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

Reference Question of the Week – 11/2/08

   November 8th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Snow-covered mailboxOn Wednesdays I work the late shift at the library. When I came in at 1pm this past Wednesday, my coworker who covers the desk in the morning had a good story for me:

An elderly woman walked up to the desk and asked:

Do you have Sarah Palin's street address?

Keep in mind that this was Wed., Nov. 5th, 2008, the day after she and John McCain lost the 2008 presidential election. My coworker kind of joked, "what, do you want to send her a sympathy card?" The patron's response?

Well, yes.

The patron went on to explain how she thought Palin did a great job in the campaign, and that she didn't want her to feel bad about not winning. But above all, the patron wanted to encourage Palin to try again in 2012. After such a negative and protracted election season, it's kind of refreshing to know there is someone with this much earnest concern for public officials.

But back to the question: what followed was a quick search in a few of the popular people search resources, including ReferenceUSA. Interestingly, the street address was available in some, but was listed as "unlisted" in others. ReferenceUSA provided the phone number, but said the address was "Not Provided."

However, being a state Governor and Vice Presidential candidate, there are other ways to contact her, too. The mailing address for the McCain/Palin campaign headquarters was listed on the campaign website, and so was the address for the Massachusetts office. Her mailing address at the Governor's office was on the Alaska State website, but it also included this note:

Alaska law prohibits use of state equipment or resources for campaign or partisan political purposes. Please do not send any messages to these addresses or make calls to these telephone numbers concerning campaign or partisan political activities. Information about elections and candidates can be found by calling, writing, or e-mailing a campaign office for that particular candidate.

Which I found interesting, but which also rules out the Governor's office as an address to send a sympathy card.

My coworker said the patron took down the various mailing addresses, and said thank you, and went home to start composing her letter.

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Reference Question of the Week – 6/17/07

   June 23rd, 2007 Brian Herzog

I don't like using reference questions where I don't actually help the patron, but this one was kind of funny.

Here at my library in Massachusetts, the phone rings...

Me: Reference Desk, can I help you?
Patron: Hello, this is Margery. I live in Westminster, Maryland, and I'm hoping you can help me with something.
Me: Okay, I can try.
Patron: I used to be pretty friendly with some people that live in Chelmsford, but I've lost their telephone number. Their name is D_____.
Me: Sure, let me check the phone book…
   [looks in phone books]
No, I'm sorry, I don't see them listed. Sometimes people have unlisted numbers or cell phones, which means they won't be in the phone book, so I'll check a couple other resources, too...
   [looks in List of Town Residents and Property Tax Assessments by Owner]
No, this family isn't showing up as living in or owning property in town. Is it possible they could have moved recently?
Patron: Well, I suppose that's possible. It's been about twenty-five years since I last spoke with them.
Did they by chance give you their forwarding address?

Unfortunately, very few people who move think to leave their forwarding address with the library. The post office does keep this information, but does not provide it to the public.

The patron decided that she was going to have another look around for the number, and then maybe call some mutual friends that might be more in touch with them.

address, addresses, forwarding address, libraries, library, moving, public libraries, public library, reference question

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