What's Become of the Philadelphia Free Library's 'Know It Alls'?

From Daniel Rubin's column in The Philadelphia Inquirer: Now that everyone's an expert on fast facts, I wonder what has become of those Free Library of Philadelphia treasures known as the Know-It-Alls.

When I last visited these general-information specialists, in 1991, business was brisk. Surrounded by a wall of books and directories, they fielded 50 phone calls an hour from Philadelphians wondering how to spell Tiananmen Square, what glasnost is, how far to Fargo?

The rotating staff of 14 librarians - each with a master's in science - was in such demand that each caller was limited to three questions.

Well, all that was so last century.

Today, there's one full-fledged Know-It-All left - Lori Morse, a librarian who runs the General Information department. She's backed up now by nine less-seasoned librarian assistants.

Where the department used to field 400 calls a day, now phone requests for what Morse calls "ready research" can be counted on one hand.

"We get maybe a couple a week," she said. "We've turned more into customer service representatives - people needing to renew books, needing help downloading e-books."

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