or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 10/28/07

   November 3rd, 2007

Jack O'Lantern photographI know I kind of missed the boat with these (after all, Halloween was three days ago - now it's time for Christmas), but here are two Halloween-related questions from this week:

Halloween Question 1
A patron called in on Halloween night:

Patron: How do you spell "satanic?"
Me: Oh, it's S-A-T...
Patron: Wait, wait, let me get a pencil and paper...
Patron: ...okay, go ahead.
Me: It's S-A-T...
Patron: That's too fast!
Me: I'm sorry; it's S...A...T...A...N...I...C
Patron: Okay, thanks. [click]

Who knows what that was about. Also, it amazes me that only about 10% of the people I talk to on the phone around here say "goodbye" before they hang up.

Halloween Question 2
A patron called in on Tuesday (Oct. 30th), and asked:

I'm having Halloween dinner party tomorrow night, and want to have a Halloween trivia contest. I don't have time to come to the library, so can you find some Halloween trivia and email it to me?

Normally, I try to discourage the reference staff from actually doing the patron's work for them (as opposed to teaching or helping them), but in this case I decided to just do it.

All it took was a web search for "halloween trivia," and then copy/pasting ten questions from various websites into a Word file. I then converted this to pdf and emailed it to the patron.

Since this was obviously not an academic assignment, I was willing to bend the rules. Plus, I always like being able to help people according to their lifestyle needs - in this case, a phone call and an email was all it took for this patron to get the information she needed.

That is much better, I think, than making her come into the library so I could help her find websites and then show her how to copy/paste and then format text in Word and then charging her $0.15 to print it. What took me about ten minutes saved this patron who knows how much time, and that's the impression of the library I want our patrons to have.

By the way, some of the Halloween trivia is below, and the rest (and the answers to these questions) is in the pdf file [7kb] (it's nothing special, trust me).

What ancient festival is considered to have evolved into our modern Halloween?

  • Lammas
  • Beltane
  • Samhain
  • Ostara

How much money is spent on Halloween candy annually in the United States?

  • $1 million
  • $200 million
  • $500 million
  • $2 billion

According to legend, a unibrow, tattoos, and a long middle finger are all signs of what Halloween creature?

  • a werewolf
  • a vampire
  • a witch
  • a golem

How many "witches" were burned at the stake in the Salem Witch Trials?

  • Twelve
  • Twenty
  • Thirty-three
  • None

Ghosts that do pranks are known as what?

  • Spookers
  • Poltergeists
  • Ghosts
  • Specters

What are male witches called?

  • Warlocks
  • Morlocks
  • Manwitches
  • Sorcerors
  • Gingriches

Download the pdf file [7kb] for the answers to these (and more) questions.

Some of the sources I used for this project are:

halloween, halloween trivia, libraries, library, public libraries, public library, reference question, satanic, trivia, trivia questions

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5 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 10/28/07”

  1. Robin Says:

    I agree with you man – user educations doesn’t have to be worked into every reference query.

    Now I gotta get back to my user education assignment (sigh).

  2. Buzzy Says:

    I agree with you here, too. I find I’m a LOT more lenient in what I’ll do for patrons in my public library job.

    In my academic library job, though, things get a bit thornier. The line’s definitely different there, but at what point do you go from being helpful & empowering to enabling?

  3. Lichen Says:

    Yum, manwitches.

  4. Robin Says:

    Yes, Buzzy, you are right, I should have specified in a public library. I think an academic library would be very different, and students would be expected to do their own research.

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    Although it sounds like a cop-out to me, this really does seem to need to be decided on a case-by-case basis (regardless of the library). I’m generally in favor of having policies and procedures to handle most situation, but also in giving library staff enough freedom to make intelligent decisions base on what a situation dictates.

    Our flexibility is one thing that sets our service above that of general internet searching.