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

Reference Question of the Week – 7/11/10

   July 17th, 2010 Brian Herzog

CT Lottery LogoThis reference interaction was kind of a double-edged sword. A patron walked up to the desk and asked,

Can you look up some lottery numbers for me? I have two tickets from Connecticut, one from April and one from May.

I don't play the lottery myself, so looking up numbers is an unknown world to me. But looking up numbers for an out-of-state lottery, for tickets that are a few months old, seemed a bit like a long-shot.

I searched Google for "ct lottery" and the Connecticut State Lottery website was the first result. Happily, it must have been designed by someone who knows what people want, because their navigation bar included a "Winning Numbers" section with links to Numbers Archive, Numbers By Date, Numbers By Game, and Numbers History. I clicked Numbers By Date, entered each of the numbers for his tickets, and found (not too surprisingly) that the tickets he had weren't winners.

I told him I was sorry he didn't win, which was true, but at the same time I was feeling pretty self-satisfied. Not only did this seem like a daunting question that got answered clickety-click, but I thought it would also make a great reference question of the week. But my smugness was cut short when the patron said,

Oh well, thanks for looking. I've been out of work for months, and when I found these tickets while looking for loose change in the car, I had to give them a try. I've got to feed my family somehow.

Ever since the recession started, I keep hearing news reports about (and seeing first-hand) how libraries are helping unemployed people get back on their feet. In addition to job searching, resume writing, networking, books and databases, I guess we can also add "lottery number lookup" to the list of resources we offer.

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Reference Question of the Week – 12/23/07

   December 29th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Ohio Lottery logoA reference librarian is never off duty...

I was home in Ohio for Christmas last week. At a party at an aunt's house, everyone received an instant scratch-off lottery ticket.

Out of the fifteen tickets (total cost: $30), we collectively won $22, so of course the discussion turned to the odds of winning.

The back of the cards said the odds for that game was 1 in 4.46. We wondered if all the instant games had the same odds, or if previous winners affected the odds, or if there was an easier way to tell than having the store clerk check the back of all the cards before you bought one (which, I'm sure, the clerk would not appreciate).

So, I went online to the Ohio Lottery website. After clicking around a bit looking for something that said "odds of winning," I took a more direct route with a Google search for "instant games site:ohiolottery.com."

That bought me to the listing for all instant games. You have to click into each one to find each games' odds, but this page included something very interesting: for each game, it showed how many prizes were remaining.

This, I thought, was a way you might increase your odds of winning - play the games with the most winners still out there. Since our game only had 6 winners remaining, it's no wonder we didn't win the $10,000 prize.

We also found a lists of recent and top prize winners, which was fun, as well as a place to sign up for an email notification whenever a large prize was claimed. Now that's hard core.

I know you can't win if you don't play, but I never win when I play; what are the odds of that?

games, instant, libraries, library, lottery, odds, ohio, public, reference question, winning

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