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

Reference Question of the Week – 4/29

   May 5th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Ten minutes before I'm due to go home, the phone rings. The caller identifies himself as a reporter for the local newspaper and asks if I can help him find the correct spelling of the name of a bar that was in Chelmsford 10-15 years ago. He says it was called "Beer Bellies," gives me the address, and I tell him I'll see what I can find and call him back.

I've only lived here for about two years, so this bar was before my time. But since all librarians are big drinkers, I asked around the staff on duty that day to see if anyone recalled this bar. No one did, which surprised them all, since most of them have lived here all their lives.

Even when I mentioned the address I was given, all anyone could remember in that area was a gym, or a racquetball club, or something like that - which has since been torn down to build an office park. And because I had asked around, suddenly the entire library was working on the same reference question.

Since he wanted the correct spelling, I thought I'd have to find a reference in writing, but was at least hoping the staff here could give me some leads. We didn't have any phone books that old, Chelmsford doesn’t have a city directory, and the time span was far too great to skim through old newspaper microfilm hoping to get lucky.

But since this was a bar, there must be a record of ownership, and a liquor license. So I went to the Town's website and into the Tax Assessor's database. This database has helped me more than once, but rarely completely answers the question.

And it was the same in this case. I searched for the address, and found that that property was owned by the same person from 1979 to 1996, which would certainly coincide with the patron's "10-15 years ago" range. But, unfortunately, the name listed was a person's name, not "Beer Bellys" or something.

So, I got out the local phone book to look up the name. It was listed and I gave them a call, hoping to explain who I was and ask them if they used to own a bar at that address. But, the phone number was disconnected. Drat. Not wanting to give up on this particular lead, I also tried this person's name on Switchboard. There was a listing for the same number as in the phone book, but also a second phone number.

However, by now it was time for me to go home, so I had to pass this question off to the next shift. They called the other number and got a hold of the right person. After explained the situation, the man said that yes, he did own a bar at that address. But it was never called "Beer Bellies" - it was called the "Brass Racquet." They then called the reporter back, who was happy with the result; he only thought the name might have been "Beer Bellies," which is why he wasn't sure of the spelling in the first place.

brass racquet, chelmsford, chelmsford ma, libraries, library, public libraries, public library, reference question, reference questions, switchboard, tax assessor

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