Is this the place where I ask questions I can't get answers to?
December 25, 2014 7:34 AM   Subscribe

The New York Public Library's Instagram feed (as discussed previously for its #ReviewsOnTues feature) is now serializing the librarians' latest find:
We found an old recipe box while cleaning out a desk, and it was labeled "Interesting Reference Questions," the contents of which ranged from total stumpers to funny mispronunciations.

Each Monday, NYPL Information Architect Morgan Holzer will post one (or more) of these questions, from general knowledge ("Does anyone have a copyright on the Bible?") to more personal inquiries ("I am from Wilmington, North Carolina, and my daddy owns the second oldest lighthouse in the country. Where can I sell it?").

And perhaps the Platonic ideal of an AskMe question:
Question: What is the natural enemy of a duck?
Lib: What do you mean?
Q: Well, a whole flight of them landed in my pool and I have waved a broom at them but all they do is look at me and quack. I thought I could introduce the natural enemy into the pool area.
Examples via MentalFloss.com.
posted by Etrigan (43 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
And perhaps the Platonic ideal of an AskMe question

I think not. There is nothing about if it's safe to eat the ducks, nothing about being paralyzed with depression over the ducks but having reasons why every possible remedy for this will not do, and nothing about breaking up with the ducks.
posted by thelonius at 7:46 AM on December 25, 2014 [33 favorites]


MetaFilter: Depressed about it not being safe to eat the ducks you broke up with.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 7:48 AM on December 25, 2014 [46 favorites]


Question: What is the natural enemy of a duck?

Answer: The Beagle Boys, Magica De Spell, Flintheart Glomgold, to name a few.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 7:50 AM on December 25, 2014 [36 favorites]


I've been a public librarian for going on ten years and here's the best reference question I've ever had:

Stoned-looking teenager: You got any books on history?
Me: Sure, but that's a pretty big subject. Are there any regions or eras of history in particular you're interested in?
SLT: Aw, you know...world history.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:56 AM on December 25, 2014 [22 favorites]


Question: What is the natural enemy of a duck?

Flaming forest fires, of course.
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:59 AM on December 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


Smartass rabbits.
posted by idiopath at 8:03 AM on December 25, 2014 [21 favorites]


Question: What is the natural enemy of a duck?

According to AskMe, therapy.
posted by 445supermag at 8:10 AM on December 25, 2014 [7 favorites]


DTMFD
posted by HuronBob at 8:13 AM on December 25, 2014 [14 favorites]


When you are given lemons, make lemonade. Too many ducks? Make duck sauce. My brothers used to insist that the duck sauce at the local chinese restaurant was the sqeezings of a duck.
posted by 724A at 8:18 AM on December 25, 2014


Duck squeezings are more of a French thing.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:24 AM on December 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


Question: What is the natural enemy of a duck?

Snapping Turtles, and they might be pretty comfortable in a backyard pool.
posted by sammyo at 8:35 AM on December 25, 2014


Playing the Residents at the ducks will likely clear the pool of them (and anyone else).
posted by mykescipark at 8:37 AM on December 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


Seeing as we make donuts from duck fat, the natural enemy of the duck is an Omaha foodie.
posted by maxsparber at 8:40 AM on December 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


- Do you have any books on the Vitamin War? (Eventually clarified to Vietnam)

- Do you have Othello the King by Socrates?

-Do you have any Italian books?

(I try books in Italian. I try books about learning Italian as a second language. My querent says, no, books ABOUT it. Finally I give her a book about Italy)

-I need a book on the history of poetry from the FIRST POEM EVER.
posted by Jeanne at 9:10 AM on December 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


My best reference question:

