves. I choose a tenacious, brave and bulldog who - bold dog who always likes to get the job done.

I don't know that that goes as a fact, or is that a theory?

MALESKY: That's a theory. Well - and I've heard the theory, too, that people wind up looking like their dogs, and you can often see that, somebody walking down the street and there's similarities.

DONVAN: Yeah. It's a little bit eye of the beholder kind of thing, I would think.

MALESKY: Yeah.

DONVAN: So you would not - that would not be a fact for you.

MALESKY: Probably not.

DONVAN: All right. But you'll take the compliment from Vicky.

MALESKY: Absolutely.

DONVAN: Let's go to Tony in Charlotte, North Carolina. Hi, Tony. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.

TONY: Hi. I have a fun - a great fun fact. Do either one of you know what the most famous lighthouse in the whole world is?

MALESKY: I don't.

DONVAN: No, no.

TONY: It's the Statue of Liberty.

MALESKY: Ah.

DONVAN: Is it - does it function as a lighthouse?

TONY: It used to until a certain time. Do you know why they don't use lighthouses anymore?

DONVAN: No, but I know you're going to tell me.

TONY: The invention of GPS.

MALESKY: Right.

DONVAN: Oh. Of course.

TONY: But the Lighthouse Liberty is the most famous lighthouse in the world.

DONVAN: Are you...

TONY: A lot of people think of something else.

DONVAN: I'm sorry to keep interrupting you. Are you kind of a lighthouse guy?

TONY: Yes, yes. I very much like lighthouses.

DONVAN: So what does that - that's interesting to me. You know, people who collect facts almost as a hobby - I don't know if that's a hobby or profession for you, but what is your fascination with lighthouses, and how does it relate to fact stuff for you?

TONY: Well, you know, the lighthouse in Alexandria, Egypt, was originally the most famous lighthouse, and now the Statue of Liberty is because of, you know, the United States being the dominant power in the world for so long. And...

DONVAN: Right. But, Tony, I'm kind of asking you a different question. Why do you collect lighthouse facts? Why do they matter to you?

TONY: Lighthouses are beautiful, and...

DONVAN: There you go.

TONY: ...and they're different.

DONVAN: All right. Tony, thanks very much for your call. Let's bring in Karen(ph) from Sacramento, California. Hi, Karen. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.

KAREN: Oh, hi.

DONVAN: Hi.

KAREN: My fact is that people are constantly saying - well, to me, anyway, because I'm a theater person and into it and love it. They'll always say "Wings" was the first best picture ever awarded, and I'll go, no, that's not the case. It was for quality production "Wings" won for the first Academy Awards that were given. But there was another one that was also given for quality production, which went to "Sunrise." There was no first best picture. And the other...

MALESKY: So they didn't call it best picture then, you're saying.

KAREN: Exactly.

MALESKY: Right. I see.

KAREN: And most people don't know that.

MALESKY: No.

KAREN: And then best picture didn't even start until 1955. It was - 1954 was the last - well, they had to tone it down and go to just one production. So from then on, it was best production. And in 1954, it was the - it was "On the Waterfront."

DONVAN: Oh, yeah.

KAREN: That was the last production that won for best production. In 1955, best picture came into play...

MALESKY: Ah.

DONVAN: Oh.

KAREN: ...and that was when "Marty" won.

DONVAN: All right. Great.

KAREN: So that's my fact.

DONVAN: All right, Karen.

KAREN: See you.

DONVAN: Thanks very much for your call.

MALESKY: Yeah. Thank you.

DONVAN: You're listening...

KAREN: Bye.

DONVAN: I just want to tell everyone that you are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And we are talking with Kee Malesky, NPR's longest-serving librarian, and her new book, "Learn Something New Every Day."

And we were talking during the break, Kee, and you told me that your dad was a letter carrier when you were growing up in Brooklyn, and that that, too, relates to your factivitness(ph), your factivity(ph).

MALESKY: Well, he was, you know, the guy that knew everybody in the neighborhood and was interested in everything and knew everything that was going on. But one of the nice little side perks of being a letter carrier was magazines that couldn't be delivered, they removed the covers, but they could take the magazine home.

So we read all kinds of things. We didn't necessarily have subscriptions to Time or Newsweek, but all kinds of magazines were coming into the house. And I just have so many memories of my father sitting in his chair after dinner, reading and showing me something and telling me a story that - something he found in the newspaper, in the magazine. He read through an entire encyclopedia, so we were really always surrounded by readers.

DONVAN: Let's bring in Mary, who's in Ventura, California. Hi, Mary. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.

MARY: Hi.

DONVAN: Hi.

MARY: My fact is that the World Health Organization in areas where there is diarrheal diseases, they give out little packets of oral rehydration solution, and it's something that you can very easily make on your own at home, and it may save you a trip to the emergency room.

MALESKY: That's a pretty useful fact.

DONVAN: All right. Thanks very much, Mary.

MALESKY: Yeah.

DONVAN: Let's bring in Marlene(ph) from Overland Park, Kansas.

MARLENE: Yes. I happen to be a great admirer of Thomas Jefferson and found out that he was the first Englishman - and he was an Englishman at the time - to eat a tomato. Everybody thought they were poisonous, and Thomas Jefferson, being such a Renaissance man, decided to eat one, and, well, the rest is history.

DONVAN: All right. Let's bring in Ted from San Bernardino, California. Hi, Ted. You're on TALK OF THE NATION.

TED: Hi. Merry Christmas. My fun fact is the pterodactyl, you know, the flying dinosaur everyone is so familiar with, the word pterodactyl was actually a misnomer. I verified this many years ago. I can't remember the exact source. By the way, it was a museum exhibition in the 1920s. And some clever person billed it as come see the winged-finger dinosaur, the pterodactyl. And it drives paleontologists crazy because there - there's the whole class of flying lizards called the pterosaurs. Ptera being the root for wing and saur, of course, being lizard. And then there was some specific species called the pteranodon. But there's actually nothing that paleontologist would point to him and say pterodactyl. It's kind of a pop culture creation.

MALESKY: That's very interesting. I mean, there's a lot still to learn about dinosaurs. They're digging up fossils all the time and modifying the facts that we've know for quite a long time.

DONVAN: NPR...

TED: Sure. Like the brontosaurus, which is actually...

MALESKY: Right. Exactly.

TED: ...a combination of two completely different species.

MALESKY: Mm-hmm.

DONVAN: Thanks for your call, Ted. And, Kee, I want to tell you that Mark has written is, so we have to mention the movie "Desk Set." And that's the story about a federal broadcasting network that has a researcher played by Katharine Hepburn. She's Bunny Watson. And then the network decides, it's time to bring in some computers to do all the deep research. But Katharine Hepburn proves she's just a smart and then...

MALESKY: Yeah. The machine blows up. She fixes it with a hairpin and answers the question.

DONVAN: Kee Malesky is NPR's longest-serving librarian and author of "Learn Something New Every Day: 365 Facts to Fulfill Your Life." Kee, thanks for joining us.

MALESKY: Thank you, John.

DONVAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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