“Do you know where I can find the ANSI standards documents?” I asked.
“ANSI,” I repeated.
I was in the Chicago Public Library, talking to the librarian at the reference desk.
I spelled the acronym for the librarian and explained that it stood for American National Standards Institute.
The librarian said she had no idea where to look for such things, but said that I could try “LRE.” It was my turn to be confused.
“LRE?” I asked. I am familiar with LUIS and a couple of other online catalogs but not LRE. “I don’t know LRE. Where is it?” I asked.
She looked at me sideways and frowned disapprovingly. She hesitated slightly and then asked, “You’ve seen him then? He’s probably in his office.”
Huh? “I’m sorry. Uh… no, I haven’t seen him. Umm, what did you say his name is?”
“Ellary,” she said, and then she spelled it for me. I apologized again and explained my misunderstanding. She did not appear to be entirely convinced of my sincerity but smiled anyway before showing my to Ellary’s office.
After I saw Ellary I began to understand why the librarian mistook my reference to Ellary as an “it” to be an insult rather than a misunderstanding. Ellary was about 6’5″ tall, and probably the skinniest man I ever met. He wore dirty blue-jeans that would have been snug on anybody else but were baggy on his pencil-like appendages. He had stains from what appeared to be motor oil on the thighs of his pants. One kneecap was badly worn and the other had a hole. He wore a plaid flannel shirt, despite the hot July temperature. By far the most striking thing about him was his face and hair. His eyes were large and bug-eyed. They had a wild look to them, as if he’d been slamming down coffee for the better part of the day. His face was extremely pale. It was hard to decide if he looked like a ghost or more like a person who had just seen a ghost. His hair was dark brown and tied into a long pony-tail — most of it at least; there were several loose strands of hair that had not cooperated, and these hung over his forehead and cheeks. The librarian introduced me and left us. I explained what it was I wanted, being careful to spell out ANSI this time.
He seemed to know what I was talking about and was muttering the words `ANSI’ and `NIST’ under his breadth as he walked out of the office with me in tow. He walked across the room to a tall narrow table that stood at the end of one of the book shelves. On it was a large over-sized book that must have been about a foot and half thick. It was some sort of reference or catalog. Ellary flipped through the pages, hovering over the volume and reading the words with his eyes only a few inches away from the pages. His hands were unusually large and his fingers unusually long. He used his right index finger as a guide as he scanned the pages, all the while muttering under his breadth. Suddenly he straightened up and looked at me (or did he look through me?) and asked, “ANSI is different from National Bureau of Standards, right?”
“Yeah. I think National Bureau of Standards is the old name for NIST,” I offered.
“Hmmm, yes.” He went back to thumbing through the book. I heard him muttering. “NIST… National Institute of Standards.”
He paused and turned to me again. This time he didn’t bother straightening up, but instead turned his head and looked up from his bent position over the book. “Some ANSI standards also have ISO numbers. I’ve got the ISO index here. Is that good enough?”