Profile: Jennifer Harbster

Library of Congress

Jennifer Harbster joined the Library of Congress Science, Technology and Business division as a digital reference specialist fresh out of library school in 2001. She holds bachelor degrees in art history and anthropology from the University of California at Santa Cruz and a master's in library science from San Jose State University. She spent her undergraduate years working at the university's slide library, where she found her true calling- becoming a librarian. During her master studies, she worked in a corporate library in Silicon Valley and conducted a practicum at two tribal libraries in San Diego County. Along with her reference duties for the Library's Science Reference Service, she is also the creator of the Library’s Everyday Mysteries Web site, a collection of fun and scientifically interesting questions and answers about everyday phenomena.

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NoteStreams By Jennifer Harbster

The History of Christmas Lights

In the spirit of the holiday season, we are highlighting another Everyday Mystery relevant to this time of the year: Who invented electric Christmas lights?
Inside Adams, Library of Congress

Category: History

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Loving Stars: Telescopes from Galileo to Webb

In February of 2010 I wrote a post for Inside Adams titled “Stars in His Eyes” about the 1610 Sidereus nuncius (Starry Messenger) by Galileo Galilei. This was the small book in which Galileo described his adventures with the newly invented telescope. Having read descriptions of the then recently invented ‘spyglass,’ Galileo set about devising his own, creating prototypes and making observations of the Moon, stars, and most importantly, what he referred to as the four little ‘stars’ spotted near Jupiter.
Today’s post is from science reference librarian Margaret Clifton.

Category: Science

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Jefferson’s Quest for an Odometer

Thomas Jefferson, who liked to count and measure everything, coveted an odometer. While in Paris as the United States minister to France, he learned that he could buy one in London, and asked American artist John Trumbull, who was there, to investigate for him.
Today’s post is guest authored by Julie Miller, historian of early America in the Library’s Manuscript Division.

Category: History

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300 Years of Imaginary Space Ships: 1630-1920

While humans didn’t build apparatus capable of traveling to the moon and other planets until the 1950s and 60s, there is a long history of thinking about the technology that could get us to other worlds. In this post, I share some illustrations of visions of space vehicles over time. The context for each imaginary contraption becomes fodder for understanding ideas about space and flight.

Category: History

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The President And The Parsnip

During most of his two terms as president of the United States, (1801-1809) Thomas Jefferson carefully compiled a chart recording the seasonal appearances of fruits and vegetables in Washington’s market.
This seems like a funny way for a president to spend his time. In fact, the chart is an expression of Jefferson’s enduring interests in science and agriculture, which he continued to pursue even during his two terms as president.

Category: History

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Flowers that Stink at the US Botanical Garden

As the world was on royal baby watch there was another arrival that folks have been waiting for here in D.C. (and perhaps the world as well) – the blooming of the Sumatran (Indonesian) Amorphophallus titanum (titan arum) a.k.a. the corpse flower or stinky plant at the U.S. Botanic Garden (USBG).

Category: Nature

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Marie Curie: A Gift of Radium

This NoteStream is guest authored by Michelle Cadoree Bradley, a science reference specialist in the Science, Technology, and Business Division of the Library of Congress.
On May 20, 1921 Mme. Marie Curie, who co-discovered the radium element with her husband in 1898, received from the American people an appropriate, but hazardous gift—a gram of radium. In an interview with Mrs. W.B. (Marie) Meloney in the May 1920 issue of The Delineator magazine, Marie Curie disclosed that her lab had only a gram of radium to experiment with and that she needed more to continue researching.

Category: Biography

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Celebrating Women's History On Pinterest

Images capture moments in time and connect us to history; they awaken our senses, revive memories and inspire us. With the Library’s extensive collections related to women’s history, there is an array of material to showcase. We have pinned images from a broad range of women’s achievements, including politics, civil rights, sports, medicine, science, industry, arts, literature, education and religion.
Author Jennifer Harbster also helped create the Library of Congress Women’s History Month board on Pinterest.

Category: History

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Cockles, Motto Lozenges, and Sweethearts

I was recently at a dinner party where the gracious hostess embellished the dining room table with Sweethearts, also known as Conversation Hearts and Sweet Talks.
As you can imagine, the guests questioned the history of these sweethearts and turned to me for an answer. I promised that when I returned to the Library that I would investigate the history of these infamous Valentine Day candies.

Category: History

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A Look Back At Weight Loss Trends In The USA

As we enter this new year, many of us have made resolutions to spend more time with family, to volunteer, perhaps to stop smoking, and of course, to get fit and lose weight. The widespread desire to become healthier and shed those extra pounds is met with a plethora of weight loss products, programs, and gimmicks.
Weight loss is a popular topic, solidly proven by the number of dieting books in the Library of Congress collection. The term dieting first appeared in U.S. medical literature in the 1830s, but was mainly used in regard to foods and recipes for curing various conditions and ailments, not for weight reduction.

