Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Reference Questions Librarians Hate

This blog often has posts that recount our interesting daily reference questions. Many people don't realize that they can ask their local librarian to help find information so we like to advertise that fact. What has not been posted are the dismal failures. So in the interest of full disclosure, here are some recent stumpers submitted to the reference librarians.

How to make charts using linear programming? OK, I give up. We searched JerseyClicks and the library catalog and the internet. The patron's table was littered with math and business books we hauled out. But nothing was quite right. In cases like this, I wish I could text or twitter the professor who assigned this problem and say something really scathing like - "huh?"


A patron wanted the Silver Banquet which evaluates railroad memorabilia. It didn't show up in any N.J. library according to JerseyCat. WorldCat showed very few library holdings for it. Googling didn't turn up any copies we could get our hands on. I'm posting this long after the question reared its puzzling head. Anyway, another "huh?" In these cases we often try to do a bait and switch - well we don't have that, but how about this? But when a patron has her heart set on a particular thing that Uncle Fred said was the best, that's it. No bait and switch works. We don't argue with the wisdom of Uncle Fred.


A few commonly asked questions which just don't seem to lend themselves to easy answers are as follows:


Ratings for NJ private schools. The book, Private Secondary Schools describes, but does not rate them.


Ratings of things not rated by Consumer Reports are especially frustrating. Not that CR should rate NJ prep schools, but we can dream, can't we?


Catcher in the Rye on audio? Nope, does not exist. J.D. Salinger will not allow his classic book to be recorded.


A book whose title includes the acronym HIAA which lists costs of medical procedures? We found physician fee schedules , but even the local health sciences library did not have such a book.


Is Sony Reader compatible with Netlibrary? No, the former is text, the latter is audio mostly and they don't play well together.


Specifics from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. We found recovery.gov, but it's big, it's complicated and it's a work in progress. Please don't make us look through it.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

A recent reference question I did like - I'm on my way to an interview, do I have any lint on my black pants? Yes, the person was in the library while asking the question. No, no lint.

Ellen said...

Good one - it reminds me of the time years ago when a patron asked me to scratch the itch on their back.

ru said...

actually, catcher in the rye is available in audio format, but only for those who have certified vision impairment or suffer blindness. for what it's worth.

kimberly.m.smith said...

We had a customer come in and ask for Consumer Reports on mausoleums and was upset they'd never been reviewed. Sigh.

gflower said...

I work at the Patients' Library at a mental health institute, and a couple of months ago a patient was looking for a definition of "bipolar disorder" that would help him prove in court that that's not what he has. (He was manic enough at the time that even I could tell he was bipolar!)

I basically spread out all our legal, medical, and general dictionaries in front of him, got him some paper and a pencil, and let him go to it. Mental health diagnoses, esp. mental health diagnoses that will/won't stand up in a court of law: SO not covered in library school!

Anne said...

thanks for your comments, everyone. good to know re:Catcher in the Rye. Seems like hate-able reference questions hit a nerve with the librarian community. Our hit count went way up with that post.

Anne said...

AP article: Cost of Surgery? Secret prices confound patients addresses one of the questions I mentioned in this post http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32916970/ns/health-health_care/