Thursday, April 22, 2010

I'll Bet You Five Bucks

Long ago, when I was actually working at a reference desk, I was accustomed to getting telephone calls to settle bar bets. Mind you, this was long before the World Wide Web came full blown in mind of Tim Berners Lee. Getting answers to the simplest questions wasn’t all that easy … and you wanted to get the answer from a neutral party.

The thing was, one of that library’s employees had a daughter who was a bartender. And since bartenders talk to other bartenders there was a pretty fair number of Chicago area bars that had the library’s telephone number.

We didn’t care. I’m guessing that the director was secretly pleased to be able to add the statistics into what would otherwise have been a pretty miserable count.

Those of us who worked reference there did learn a few useful lessons … the biggest one simply being that almost every one of these questions was one we could answer in a very few moments from the “ready reference” material we kept behind the desk (plus a few sports records books).

This is to say, most people never did want answers to complicated questions. They just wanted answers to simple things and didn’t know how to find them.

The Internet has done the reference profession a service by taking simple questions out of the library … but it does hurt the stats.

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