Like the tree said to the lumberjack.
August 5, 2010 6:45 AM   Subscribe

I write a brief column that answers a fun bit of trivia or reference type question. I've had a column come up at the last minute, and I'm stuck for ideas!

The column is an outreach service for a library, and should be phrased like a library patron asking a librarian about something (so it can either be trivia-ish, or it can be more like a service library question). I can usually either come up with something good, or use an actual question, but I'm stumped and running out of time.

I'm open to any suggestions, but I do have to keep it family friendly.
posted by codacorolla to Grab Bag (33 answers total)
 
Dear Library Answer Person,
When I take my kids to the library I'm never sure about the degree to which the "keep quiet in the library" rule applies in the children's section. I know they can't yell and scream, but, given that they're young (under 6 years) how much energy do I need to expend to keep them whispering?
Thanks,
Tired of Total Silence (TOTS)
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 7:00 AM on August 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Dear Library Answer Person

What's the weirdest/grossest thing you've ever found in the book return bin?
posted by carmicha at 7:02 AM on August 5, 2010


Library-type questions come up all the time on this very site. We just recently had someone looking for a good book on Zoroastrianism - there was a suitable answer, as well. I must admit I was a bit curious about why this person was interested in Zoroastrianism; we weren't told. But still, anybody can take an interest in anything, if only out of curiosity. So I would suggest you just scroll down the questions on AskMeFi and find one that you like.
posted by grizzled at 7:03 AM on August 5, 2010


Response by poster: Grizzled: I've been doing that for the past hour, and nothing is jumping out.
posted by codacorolla at 7:04 AM on August 5, 2010


Dear Library Answer Person,
I remember learning about how to use a library in elementary school. We had to know how to use a card catalog and find a book. We also learned about the Dewey Decimal system. What sorts of skills and library history are kids taught these days and where can I go to learn them as an adult?
Thanks,
Forgetting About Dewey's System (FADS)
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 7:05 AM on August 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


Dear Library Answer Person,
What kind of education do I need to become a Librarian?
Thanks,
Future Librarian


Dear Library Answer Person,
What are the top best-selling books of all time in America (or insert other country)
Thanks,
Wondering in Colorado



Dear Library Answer Person,
Where was the first library?
Thanks,
Curious in Massachusetts
posted by KogeLiz at 7:15 AM on August 5, 2010


Dear Library Answer Person,
You know that really good smell when you open a new book for the first time, are you bored of it yet? And which one smelled the best?
Thanks!
posted by markx2 at 7:18 AM on August 5, 2010 [4 favorites]


Dear Library Guy:
If all information is going digital, will brick and mortar libraries go extinct? What will happen to the library in 200 years - will they still exist?

(actually, I would like an anser to that one)
posted by Flood at 7:21 AM on August 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


Dear Library Answer Person,

Why did libraries switch from using the Dewey Decimal System to the Library of Congress System? What's the difference? When did the switch occur?

(And why didn't anyone tell me!? I remember walking around my college library for the first time, searching in vain for the 500s, looking at a layout map, and thinking Q-whatnow? WTF is going on?!)
posted by phunniemee at 7:21 AM on August 5, 2010


Dear Library Answer Person,
What is this? Do you need to be a spy to use it? Is it Classified? It's from the CIA!

(I love the CIA World Factbook and find it an awesome source for much world trivia)
posted by pointystick at 7:26 AM on August 5, 2010


Wikipedia's list of misconceptions could be inverted into someone asking a reference question about one of those common topics.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:31 AM on August 5, 2010


You might trawl WP:RD for ideas.
posted by Maximian at 7:35 AM on August 5, 2010


The Slate Explainer columnist sometimes posts a list of questions that, for one reason or another, he hasn't answered. Here's the list from 2006.
posted by Sculthorpe at 7:47 AM on August 5, 2010


I've always been interested if the library system in the US is similar or different than in other countries. Do other countries use libraries as community service centers, like how US libraries have moved towards? How are US libraries unique / similar to libraries in other countries?
posted by Peter Petridish at 7:53 AM on August 5, 2010


Dear Library Answer Person:

What were some of the things that your library did with old cards from the card catalog?
posted by Leezie at 8:06 AM on August 5, 2010


Who has the largest library?