Gentleman in his thirties, nicely dressed, a New Canadian originally from India but with very well spoken English.
Sir: could you please show me a book on poetry?
Me: Sure, there are lots of really great books there, was there anything in particular you were looking for?
Sir: no, I would just like to browse
I walk with him to the poetry section, chatting about how the library is organised in general and specifically how poetry is organised by the nationality of the author and point out the sign saying poetry so he can find the section himself in future. I take him to the aisles of poetry, maybe 300-400 linear feet of bookcases with six shelves on each bookcase (translation, a shit-tonne of books). I generally find people are reluctant to "bother" librarians with their questions so I then rephrase my offer to help once they have seen how overwhelming the selection is.
Me: was there a particular purpose you wanted for a book on poetry, maybe I could help you find something specific?
Sir: I need it for a job interview.
Me: wow! Congrats on getting a job interview (this was during the recession,when times were tough). That is neat they had that request; what type of poetry do you think would be most helpful?
Sir: they just suggested I get a book on poetry
Me: ok, we can get a few together, can I ask what type of job you are interviewing for?
Sir: in a lab
Me: like a writing lab or a science lab or some other kind of lab?
Sir: science lab for medical testing.
Me: ? [gently] are you sure they didn't misspeak in some way? [note, I am not saying he didn't understand, I am blaming them instead for not being clear]. I just can't think what poetry specifically would help with an interview for a science lab.
Sir: definitely poetry is what they said
[this went back and forth with me trying different ways to get more info without prying as he was reluctant to share very much]
Me: ok, why don't we go over to the OPAC and you show me how you would search for the info you need if I wasn't here, I'm sure we can solve this together.
Sir: [types in: "poeltry"]
Me: ??
Me: wait, are you looking for books on poultry? Chickens? Like the biological use of chickens and poultry in science labs for testing?
Sir: oh, yes, that would be what I would be doing in the new job.
Me: Great! I've got some great books over in my science section, let's get a good selection for you to take home and I can show you some books with tips on interviewing as well.
.... He came back a few weeks later to say he got the job.
posted by saucysault at 9:21 AM on December 25, 2014 [95 favorites]


Now we know what happened to the ducks.
posted by arcticseal at 9:32 AM on December 25, 2014 [40 favorites]


I've taken a tour of Enoch Pratt (Baltimore City's public system) before, and they have a "tickler" file, which are exceptionally interesting or unique questions. I assume this was common practice in most systems, but especially large city systems. We stopped the practice at my branch long before I got there, but I wrote a column for the local newspaper that went over interesting questions, and would usually query my co-workers for ideas to write about.

From what I understand, libraries in major cities would have night owl lines that would be staffed by a skeleton crew of reference librarians, and bars would often have the number for these reference departments which would be used to settle bar bets before ubiquitous smartphone ownership.
posted by codacorolla at 9:32 AM on December 25, 2014 [14 favorites]


Why a duck?
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:22 AM on December 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


My second-best question was a lady who asked me if New Zealand was (physically) part of England. When I got an atlas and pointed out the locations of both countries she shook her head, said "I don't think that's right" and walked away.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:32 AM on December 25, 2014 [17 favorites]


Obviously the natural enemy of a duck is another duck that looks completely identical except for a diabolical goatee.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 11:33 AM on December 25, 2014 [17 favorites]


My second-best question

you can't just leave it hanging there
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:51 AM on December 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


See above.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:52 AM on December 25, 2014


I had a neighbor that worked at the Minnesota Zoo. His favorite stories were of the big pond in the Amur tiger enclosure. Ducks, geese, swans...all with no idea what those big orange things were and pretty confident big orange things would stay out of the water. Canadian geese are not exactly loved in the urban/suburban area so watching those meet a grisly end was cathartic for a lot of people. Then of course there was the incident of the two swans, one girl scout troop, and an eager tiger. We're talking twin fountains of blood and a whole lot of counseling to the traumatized troop. So I'd say get a tiger to deal with your duck population. Although a lab or golden retriever could chase them off with a lot less fuss and liability exposure.
posted by Ber at 11:54 AM on December 25, 2014 [20 favorites]


oh jeez. derp.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:57 AM on December 25, 2014


Too many ducks (too many ducks)...
posted by Devonian at 12:00 PM on December 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


What duck?
posted by MartinWisse at 12:03 PM on December 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


One leg is both the same.
posted by Segundus at 12:23 PM on December 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


The higher, the fewer.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:13 PM on December 25, 2014 [2 favorites]


