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

Reference Question of the Week – 5/17/09

   May 23rd, 2009 Brian Herzog

sweet potato crunch pieSometimes I am fascinated by the lives of patrons. The phone rings...

Patron: Can you tell me where to buy sweet potato crunch pie? The Hannaford store by me stopped carrying it, and I called the company in Gardner, Maine, but they won't send me any because they only sell to distributors.

Sweet potato crunch pie? I told her I'd need some time to research this, took down her phone number, and said I'd call her back.

I started with just a general internet search for sweet potato crunch pie, which had a surprisingly large number of results. Mostly they were recipes, but on the first page was the Gardner Pie Company, which I guessed was the brand this patron wanted.

It turns out this company is in Akron, OH, not Gardner, ME, and unfortunately, they didn't have a listing on their website of where people can buy their pies. Even though the patron said she already called them, I thought I'd contact them anyway to see what I could learn.

As it happened, I learned a lot, so maybe it's all in how you phrase your question. Instead of asking if they would send me pies, I asked where I could buy them in Massachusetts. The Sales Manager said they are sold through Hannaford and Roche Brothers grocery stores, and that most roadside farmer's markets carry them, too.

I called the patron back with this information, and she was happy. Even though the Hannafords in her town stopped carrying them, she said there was a Roche Brothers in the next town over, so she'd try them. I also gave her the numbers of a few caterers I found while searching, on the off chance that they'd be willing to send the pies directly to her.

Not really difficult, but it made me laugh: in library school I learned how to provide bibliographic instruction, how to be an intellectual freedom fighter, and how to structure the architecture of metadata, and yet I spend my days searching out pie mongers.

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