compiled by Don Sakers
Do you have what it takes to be a public librarian?
Try out these reference questions.
Remember that you are not allowed to laugh at people, and you
must cite a source for every answer you give.
(No, your Aunt Tillie doesn't count as a source.)
Every one of these questions was asked in person or by telephone
at the Information Desk in my presence. In some cases, I have
conflated two or more questions for dramatic effect. Some questions
seemed to cry out for a response; in those cases, you'll see my
respons in blue.
- Close but No Cigar
- Let Me Think About That One...
- Alphabetical Order and Other Library Mysteries
- Looking For a Shortcut...
- Practical Problems
- I Thought the Library Had Everything!
- What We Have Here...
- It's...er...Hard To Tell
SECTION ONE: Ckose but No Cigar
(Click for answers if you don't recognize the source the person
is asking for.)
- I'm looking for that new book by Ayn Rand: The Gay Lunch
- Do you have Amy Chang's new book about kitchens? answer
- Do you have a book called The Cameron Brothers ? I
think it was written by Dostoyevsky. answer
- Where can I find a copy of Robert's Book of Rules?
- Why can't I find T.S. Eliot's The Sword in the Stone?
- Do you have a study book for the Maryland Civil Rights Test?
- Do you have something called The Maryland Anecdotal Code?
- Do you have Where the Sidewalk Ends by E.B. White?
- Do you have that new book The Penguin Firm? answer
- Do you have How and When to Influence People by Carnigee?
- Do you have Ann Kim's new book From the Kitchen Window?
- I need a Clinton manual for car repair. answer
- Do you have Ann Selleck's book Through the Years?
- I'm looking for a book called Color Your Own Parachute
and it's not listed in your catalog computer. Why not? answer
- Do you have George Wallace's book on bridges in the south?
- Do you have Britter Madness by Patty Osmond? answer
- I'm looking for The Red Pony by John Seinfeld. answer
- Do you have Book 3 of The Corpse by D.W. Griffith?
- I'm looking for two sources called Done in Bradstreet
and Standard in Poor. answer
- I've looked in your computer for books on "tension order
deficit." Why don't you have anything? answer
- Can I have the cross-section? answer
- I need a restoration form for a G.E.D. class, and my counselor
said I could find it here.
[He was wrong.]
- I need information on Martin Luther King's 95 Theses.
[Have you tried the door of Montgomery
- Do you have any books about the nuclear bomb they dropped
- Do you have Cliff's Notes for George Orwell's 1982?
- Do you have The Nightingale by John Webb? answer
- Can you tell me how to spell "jeperize"? You know,
like when you jeperize your career?
- Patron: Do you have a biography of the actress Lucille
Librarian: Is it possible that you're looking for the
actress named Lucille Ball?
Patron: (with a sneer) No, I don't want Lucille
Ball. I am looking for Lucille O'Ball.
- Do you have Shakespeare's You Can't Take It With You?
[Sorry, I guess he took it with him.]
- Can you put me on the waiting list for that new bestseller,
Cool Pond? answer
- I want to request a book on tape by Patricia Cornwell. The
title is Call Number.
- I need the book I Know Why the Birdcage Sings answer
SECTION TWO: Let Me Think About That One
- Why don't you have next week's New York Times yet?
[Well, you know how slow the Post Office
- How often does The National Business Employment Weekly
come out? How about Publisher's Weekly?
- Do you have a color picture of those black-and-white cows?
[How could we tell?]
- Can you help me figure out who's the author of the Berenstain
- I'm looking for a stock listing from The Wall Street Journal
for April 31st. Why don't you have that issue?
[I'm sure it must be over there. Sometimes
it gets stuck to the February 30th issue.]
- I'm looking for the address and telephone number of a company
called Becktell. Their phone number is 713-555-1234.
[Hold on, I'll call them and ask.]
- I'm looking for a particular diet called The Fad Diet.
- I want to find out about the life of slaves in Philadelphia
in the 1900s.
- Books on Maryland history -- now, would that include important
people and events?
[Hell, no. If you're looking for important
people and events, you want the woodworking section.]
- Patron: I'm looking for a video on King Tut.
Librarian: Any particular video on King Tut?
Patron: Something recent.
- I have a question: Can I vote Republican, even though I'm
[I think we'd all prefer that you don't
vote at all.]
- I just read I Never Promised You a Rose Garden by
Anonymous. Do you have any more books by that author?
[We're all waiting eagerly for her next
- I want a book for my son all about the Civil War, do you
have anything without much violence in it?
[I think the word "Civil"
may have misled you a bit.]
- Do you have a biography of Einstein that's on a third-grade
level? I got one from my daughter's school library, but it was
way above her reading level.
SECTION THREE: Alphabetical Order & Other Library Mysteries
- Can you help me find To Kill A Mockingbird? Over there
on your Classics shelf, it goes right from Thomas Hardy to Nathaniel
- I can't find Home Office Computing magazine. In the
alphabetical magazine section, it goes right from Healthline
to Home Mechanix.
- I'm looking for a microscope I can use for a few minutes.
Do you have one there?
