May 29, 2015

NYPL releases the weirdest reference questions from the 1940s-1980s


Librarians’ patience has been tested at least as long as there have been libraries. Oh, and as long as there have been people. People to bother them. People who need help putting up wallpaper, keeping octopi in their bathtubs, or musing about the meaning of life.

In December, the New York Public Library began to share reference questions from an old box with small handwritten, or sometimes typewritten, cards. They’ve been doled out over Instagram with the hashtag #letmelibrarianthatforyou.

Marianne Tatepo of The Guardian began to compile some of the strangest questions from the NYPL Instagram feed, and there are so many gems. Beyond those pictured above, here are questions from Gothamist:

Librarians at the NYPL explained in Gothamist, “The system back then was the same as today, in that we tried to answer right away. While we’re not 100 percent sure how certain questions wound up in this box, they seem to be questions that we didn’t have an answer to at the time (for example, at least one question was put in the box in the 1940s, and then answered in the 1970s).”

They get about 1,700 questions like this per year. (Good god.) Have a relaxing weekend, librarians.

Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.