6:17am

Sat October 13, 2012
Author Interviews

A Year's Worth Of Facts From An NPR Librarian

Originally published on Sat October 13, 2012 10:15 am

The people who host NPR programs are often credited with — or accused of — being knowledgeable.

But really, the most important bit of knowledge they have is just a four digit extension that connects to Kee Malesky in the NPR Reference Library. If you want the names and contact numbers for every left-handed plumber in Kuala Lumpur, she'll fix you up. She's the longest-serving member of a stellar company of reference librarians who check, double-check and mine miles of information, urban legend and spin for cold, hard, glittering facts.

Malesky is also the author of the new book Learn Something New Every Day: 365 Facts to Fulfill Your Life. Today's fact: The Woolworth building in New York City and the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., share the same architect: Cass Gilbert. "I call this fact 'Wandering SCOTUS,' because they didn't have a home until on this date in 1932, when the cornerstone was laid for the building we know as the Supreme Court," Malesky tells NPR's Scott Simon.

"When the government was in New York, they met in a commercial office building," Malesky continues. "In 1800, when the government first came to Washington, D.C., they had some rooms in the Capitol. Then, of course, the Capitol was burned by the British in the War of 1812. They actually met in a private home in Pennsylvania Avenue for a while, and then went back into the Capitol building after it was rebuilt."

It wasn't until former President William Howard Taft became chief justice in 1921 that he persuaded the government to give the court its own building.

Moving on: March 2, 1959, was the day Miles Davis called a group of musicians into a New York studio to record "Kind of Blue." "The idea was to try something completely different," says Malesky. "He didn't give them charts, he just gave them outlines, ideas of what the tunes would be. They did only one take for each of the songs."

Ten years later, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the surface of the moon. And while most everyone knows his famous words in that moment, Malesky has a few less well-known facts. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left several things behind on the surface, like a gold olive branch to signify peace. "A patch from the Apollo 1 flight, to honor the three astronauts who had died in the fire on the launchpad in 1967; and two medals from the Soviet Union, commemorating Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and Vladimir Komarov, who had died in re-entry of his Soyuz 1 capsule."

And one more fact, for Sept. 20: Scientists in 2011 estimated that approximately 8.7 million species live on planet Earth, not counting bacteria and viruses. "Most of those are not yet described and analyzed," says Malesky, "and they did it by a mathematical formula ... not by going out and counting ... But they feel that's a pretty good estimate."

No word, however, on how many of those millions of species cast votes on Dancing With the Stars.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The people who host NPR shows are often credited - or accused - of being knowledgeable. Actually, all we know how to do is to punch in an extension...

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEPING)

SIMON: ...to get...

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

KEE MALESKY: Library. It's Kee.

SIMON: Kee, could I please have the names and contact numbers for every left-handed plumber in Kuala Lumpur?

MALESKY: No!

SIMON: Oh. That's Kee Malesky...

MALESKY: (LAUGHTER)

SIMON: ...the longest-serving member of a stellar company of NPR reference librarians who check, double-check, and mine miles of information, urban legend and spin for cold, hard, glittering facts. Kee is also the author of the Oscar-winning book "All Facts Considered." Check that please, won't you, Kee? Her new book, "Learn Something New Every Day: 365 Facts to Fulfill Your Life."

Let's slip into the studio. Kee, thanks so much for being with us.

MALESKY: Thank you.

SIMON: This book gives readers something that they can learn every day. So, let's begin with today's date, OK, October 13. What do Woolworth's and the U.S. Supreme Court have in common?

MALESKY: Well, you mean the Woolworth Building, in New York City, and the Supreme Court building, here in Washington, were both designed by the same architect, Cass Gilbert. But of course, Cass Gilbert is a 19th century architect, and the Supreme Court's been around a lot longer than that. But I call this fact "wandering SCOTUS" because they didn't have a home until - on this date, in 1932, when the cornerstone was laid for the building we know as the Supreme Court. When the government came to Washington, D.C., they had some rooms in the Capitol. Then, of course, the Capitol was burned by the British in the War of 1812. But it was actually former President William Howard Taft, who had become Supreme Court chief justice, who finally persuaded Congress that the Supreme Court ought to have its own building.

SIMON: OK. March 2nd - on that date in 1959 - well, all right. Let's cue the music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "KIND OF BLUE")

SIMON: Miles Davis, "Kind of Blue."

MALESKY: "Kind of Blue."

SIMON: Help us appreciate this recording.

MALESKY: Well, March 2nd, 1959, Miles Davis called a bunch of musicians into a studio in New York - Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Jimmy Cobb, "Cannonball" Adderley, John Coltrane. And the idea was to try something completely different.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "KIND OF BLUE")

MALESKY: He didn't give them charts. He just gave them ideas, outlines, of what the tunes would be. They did only one take for each of the songs. And it was an experiment with modal jazz, which was different from the more prevalent and popular types of jazz at the time.

SIMON: The date, July 20.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

NEIL ARMSTRONG: That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

SIMON: Of course, the world just said goodbye to Neil Armstrong, and many stories were told of the moment that he piloted the Eagle onto the surface of the moon. When they lifted off the next day, what did Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin leave behind, on the surface of the moon?

MALESKY: Well, they had brought up a few mementos that they wanted to leave there. It was a gold olive branch, to signify peace; a patch from the Apollo 1 flight, to honor the three astronauts who had died in the fire on the launchpad, in 1967; and two medals from the Soviet Union, commemorating Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and Vladimir Komarov, who had died in re-entry of his Soyuz 1 capsule.

SIMON: Finally, September 20th - OK. If Martians were to hear our interview, and they decided to come here; and they found you - and say, Kee, finally, someone who can answer all of our questions. How many species live on your - how do you call it - Earth? What would you say?

MALESKY: We would have to say that we don't really know - because there's millions of them, and nobody's been able to sit down and count them all. But last year, a group of scientists came up with a pretty good estimate - approximately 8.7 million species, not counting bacteria and viruses. Most of those are not yet described and analyzed, and they did it by a mathematical formula. As I say, not by going out and...

SIMON: So, they haven't really...

MALESKY: ...counting 8.7. But they feel that's a pretty good estimate.

SIMON: Mm-hm. And of that number, how many cast votes on "Dancing with the Stars"?

MALESKY: I think all 7.7 million animals...

SIMON: (LAUGHTER)

MALESKY: ...298,000 plants, 611,000 fungi and, you know, a bunch of protozoa.

SIMON: Kee Malesky, NPR's longest-serving librarian, and author of the new book "Learn Something New Every Day: 365 Facts to Fulfill Your Life."

MALESKY: Plus a bonus fact, for leap year!

SIMON: You're not going to tell us that one, are you?

MALESKY: It's about leap year!

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "KIND OF BLUE")

SIMON: Hey, that's Miles. And this is WEEKEND EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "KIND OF BLUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.