There are quite a few magnificent libraries around the world. However, without the people working inside, they'd be just warehouses. And this story is the perfect proof of that.
The New York Public Library has released a series of inquiries recovered from its 1940s to 1980s archives, revealing the many roles the librarian had to play in the days before the Internet. Some wanted to know how to become a mistress of ceremonies at a musical orgy, others were curious why 18th-century English paintings have so many squirrels in them. Judging from the quirky questions, it's clear that the public regarded librarians as a superhuman cross between oracles and therapists, asking them the most personal, complex or vague questions. Luckily, the staff dutifully copied everything out.
All of these questions were asked either via phone or in person. However, the NYPL’s queries service is still running, providing answers to those who don't have the resources to look them up for themselves. According to librarian Rosa Caballero-Li, more than 100 questions still come into the NYPL's Reference and Research Services desk every 24 hours.
"We answer everything," Caballero-Li told NPR. "Patrons can call us and reach out to us for anything they feel curious about, any service that they need — and I think that surprises a lot of people."
Interestingly, she said there's a surprising amount of overlap between the questions from the archive and the ones they receive nowadays. "These are questions that we are answering still, today, and we will probably be answering tomorrow, as well."
"You can find a lot of information online, of course, and that's great. But when you can't, or when you have too many answers, or you can't quite distinguish fact from fiction, that's when you reach out to us," the librarian explained.
And nothing is off-limits. "There are no stupid questions," Caballero-Li admitted. "Everything is a teachable moment. We don't embarrass people; we try to answer any questions they have with honesty and we try to refer them to appropriate resources that they might find useful."
"We don't know everything," Caballero-Li added, "but we can always point you in the right direction."