ASSOCIATES (vol. 4, no. 2, November 1997) -

Table of Contents



                        Tina Gunther 
                   Cataloging Technician 
                      Biola University 
                      La Mirada, Calif.

This collection was selected by Tina.Gunther from the "Weird"
Reference Questions" thread that ran on  LIBSUP-L, the Library
Paraprofessionals Listserv in  July 1997.  Names and locations have
been deleted  partly because it was a lot easier to do it that way
and partly to protect the reputations of all concerned. All of these
situations are real and some of them were mighty embarrassing. Enjoy!
   Note to LIBSUP-L members: Including the full thread just wasn't
practical, so I chose the highlights that translated best to the
format I was using. The full thread should be available from the
LIBSUP-L archives.
Part 1: Actual reference queries reported by American and Canadian
library reference desk workers of various levels.
"Do you have books here?"
"Do you have a list of all the books written in the English language?"
"Do you have a list of all the books I've ever read?"
"I'm looking for Robert James Waller's book, Waltzing through Grand
(Actual title wanted: "Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend.")
"Do you have that book by Rushdie: 'Satanic Nurses'?"
(Actual title: "Satanic Verses")
"Where is the reference desk?"  This was asked of a person sitting
at a desk who had hanging above her head a sign saying "REFERENCE DESK"!
"I was here about three weeks ago looking at a cookbook that cost
$39.95. Do you know which one it is?"
"Which outlets in the library are appropriate for my hairdryer?"
"Can you tell me why so many famous Civil War battles were fought on
National Park Sites?"
"Do you have any books with photographs of dinosaurs?"
"I need a color photograph of George Washington [Christopher Columbus,
King Arthur, Moses, Socrates, etc.]"
"I need a photocopy of Booker T. Washington's birth certificate."
"I need to find out Ibid's first name for my bibliography."
"Why don't you have any books by Ibid? He's written a lot of important
"I'm looking for information on carpal tunnel syndrome. I think I'm
having trouble with it in my neck."
"Is the basement upstairs?" (Asked at First Floor Reference Desk)
"I am looking for a list of laws that I can break that would send me
back to jail for a couple of months."
Part 2: Actual Reference Interviews reported by  American and Canadian
library reference desk workers  of various levels.
Patron: "I'm looking for a book."
Mental answer 1: "Well, you're in the right place."
Mental answer 2: "Here's one." (Hand over nearest volume.)
Audible answer : "Can you be a little more specific?"
Patron: "I got a quote from a book I turned in last week but I forgot
   to write down the author and title. It's big and red and I found
   it on the top shelf. Can you find it for me?"
Mental answer: "Books classified by color are shelved downstairs in
   the [non-existent] third sub-basement."
Audible answer: "What were you looking for when you found the book the
   first time?"
In an art library:
Patron:  Do you have any books on Art?
Ref: Yes.  Did you have a certain artist in  mind, or a period or style
   in mind?
Patron: No
Ref: I guess you'll have to look through our 120,000 books and see if
   you find anything.
Patron: OK.
Patron: "Do you have anything good to read?"
Reference person getting her audible and mental answers mixed up: "No,
   ma'am. I'm afraid we have 75,000 books, and they're all duds."
Telephone patron:  Do you have books on leaves?
Library worker:  Nope, we keep them on shelves. (She then hung up.
   Can you tell she's not too fond of Reference duty?)
Caller: "I have a painting by Vincent Van Gogh. It's all blue with
   swirly stars on it.  Can you tell me where I can get it
Ref.:   "Sir, does it say 'Metropolitan Museum of Art' on the bottom?
   It does?  Well, what you have there is a poster that they sell
   in the gift shop. I think they're about $10.00."
Patron: "I am looking for a globe of the earth.
Ref: "We have a table-top model over here."
Patron: "No, that's not good enough. Don't you have a life size?"
Ref (after a short pause): "Yes, but it's in use right now!"
Student:  "Do you have any regular magazines here, or just periodicals?"
Ref:  "Well, what do you mean by regular magazines?
Student:  "You know, Vogue, Seventeen ..."
Ref:  "If we had those magazines, you would find them listed in our
   Serials Holdings List, alphabetically by title, and could get the
