This collection was selected 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!
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
Rapids." (Actual title wanted: "Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend.")
"Do you have that book by Rushdie: 'Satanic Nurses'?" (Actual title:
"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
"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?
Ref: I guess you'll have to look through our 120,000 books and see
if you find anything.
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 appraised?"
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!"
Patron: "I have to write a two-page paper on the Civil War, can you help?"
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 thing"
Part 3: Wendall: a special case (Used with permission)
written by Christina Frankenfield
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
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 evening!
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