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

Reference Question of the Week – 6/1/08

   June 7th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Mr Clean bottleWhen you're a librarian, even your friends are patrons. A friend of mine asked me this in email:

Do you know how to remove nail polish from a wooden table?

Ha. I mean, this is definitely serious, but still, it's kind of funny. Anyway, the library has a bunch of "how to clean anything" type books, but their suggestions varied greatly. They all said not to use nail polish remover, but beyond that, they suggested using more nail polish (with the theory that the wet on the dry would make the dry wet again and thus easier to clean off), vinegar, dry cleaning powder, etc.

Since none of these seemed like sure things, I went online to see what else was available. I found two websites with suggestions, and it seemed that mineral spirits was safest way to go.

I emailed all of this to her, including the two urls, and she replied:

Okay, now, this just pisses me off - I went to that same wiki answers site and had NO LUCK outside of "nail polish remover." Ha - how do you find this stuff? It's a gift.

It's not a gift, it's library school training, and the fact that finding information is what I do for a living. To the people that fear Google will replace librarians, I simply say, no, it will not.

And here's something else Google can't do: after emailing what I had found, I kept checking through our reference books. Eventually, I found the Stain Buster's Bible, which suggests using amyl acetate (banana oil) to remove nail polish from finished furniture. It says to get the chemically pure kind (from a pharmacy), but to go easy because it can also remove the finish.

I emailed that, too, but haven't heard back yet if any of these methods worked. I'm hoping "the patron" will provide a full report in the comments section.

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