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

Reference Question of the Week – 1/17/10

   January 23rd, 2010

B-17I thought this question was interesting for three reasons:

  1. The question is unusual
  2. I hardly played a role at all in answering it
  3. Despite #2, the patron got an excellent answer

Here's what happened: an email came to the reference desk from someone in the Netherlands, who is writing a book on the Allied pilots who took part in the air war over his country during WWII. In his book, he wants to focus on the lives of the men as people, instead of them as soldiers, and so is trying to track down things like what they did before the war, who their wives/girlfriends were, what growing up was like for them, etc.

Through his research in identifying and tracing the crews of planes shot down in his area, he found that one of the men was a Chelmsford resident. He sent me the man's name and date of death, and asked us to find out whatever we could about his life before the war.

This sounded like an impossible question, especially since we don't have the staff to research something like this. However, I forwarded it to the local genealogy club (with the patron's permission), as they often have volunteers who are willing to work on projects like this.

Within a day, a genealogy club volunteer located an obituary for a descendant of the Chelmsford WWII flier (which mentioned the deceased WWII flier by name), and the obituary also listed the names of living relatives. The volunteer looked up the relatives in the phone book, contacted them, explained about the book the man from the Netherlands was working on, and gave them his contact information. They said they'd be delighted to provide information for him, and would contact him as soon as they organized some photos and other information.

How great is that? I hope the author has this much success in locating information on the other airmen in his book, and I'm happy that there are other organizations in town I can rely on to pick up where the library leaves off.

This is another example of the reference librarian's motto: "you don't have to know the answer to every question, you just have to know where to find the answers."

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One Response to “Reference Question of the Week – 1/17/10”

  1. Winnie Says:

    My youngest son, smart ass that he is, received bonus marks for writing at the bottom of his history final “You don’t need to remember all this stuff – you just need to know how to look it up.”