- A duck and its babies just wandered across the road into
the Library's front lawn. Shouldn't you call someone or something?
[We tried, but the Wandering Duck Hotline
- Do you have a Bantam book here? No, I don't know the title
or author, but I know it's a Bantam book. Can't you just look
- [Phone call] Please overdue these books for me.
- Do you keep your travel books separate on the computer?
[No, we keep them separate on the shelves.]
- I'm seventeen and I want to get a library card. Is it okay
if my mother already has one?
[No, she can't have a card until you're
- I need to find a list of important world events since 1983.
Is that the sort of thing you'd find in an atlas?
- I need to do a report on a 20th-century author, and I wanted
to do Kate Chopin. But it says she was born in 1899. Would she
be considered a 20th-century author?
[Gee, most of her important work was
done at age eight months, but I believe she had one or two minor
items published later in life.]
SECTION FOUR: Looking for a Shortcut....
- Do you have Cliff's Notes on Learned Optimism by Martin
- I'm looking for videos on child abuse.
[Did you look in our How-To section?]
- Do you have Cliff's Notes on Beethoven's Sixth Symphony?
[I think they're waiting until it comes
out in paperback.]
- Do you have a video that will show me how to put icing on
[Yes, but it's a ten-hour series.]
- Isn't there some way to check on the ratings of various insurance
companies if you don't know the names of the companies?
- Do you have Cliff's Notes on Murder on the Orient Express?
[Yes, but unfortunately, they're longer
than the book is.]
- I'd like to know if I can return my books by phone.
[Sure. Just be careful slipping them
through those tiny holes in the mouthpiece.]
- Please tell me how I can vote by fax machine.
[Oh, just fax your vote here. We'll
make sure it gets counted.]
- Do you have videotapes on being a mortician?
[Doesn't anyone believe in on-the-job
training any more?]
- I have a list of names and addresses, and I'm looking for
the phone numbers. Is there a quicker way to find them, besides
looking them up in the telephone directory?
[Darn, our mental telepathy machine
is on the fritz this morning!]
- My little girl is going to be a flower girl at a wedding.
Do you have any videos to help her prepare?
[No, but the Community College teaches
SECTION FIVE: Practical Problems
- I need a few books about Black history as it relates to cosmetology.
[Of course you do.]
- I need a book with ten thousand pages.
[Have you tried the latest Tom Clancy
or David Eddings?]
- Do you have Japanese newspapers? My son needs to get some
baseball scores. (Patron was definitely not Japanese.)
- I need a biography of Jesus Christ. I want to know if he
was a vegetarian.
- What sort of sign is posted by water with sharks in it?
- My husband works with lead. I would like to know if levels
of lead can be transmitted through the sperm. I am pregnant now
and would like to know if any defects could be caused to the
baby by my husband.
[Just how much did you -- oh,
- [Phone call] Do you have any videos on having a baby? I've
gone into labor early and I didn't have a chance to finish my
[And it's legal for you to breed?]
- Do you have a book that tells me how to dig graves?
[Single, or mass?]
- I want something on prenatal teaching -- how to teach your
[Oh, that poor, poor child.]
- Do you have something to help my child prepare for the Kindergarten
[No, but I know a fetus who might be
willing to tutor her.]
- Can you give me the book value for a 1984 Pontiac Sunbrid?
[The last year Pontiac made the Sunbird was 1980.]
- Is a lady there with a green jacket on?
- Do you have catalogs of cakes?
[Not only that, but we loan pastries
for the standard three weeks.]
- I need to know the proper format for a proclamation.
[I need to know why.]
- I can't get your catalog computer to make a capital letter.
What key do you push to get capitals?
[Oh, haven't you heard? Capital letters
were outlawed in 1989.]
- I'm looking for a book to help my cat. She is in mourning
for the other cat, who just passed away.
[What's her reading level?]
- [Telephone call] Yesterday I was using a book there in your
reference section. It's black and orange. Can you tell me the
title of that book?
[Hold on, I'll just look in the catalog
under "black and orange."]
- (Fifteen-year-old patron filling out a library card application
form): Mom, how do you spell my middle name?
[Child, you have just forfeited the
right to have a middle name.]
- (Asked at the Information Desk at 5:24 PM): Are you closed
now? It looks kinda empty, I thought maybe you close at 5 o'clock.
[We've been closed since three. We're
the cleaning staff -- we just like playing library when nobody's
- What does "popular culture" mean?
- Do you have information about travelling reupholstery shows?
You know, they travel from town to town teaching reupholstering
. . . .
SECTION SIX: I Thought the Library Had Everything
- What religion is a person of Russian descent?
[Episcopalian. It's a law.]
- Child: I want the address and phone number of California.
Librarian: What particular place in California?
Child: Just the whole state.
Mother: We got it here before, but we misplaced it.
[Hold on, I'll call Delaware and ask
if she's seen it.]
- I want a list of all the men who were soldiers in the Civil
- Where can I find information about every Russian product
sold in the U.S.? I need to know what they are and what companies
- How many states are there in the United States? Are you sure
it's fifty? I thought it was fifty-one.
[No, West Dakota seceded last week.]
- What type of blood does a gorilla have?