Category: Health

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In Celebration of the Father of our Country

Americans have been celebrating George Washington’s birthday since he became president. We have continued this tradition for over two hundred years with the help of Congress who, in 1879, officially designated Washington’s Birthday (February 22) as a Federal Holiday.

Category: History

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Animal Locomotion: From Antiquity to the 21st Century

We have all marveled at the gracefulness of a cat leaping in the air, the swift movements of a hummingbird’s wings, the determined salmon swimming up river, the incredible precision of the marching feet of a millipede and the power of a galloping horse. Animals exhibit all types of movement- they walk, run, creep, hop, jump, fly, glide, paddle, and swim. By studying nature and observing animal movement scientists can better understand biomechanics, physiology, evolution, physics, and engineering.

Category: Nature

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The Christmas Star

During a recent staff meeting, I asked my colleagues for holiday blog post ideas. Section head Constance Carter suggested that I write about her mentor Ruth Freitag’s 1979 annotated bibliography the Star of Bethlehem: a list of references.
This bibliography, published by the Library of Congress, lists 240 popular and scholarly publications about the phenomenon known as the Star of Bethlehem or Christmas Star, which was seen by the Magi (Wise Men) at Jesus Christ’s birth.

Category: History

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Ushering in the New Year with Special Foods

January 1 begins the new year of the Gregorian calendar. Many of us who celebrate this day have traditions for bringing in the New Year such as banging pots and pans, blowing horns, kissing the person next to you, and making resolutions. We also have food traditions and special meals that we prepare and serve on New Year ’s Eve or Day to ensure health, luck, and prosperity. Here are a few special food traditions I have discovered.

Category: Food

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Snowflakes: Once In A Septillion

While winter has not yet officially arrived, some of us have been given a taste of the season to come with cold temperatures, frigid winds, frost, ice, and even powdery snow. When I think of winter, I think of twinkling ice crystals falling from the sky and colliding to become intricate snowflakes. Each winter there are about a septillion (trillion trillion) snowflakes that fall from the sky.
Around this time of year, we frequently receive the question Is it true that no two snowflakes are alike?

Category: Arts

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Bats! Creatures of the Night

Halloween is here and neighborhoods will be filled with magical, mysterious, and mystical creatures such as devils, ghosts, zombies, werewolves, witches, and vampires.
On this holiday of the supernatural, the bat (Order Chiroptera) is a real-life creature of the night which may have made its appearance on this planet 65 million years ago. With over 1,100 species, bats are the second largest, most widely distributed, and most diverse mammal group. To put it another way, 20 percent of all mammals are bats! There's more to them than you might expect!

Category: Nature

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Pie•ology: A Full Filling Story

Pie season is upon us and I predict that you will be making or buying a pie sometime in the near future. There is something about this delectable dish that provokes childhood memories and many of us have no qualms about stating our opinion on what constitutes the best pie. Not only do we have the traditional savory meat pies and the sweet dessert pies, but we also have pocket pies.
The history of the pie has its roots in ancient Egypt and Greece - join us on this tasty exploration of pie!

Category: Food

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Turf Wars on the Football Field

This NoteStream is not about the players or the teams bound for the Super Bowl, but about a part of the game. Plain and simple, I am writing about the turf grass (natural and synthetic) because in football, turf (i.e. grass) is a necessary and significant aspect of the game.

Category: Science

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Early Balloonists

Civil War aeronautics was the use of balloons for military aerial reconnaissance, mostly by the Union (Federal Army) from 1861-1863. The men who ‘flew’ the balloons were called aeronauts and a crew or squad of military men under the command of a commissioned officer assisted them. Most historians agree that the history of the military balloon in the U.S. began in the spring of 1861 when President Lincoln learned about the skills and expertise of Professor Thaddeus Lowe, a scientist and expert balloon maker.

Category: History

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Sweet Potato: A History

The inspiration for this post comes from a reader’s comment about wanting more information about the origin of “candied” yams.
Did you know that sweet potatoes were cultivated and consumed before the white (Irish) potato? By the time Christopher Columbus arrived in the ‘New World’ in the late 15th century, sweet potatoes were well established as food plants in South and Central America.
Columbus brought sweet potatoes back to Spain, introducing them to the taste buds and gardens of Europe. Europeans referred to the sweet potato as the potato, which often leads to confusion when searching for old sweet potato recipes.
But when did the marshmallows come in?!

Category: Food

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For The Love of Barbecue

Since prehistoric time humans from all over the world have been cooking meats over fire.
There must be a part of my ancestral brain that gets triggered, because my stomach starts to growl every time I smell the sweet smoke of a barbecue.
As I was researching American barbecue, I discovered that there are regional distinctions in the ways Americans barbecue - and that the particulars of barbecue vary widely.
Join us for a taste of history!

Category: Food

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