   call numbers to look them up. I don't think we have those titles,
Student goes to check, but soon reappears: "I didn't see them listed.
   Where will I find them?"
Ref:  "If they're not in the list, that means we don't have them here."
Student:  "Then where do you have them?"
(Fortunately, good sense got the better of the Library Worker that day,
   and he patiently continued to explain that they did not have any
   copies of Vogue or  Seventeen at all.)
This happened in the late 1980's:
Student: "Do you still have that great book on current economics?  My
   sister went here in 1972 and  you had it then.  It is yellow if
   that helps."
Ref: "Anything on 'current economics' from 1972 would be outdated.
   Would you like to see something else.
Student: "Nope, I want the yellow one 'cause my  sister said it
   explained the current situation so well."
   She left empty handed, despite continued attempts to get her to
take something published more recently.
Patron: "I need the book with the picture of the building on the
Ref: "Sir, we have only Government Documents.  Almost all of the books
   have the picture of a building on the front.  What type of
   information do you need?"
Patron: "It is a book with tables in it."
Ref: "What are you trying to find in the tables?"
Patron: "In the front there is a map that I was using."
   It came about that he needed the U.S. Statistical Abstracts which
that year had a map with the Congressional districts in it.
Patron: "Do you have a book with numbers in it?"
Mental answers left to your imagination.
   Actual information needed:  International statistics on 5 areas of
5 different countries for comparison purposes.
Patron: "I have to write a two-page paper on the Civil War, can you
Ref: "What aspect of the war interests you?"
Patron: "What aspect? You mean I have to choose something in
       particular about it? I thought I'd just write about the whole
Part 3: Wendall : a special case
(Used with permission)
       "Before I moved to Roanoke, I worked in a public  library in
Richlands, VA (about 1 1/2 - 2 hours  southwest of Roanoke -- where
the new Miss Virginia is from, as a matter of fact!). We had
'regular' patrons as does every institution.
       One of our regulars was named Wendall.  Wendall was one of
several self- proclaimed 'town drunks'.  He was a sweetheart of a guy,
but he was an alcoholic. Everyone knew who he was.   Everyone knew
where he lived: Under an overpass on the outskirts of town.  That's
right; Wendall was officially homeless.
       One day, he walked through our door, obviously drunk, but not
causing any problems,  and asked if he could get a library card.
Logically, the answer was no.  However, standing there looking at
him, you couldn't make yourself say it.  So we made a  deal with him.
We would give him a "special" card that he could use for any of our
old paperbacks (these were items which had ever been/would never be
catalogued, donations mostly).
       Wendall thought he was really something with his 'special'
card.  He carried it proudly and never came through the door without
it.  He read old westerns and an occasional romance (he remarked
several times that his favorites were the ones with 'them perty
women on the fronts').  In the two years I worked there, Wendall
never had an overdue item, either.  And he _was_ an avid user once
he got that card!
       What was my point here?  I think it was just to remind  all
of us that even the dumbest questions can lead to something positive
(not usually, but every now and then).  A homeless man walks in to
apply for a library card.  You know he doesn't have anything with a
current residential address on it.  But you make an exception,
limiting his choices to freebies, and you've made some sort of impact
on a man's life.
       That's what libraries are supposed to be about, right?
Opening doors, making accessible opportunities for people?  As I read
the thread about "weird questions," I couldn't help but think of
Wendall.  Perhaps some of you have a Wendall, too. If so, take good
care of him.  Wendalls are treasures of a special kind!  Have a good
Chrissie Anderson
Fishburn Library
Hollins College
       P.S. from TG: When I contacted Chrissie for approval on
including Wendall's story, her reply included these comments: "I would
be honored to have the Wendall  Story circulate wherever... He was a
really great patron, a very special person.  Maybe I mentioned this
before, but he died about a year or so ago.  I think he would be
pleased to know that there's some sort of Memorial for him somewhere".