Where are your books on wandering?

As with so many of the questions we get, this one pulled me down a really lovely road, one that could have led anywhere really. With a little exploring in the catalog together, we decided on titles by John Muir and Aldo Leopold, with a few more practical guidebooks thrown in for some variety. The patron, as I recall, was part of the Wander Society, which I had not heard of until our conversation and did a lot of exploring on my own after. A good reminder that we are constantly learning from the people we work with in the library--that information flows between staff and patrons all the time.


What do you have on aliens?

We've got you covered! Took a few follow up questions to make sure we were on the right track (extraterrestrial life from a biological perspective--576.839, vs. human-alien encounters--001.942). This one was memorable because of the way the question was presented: dead earnest, very intense and urgent. I love getting swept up in these questions because I know the right book is out there for this person--we just have to find it.


Who was the first person born after 1 AD?

How...am I supposed to know this? There are always people who call into the library not because they *really* want to know the answer to the question they've concocted, but because they want to talk to someone and the easiest way to get someone to talk to you for a few minutes is to trap them on the phone by asking questions no one could possibly know the answer to, and then asking why the person doesn't know it, don't they work in a library? Isn't this written down somewhere? Can't you just look it up? Can't you just ask The Google?


Where's the sunniest spot in the library?

A patron came in and asked this on a semi-sunny day in late winter. He went on to say that he needed to get some work done and wanted a sunny place to sit. Happily, our library has huge windows on our third floor--even though the west-facing patio was closed for the season, there is a lot of natural light up there and I suggested he check out the bench seating up there. 

I think of these as "space advisory" questions. It's almost like readers' advisory but for the actual library building. People come in looking for a particular book or kind of book, and also a particular kind of environment -- one that will help them get work done or relax. It speaks to the varied needs of library visitors -- people need quiet, they need a place to chat or make a phone call or do a job interview online. They need a sunny spot in February to feel warm and productive.

Illustration by Rachal Duggan.

Illustration by Rachal Duggan.

Can I give my cats raw salmon?

Some questions cause an immediate and visceral image to pop into your head. In this case, as I was working on this question with a phone call patron, I naturally pictured two deceased cats on a kitchen floor, bits of pink raw salmon still clinging to their whiskers if we made the wrong call here.

We discussed the particular situation a bit; the patron had heard raw salmon was okay for cats, but the packaging did say not for raw consumption--did that mean for cats as well? Online searching yielded a few general articles and multiple discussion forums (“Of course! I’ve given my cats raw fish for years!”) and so I trotted over to the 636’s to see what I could find in the way of cat care.

Using information from two different books, we determined that cooked meat and fish are the way to go, but that a veterinarian who knows the particular cats and their history would be able to make the most appropriate recommendation.

Illustration by Rachal Duggan.

Illustration by Rachal Duggan.

Is La Croix water carbonated?

Honestly, every once in a while I just forget that I'm a librarian and should be looking up information for people rather than just responding with an immediate answer: "yes". This happens all the time for me with "fast fact" questions -- how to spell a word, what's the capital of Illinois -- the ones where you feel like you should be able to just rattle off the answer.

With the La Croix question, my immediate mental response was, "it's definitely carbonated" but almost as immediately, I thought, "but what if it isn't?" Bless La Croix's company website for including nutrition information that included the statement, "LaCroix Sparkling Water is carbonated water which is sodium free and contains only natural flavors."

Illustration by Rachal Duggan.

Illustration by Rachal Duggan.

Where are your books on tap dancing?

This question is one that I really like to think about from time to time. In the moment, there are frequently follow-up questions: Were they looking for a history of tap dancing? A particular tap dancer and their career? A tap dancing how-to? It turned out to be the latter, and so we located 792.78 and found a couple of books on the shelf. Would a DVD be useful? Looks like Tap With Ginger might be a good fit.

I loved this question and I think it’s stayed with me because you can really cast your mind forward and imagine the patron having a good time with these materials. I feel like so many of these questions you answer, you connect the patron with the information, and then they’re gone, and you’re sort of left to imagine various stories and scenarios, if you remember it or make note of it at all. Usually the ones that stick with us are the crisis questions, the ones with a lot of emotion or trauma wrapped around it. It’s nice to recall joyful ones every once in a while.

Illustration by Rachal Duggan.

Illustration by Rachal Duggan.