By Deb A.
Before smart phones and WiFi made it nearly impossible to not be able to find immediate answers for anything from burning questions to useless trivia, there was the library.
The New York Public Library (NYPL) has generously intertwined the new and old, offering us an entertainingly bizarre look at some of the queries it received in the years before we had the luxury of settling debates with a quick (and often, thankfully anonymous) swipe. #letmelibrarianthatforyou is the library's endearingly cumbersome hashtag for its new Monday feature in which some of the strangest archived query cards from its reference desk see the light of day once more.
The series began with a lucky find: an old recipe box labeled "interesting reference questions". As the NYPL notes, "in a world pre-Google, librarians weren't just Wikipedia, they were people's Craigslist, Pinterest, Etsy, and Instagram all rolled into one." The library was as much a place for a songwriter to fact-check her bluebird-related lyrics or a Swiss stroller manufacturer to ask for a list of expectant mothers as it was for students or bookworms.
Unlike typing "what does it mean when" into a Google search and being confronted with the most popular searches that start that way (currently, "what does it mean when you dream about someone" is the top suggestion, hinting at a world heavily populated by lovesick dreamers), these cards represent the specific questions of a very small minority; in this case, we can't imagine that being chased by an elephant ranks high on the list of typical dreams.
#letmelibrarianthatforyou offers us the quirks of daily life as part of the bastion of human knowledge that is the New York Public Library, and reminds us that no matter what we can find online, we still need our libraries.
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Copyright © Agave Magazine + Press, 2017