One of the things I received for Christmas this year was Volume III of Bloom County, which includes notes from Breathed about the creation of the strip. This one seems appropriate:
Appreciate that to get the actual name of Calvin Coolidge's wife in 1985, I normally would have to get into my Honda and drive down to the Iowa City Public Library and find an encyclopedia. Bit given that I always executed these strips at about 4am against a 5 am shipping deadline... in this case I needed to call a library in London, England, which was just opening for the day. oddly more satisfying than Googling.
Even for a college town, some things in Iowa City do shut down at night. Though as I recall, there was this one gyro cart that did most of its business at 1-2 am...
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:59 PM on December 25, 2014 [6 favorites]


Jeez, didn't anyone have their own encyclopedia?
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:21 PM on December 25, 2014 [1 favorite]


(Just telegraphed to London and apparently her name was "Grace", if anyone was wondering.)
posted by uosuaq at 3:53 PM on December 25, 2014 [3 favorites]




HuronBob: "DTMFD"

Surely it should be "DTMDA".
posted by barnacles at 6:46 PM on December 25, 2014


This whole thread on Christmas, and not one mention of Desk Set? (ftfy)
posted by Mchelly at 3:10 AM on December 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


Just in case anyone is curious, the natural enemy of the duck is the Labrador. Which is probably easier to deploy than a shotgun in NYC.
posted by pwnguin at 6:57 AM on December 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


"We don't have cookies here..." (SLYT)
posted by DrAstroZoom at 7:33 AM on December 26, 2014


you can't just leave it hanging there

Librarians never give away their best questions. Even the ones in this thread who say it's their best ever have to be holding back.
posted by blucevalo at 9:56 AM on December 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


The best one I heard from a patron who was actually in the library: "The police just sprayed me with tear gas. What should I do?"
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:44 PM on December 26, 2014


"The police just sprayed me with tear gas. What should I do?"

"First of all, I guess we should start in the Audiobooks section..."
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:12 PM on December 26, 2014 [4 favorites]


My most memorable question at the reference desk: "Where is the library?"
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 4:01 PM on December 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


My most memorable question at the reference desk: "Where is the library?"

It's a fair question. I didn't mind (much) when my University library took out the paper card catalog and replaced it with computer workstations. I did mind it, when they removed huge sections of books to make way for more computer workstations. Now they don't even have many computer workstations, they just expanded the computer area with more tables for people with laptops. The last time I was in the library during finals week, I walked through the computer area, it was jammed with people. As I walked through the room, I could see that every single computer had Facebook on the screen. Meanwhile, I searched upstairs for a specific book in Japanese, they have a significant collection, and well indexed too. I went to the shelves, nothing was there. I mean the shelves were gone too. The reference librarian couldn't find it, or any other books in that collection. A substantial section of books were missing, not just the one I was looking for. She promised to investigate. A few days later, she told me that apparently the entire section containing hundreds of books was lost, when it was being relocated to another floor. Nobody could find it. So where the hell is that library?
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:56 PM on December 26, 2014 [9 favorites]


I had a neighbor that worked at the Minnesota Zoo.

I have a friend who went to the Como Park Zoo in St. Paul, and he got the treat of seeing a squirrel fall into the tiger enclosure. The tigers got really excited, and dashed all over, crashing into each other and pretty much let the squirrel escape in the hubub. So, if you are going to use a tiger to solve your duck problems, just release one tiger at a time.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:21 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


These are my two favorite reference transactions that I have personally experienced.

The first involved two boys in their early teens. They were working on a computer together but apparently not able to find the information they wanted. One of them led the other reluctantly to the desk, whispering "Ask her!" the whole time. But the second boy was apparently too embarrassed to ask so the first one said, "Do you know if rhododendrons are poisonous?"

I live in Washington state, rhodies are everywhere, they are poisonous. I told them so. The second boy looked distinctly worried. "What if you didn't swallow them - you just put them in your mouth for a while?"

Yeah, he had sucked on a rhododendron. He would not tell me why. (He stayed in the library for some time and I saw him again several days later, so he didn't suffer any ill effects. Still - don't eat rhodies, kids.)



The second was a first grade girl who told me she wanted books about animals. I asked her if she had a particular animal in mind and she said "Foxes!"

So we wander over to the 599's in picture books and find some foxes. "No," she said, "not foxes. It's another animal. I know what it's called." She screwed up her face and thought really hard and finally came out with it:

"Werewolves!"
posted by darchildre at 12:35 PM on December 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


« Older Merry Dunkmas   |   How close are you willing to get? Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments