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

Reference Question of the Week – 5/8/11

   May 14th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Amber HagermanI'm using this question because, well, it's not funny, but I did find it remarkable.

One afternoon, a high school girl walked up to the desk and said she has to do a report on the girl that started the Amber Alert.

She wasn't sure what that Amber's full name was, and I didn't know either, but a quick internet search for just amber alert led to the Wikipedia article that gave the little girl's full name: Amber Hagerman.

I searched our catalog for her name, but got no results. Before I took the girl to our biography encyclopedias to just start flipping through the indexes, I wanted to check our Gale biography database. I logged in from our website, searched for her name, and saw this:

Screen capture from Gale Biography in Context database

Occupation: Victim? Really? I'm sure that's just the name of the field, and they had to put something in there, and for 99% of the biographies, the person's occupation is why they are famous. But my gosh, how sad.

It didn't phase my patron one bit, but the articles from the database didn't actually help much. We checked a couple other databases, and between that and resources and references on the Wikipedia articles, she felt we found enough. She left happy, but that "Victim" listing really bothered me.

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Reference Question of the Week – 1/14

   January 20th, 2007 Brian Herzog

I guess it's just that time of year: with the cold weather finally setting in, there's been a noticeable drop in the number of people coming to the reference desk. As a result, there really weren't any unusual questions this week.

However, I was visited by the sales rep from Thomson-Gale. He dropped by unannounced, but he did not come empty-handed. In addition to sales brochures for their research databases, he brought me a book.

Published by Gale, it is a collection of funny questions that have been asked at reference desks across the country. All of the questions are sent in by librarians (and I think if they use your submission, they'll even pay you). It's called Funny You Should Ask, (in fact, what he gave me was actually the second volume, Return of the Grin) - here are a few examples:

What is the attention span of a fish?

Shauna Good
London Elementary
London, OH

What can I do to stop ghosts coming through the walls and scaring me?

Name withheld

Who invented the bed?

Vernell Craig
Houston Elementary School District
Houston, TX

Do you have a book on coffee tables by Cosmo Kramer?

Delene DelaRosa
Quitman Library
Quitman, TX

Was Pearl Harbor a famous black American? I need to do a report on one.

Gail Faughn
Astoria Park School Media Center
Tallahassee, FL

I don't think this book is available for purchase anywhere. Even according to WorldCat, it is only available in two libraries (one of which is the Supreme Court Library in Little Rock, AR).

But don't despair - if you're interested, you can sign up to receive funny questions in a weekly email. These are new submissions from librarians, and when Gale compiles enough of them, they'll publish volume 3.

gale, humor, libraries, library, reference question, reference questions, thomson-gale

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