How often do you have to buy new encyclopedias?

How long does it take to put a book into circulation once you retire it?

Do you keep a copy of all editions of a particular book?

How has self-publishing, micro-publishing, on-demand publishing affected library sciences?

What type of restoration or repair work do librarians perform?

How much are late fees?

What happens after "lost" books are returned?

Besides encouraging quiet, do libraries in other countries practice different etiquette for their patrons than our own?
posted by elle.jeezy at 8:07 AM on August 5, 2010


Do libraries still buy encyclopedias, or do you just send them to the internet?

Who decides where a book is put in the Dewey Decimal System (or apparently the LCS now)?

What happens when a new type of book gets written, who comes up with the new categories in the DDS/LCS?

How do you decide what books to put in the library book sale?
posted by gagoumot at 8:19 AM on August 5, 2010


Which countries have free public libraries? (As opposed to school or institutional libraries for student or staff use only.)

What kind of unusual library services are provided to remote rural areas? (I remember something about a woman in the Andes who brought a tiny travelling library on donkey-back to isolated villages.)

What kind of things besides books can you borrow from some public libraries? (Some lend tools, there was one that lent baking pans for fancy shaped cakes, etc.)
posted by Quietgal at 8:29 AM on August 5, 2010


Why do we care about Andrew Carnegie?
posted by thejoshu at 8:50 AM on August 5, 2010


Dear Library Answer Person,

What's the difference between a pamphlet, a magazine and a book? What criteria are used to classify them as one or the other?
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:12 AM on August 5, 2010


People seem to be asking trivia questions about libraries and books, but I got the impression that you wanted actual reference type questions. How about "I've been reading about the resurgence of knitting as a hobby. Is there any way to compare how many knitters there are now, compared with 60 or 70 years ago? How about the number of yarn shops now and then?" Not exactly sure this is what you meant, but I know I'm curious. :)
posted by booksherpa at 9:23 AM on August 5, 2010


So... why do we call it "trivia" anyway?
posted by Doohickie at 9:33 AM on August 5, 2010


(I'm assuming you're at a public library.) At my public library, there's a bookcase set aside for high school summer reading assignments. There's a binder with the summer reading lists for the local high schools, and the shelves have (most of) the books from those lists.

If yours has something similar, then how about this question:

Dear Library Answer Person:
Do you have a copy of my high school's summer reading list? I can't find mine.
posted by bentley at 9:34 AM on August 5, 2010


(and of course, I know why it's call trivia, but you could use the question.)
posted by Doohickie at 9:36 AM on August 5, 2010


Response by poster: People seem to be asking trivia questions about libraries and books, but I got the impression that you wanted actual reference type questions. How about "I've been reading about the resurgence of knitting as a hobby. Is there any way to compare how many knitters there are now, compared with 60 or 70 years ago? How about the number of yarn shops now and then?" Not exactly sure this is what you meant, but I know I'm curious. :)

I did. The library stuff is neat, and all, but I try to be a bit more subtle in promoting libraries through the column.
posted by codacorolla at 9:48 AM on August 5, 2010


Dear Library Answer Person,
There's not just one kind of librarian, right? What kinds of things do different librarians do?

Dear Library Answer Person,
How do libraries get used for things other than just sharing books/music/DVDs?

Dear Library Answer Person,
I really want to read

Dear Library Answer Person,
How do you decide what to buy and add to a collection? You don't just buy everything that comes out, do you?

Dear Library Answer Person,
If you keep adding new stuff, how do you take old stuff out of the collection to make room for it?
(This is a little different than the library book sale question above, but this is a great opportunity to introduce Awful Library Books. Which rules.)

