Best Reference Question Ever?

Here's a really wonderful thread over on PUBLIB. It started with this: "Some pre holiday humor for y'all. I just had a patron ask me for a list of all our informational books. I giggled."

My personal favorite: "Patron rolling up a shirtsleeve and showing me her arm, "is this herpes?""


Those are great. My very first reference question post MLS was a patron looking for plans to build a still for a moonshine business.

My two favorite questions:

1. So do you guys only have fiction and nonfiction?

2. Do you have books about stuff that happened?

My favorite reference questions are the ones where the patron asks a simple but delightfully hard question and I have to struggle with our available sources to find the answer. I think it's a little odd for a public service profession to make fun of people who are asking questions out of profound ignorance. Aren't these the people we claim to serve?

You're right, it's completely out of place to share humorous stories with colleagues.

I don't claim anything "slow, sloppy and surly...we aim to please" is my motto...but when I was in grad school and working the media desk somebody came up to me and asked me, "would you come over here and look at this? I think it's a snake." Sure enough, there was a small snake coiled in a corner next to the wall. I quietly called one of the regular reference librarians at home (not because she knew snakes, but because her husband was a zoologist) and they came and removed the snake.

Sorry Odd, but I do not see anyone making fun of the customer. I see bemused delight at how folks think a librarian can help them find anything. And several confessions as to how raw a newbie librarian can be.

Once had a woman approach the desk dragging a 4-ish-year old child...lift up his shirt, point to a rash on his chest and ask, "Is this chicken pox?"

I'm glad I work in a special library now. I know who the loose cannons are here. ;-}

actually happened while I was filling in at the circulation desk. An obviously intoxicated patron wanted to get to the computer room, but the elevator was being repaired. My co-worker told the lady she would have to go up the big flight of stairs and pointed right at them. When the patron got to the stairs she turned to me and shouted "Are these the stairs that go up?!"

But usually she's on the streetcar when people show her oozing body parts and ask her if they should go to a doctor...


Do you have any books on Wicca? I think I want to become a Wiccan because I want to get a tattoo and I love nature.

Yes, 133.4-ish.

If someone gets assistance through the Women, Infants and Children's programme are they WICcan?

I once got a phone reference question when I worked in an academic medical library in Los Angeles: "Would a woman who is afraid of heights ever commit suicide by jumping off a building? And if she would, would she scream on the way down?" It turned out to be a script writer working on a made-for-TV Columbo movie. The screaming "jumper" was the main plot - suicide...or murder?

I led a girl into the stacks for a medical book and asked her what she was looking for, and when she said "scabies," I looked it up because I didn't know what that was. When the book said, "highly contagious" and something about the mites ability to "jump," I saw that she was scratching her arms and I took a step back before handing her the book.

One of the nursing students I was teaching information literacy to couldn't understand why she only got porn-sites when she searched for oral hygiene.
It took me by surprise and I couldn't stop laughing.
Since then I have used it as an example when I teach Google searches.

One of the more fun questions that had me working on it for 2 hours (I tend to get stubborn) was "how much does a leg weigh" (it was in for calculating the correct dosage of meds for amputees).
In the end I called the forensic inst.. and I guess it wasn't that odd a question for them since the person i spoke to could the answer without looking it up...

Can the Flash get drunk?

I get this question at 2am by a writer who knows I "like doing research." This was my call to librarianship. I figured if I was doing this sort of thing I might as well get paid and have regular office hours.

One of my favorites=
Why are your pointy fang-like teeth are called your "eye teeth"? What do eyes have in common with pointy teeth?

So what was the answer? Now, I want to know!

I had a patron call in and ask " Could I have the number for the body parts store?" I assumed she referred to Auto body parts and questioned was her need for domestic or foreign car parts.
Her reply was " No, no honey, you know the place where they got the kidneys and livers and such." She wanted the phone number for the Organ Donor bank !!

My favorite was a student who wanted a picture of the Immaculate Conception.

I was new to town, and there turned out to be a chapel called that.

My 2nd favorite was how many holes in a golf ball.

A student started asking me for help researching the presence of mead in Shakespeare's plays. After a few minutes of searching he got down to his real question---"Was Shakespeare an alcoholic?"

It was at that point that I revised my thinking and accepted the fact there is such a thing as a stupid question.