- I need to know the date (just the month and year) when the
first boat was made.
- What is the official definition of "quasi-government
organization"? Not the dictionary definition -- I need the
official government definition.
- I need some pictures of the work of a batik artist named
[Gee, she doesn't appear in The International
Directory of Twentieth-Century Batik Artists.]
- My teacher told me that you have blueprints for all public
buildings. Where are they?
- I need a photograph of what prehistoric man wore.
[Okay, but you might be disappointed.
They only had black-and-white cameras back then.]
- When was the very first test given? I just need the year.
[I don't know the year, but I think
it was given aboard the first boat.]
- I'm looking for an unauthorized autobiography of Frank Sinatra.
[I think we might have one of Ronald
Reagan, will that do?]
- I need something of multicultural math -- how they do math
in other countries.
[Well, let's see -- in Germany, 1+1=6,
but in France I think it's 8.]
- Do you have something for children 8 to 14 years old, that
will tell them how to start their own business? Something on
how to write business plans?
[We don't have a book, but I know a
fetus who could probably show them how....]
- Isn't there a book about headstones -- comparisons of different
types, where to buy them, how to avoid getting ripped off? Or
maybe Consumer Reports would have it?
[How many are you planning to
buy? Never mind.]
- I'm looking for a book that will tell me which animals have
- Do you have a tape of Abraham Lincoln giving the Gettysburg
[Video, or audio?]
SECTION SEVEN: What We Have Here....
- Patron: I want books on how to host a party. It's
Librarian: A wedding shower?
Patron: No, a bridal shower.
[Whoa! Good thing you stopped me!]
- Patron: Where can I find a map of Seattle?
Librarian: Something like a road map...?
Patron: : No. A street map.
[Another close call!]
- Patron: Do you have social studies books?
Librarian: What subjects did you need to find out about?
- I'm looking for books about the people of Latin America:
the Aztecs, the Mayans, and all them.
- Aisle One...now, where would that be?
[It's usually to the left of Aisle Two
-- but sometimes it does scamper away.]
- Patron: I'm looking for books on (reading from textbook)
"Absolutism in Eastern Europe"
Librarian: Any countries in particular?
Patron: (still reading from text) Uh, yeah. Russia, Austria,
SECTION EIGHT: It's ... er ... Hard to Tell ....
- What color and fabric is the Iron Curtain?
[I understand it was a delightful pale
blue chintz before they tore it down.]
- Did Hebrewism come from Islamic? Did Islamic branch off of
[And what did you branch off
- How powerful is a magnifying glass?
[Twelve. Definitely twelve.]
- What court would you go to if you were accused of a crime?
- Can you tell me when the English word "pillow"
was first used? Was it before the time of Christ?
- Do you have statistics on unreported violence?
[Gee, for some reason, nobody seems
to have reported them.]
- Sometime about the year 400, there was a big scholarly meeting
where they decided what books would be in the Bible. It was attended
by the Catholics, and the Church of England, and all the Protestant
churches. What was that meeting called?
- [Phone call; patron asked for a book on organic chemistry]
That book you have, is it on a high school or college level,
or is it more like an Elementary School textbook?
[Oh, it's a third-grade Organic Chemistry
textbook. Did you want something on a higher level?]
- I'm writing an article on the Space Shuttle Discovery
and I have two questions.
1. Does each Space Shuttle have its own name, or do they just
call them all Discovery?
2. "Discovery" -- is that a regular word in common
use, or did they make it up for the Space Shuttle?
- I'm looking for something about the Annapolis Convention
of 1776. It was right before the Revolutionary War, and it had
to do with the Union and the Confederates trying to get together.
[The Annapolis Convention of 1787 laid the groundwork for the
- Do you have an autobiography of the Emancipation Proclamation?
[Yes, and it's even unauthorized!]
- Is an earthquake considered a type of weather?
[In California, maybe. Here, it's social
studies, just like volcanoes.]
- My son has to do a timeline of events in world history. Can
you think of anything important that's happened since 1982?
[Nope, not a blessed thing.]
- Can you help me find some pictures of chivalry?
[No. Just "No."]
- I need a book about Smallpox: its symptoms, how you get it,
and how it's used in dentistry.
[Aha! That explains a lot....]
- What are the exact dimensions of those things at the side
of the road, that they cover with macadam?
[Exactly yay-high by so-long.]
- In what year did Thomas Jefferson invent the light bulb?
- I need to know about the cross in religion and its originality.
You know, when Jesus was on the cross, was he in an upright position,
or was it more like upright to-and-fro?
[It's been lovely, but I have to scream
Does anyone else think that the Official ALA-sanctioned Library
Symbol looks like someone sitting on the toilet reading a book?
(And they complain because no one takes Librarians seriously
[I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Librarians will
never be regarded as Professionals, like Doctors or Lawyers,
until the Legislature passes laws making it illegal for anyone
except licensed Librarians to dispense information.]
opinions expressed herein are personal, and do not
reflect the official position of the Anne Arundel County Public
Library, the American Library Association, the National Hockey
League, or the governments of Brunei, Borneo, or Nether Monkton.