Dear Library Answer Person,
I don't like going to the library anymore because there are a lot of weird people there. Some people smell and some people are doing weird things. Why are they here, and is there something we can do to make it more comfortable for our clean, tax-paying citizens?
(I don't mean to suggest this in a "get 'em out" way but as a way of addressing concerns from patrons and sharing the notion that everyone is welcome. Emphasize that some people could stand to be more tolerant of fellow community members and others could stand to behave better in public places -- for example, threatening behavior is never okay at the library, whether you're a rich person or a homeless guy)
posted by Madamina at 9:50 AM on August 5, 2010


Oops -- that one in the middle should be something like "I really want to read all 15 books in the 'Mr. Buffington's Day at the Races' series, but you don't seem to have any copies. What can I do to request them?"
posted by Madamina at 9:51 AM on August 5, 2010


Dear Library Answer Person
Is it true that the weird building on the corner of X and Y is haunted?

Dear Library Answer Person
What are they building on the corner of Street A and Street B?
(this one is because where I live now they never have signs telling your this important bit of info.)
posted by bentley at 10:02 AM on August 5, 2010


Who my street is named after? (Use appropriate street from your town.)
posted by RobotHero at 10:06 AM on August 5, 2010


In my experience, libraries never advertise all their wonderful services. It'd be GREAT if your column could address some of these. For example, my university's library had a media center in the far back corner behind some doors that NO ONE knew about. You could borrow latest movies or music CDs from a fairly large collection and bring them home, or you could watch/listen to them in-house with some head phones in a special viewing booth. It's such a useful service, but no one knew that this media center existed, so it was always empty.

Microform's was also another service that no one really new about, but still very useful. People see actors use microforms on mystery shows all the time to read old magazine or newspaper articles, but these people never realize that this service is available to them at their local library, for free.

Also, the library I worked at would lend out laptops(!) to students 2 hours at time. Wow! Again, it was never really advertised so no one used this, I only found out about it because I worked at that same library for a bit.

Another very useful service is the intra-library system that allows users to borrow books from other partner libraries if their library doesn't have it. Users can have that book shipped to their local library so they don't have to travel across state to pick it up.

Many libraries are going digital, so many of them allow users to access the content of entire books online, for free. Also, someone in Metafilter once mentioned that libraries are starting to lend out ebooks to users for their e-readers. That's great! Advertise!

Speaking of digital, this brings up the library's website url, which I feel should be advertised not just in a newsletter, but on every wall in the library. The library website's usually contains all sorts of goodies like an online catalog, online book renewal, hours, phone numbers, reserving books online, book requests, library tutorials, bibliography help, research assistance, or live chat features with a librarian. I don't think many people realize how useful a library's website is, or even if it exists.

Finally, there is not enough advertisement for encyclopedias and periodicals/publications. People will tend to ignore these sections of the library because they don't know how to use them or search for them in the catalog. In elementary school I was taught to look up books using the traditional card catalog, but I was never taught how to use the digital catalog because it didn't become popular until I graduated from high school. By then, I had to teach myself how to use it, but I was a college student, and I had extra time on my hands. I think many adults now-a-days don't have the time to learn how to use the digital library and how incredibly useful it is, so they avoid it. It would be great if your newsletter had a short tutorial on how to use it.

And it's not just library services that should be advertised in the newsletter, but also services that users can provide to the library, like book donations, money donations, technology donations, workshops, classes and club meetings. All very useful.

Anyhoo, I only discovered most of these wonderful library services and features because I ended up taking up a job in the library stacks department when I was in college. Had all this been advertised to me beforehand, I would have definitely taken advantage of it from day 1.

Good luck!
posted by nikkorizz at 10:46 AM on August 5, 2010


Oops, it's "knew" not "new." Gosh darn my spelling...
posted by nikkorizz at 10:48 AM on August 5, 2010


Dear Library Answer Person
Is it true that sharks don't get sick?
(I'm pretty sure it's not, but it's something that seems to get bandied around a lot.)
posted by trialex at 3:33 PM on August 5, 2010


Dear Library Answer Person,

If I complain about a certain book in your library, will you remove it?

What is HD radio, and how can I listen to it?

Why is the sky blue? Why is grass green? (I am a high school graduate and never learned useful information like this.)

Why do people say "please" and "thank you" and "excuse me"? It seems like a waste of breath.

There are some things I want to learn how to do, such as run a drill press, catch a fish, and have sex with another person. How could I look this up at your library?

Has anyone asked a question of a librarian and the librarian called the police? If so, what was the question?
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:33 PM on August 5, 2010


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