Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How Not to Answer a Reference Question: a Shaggy Dog Story

 Speaking of answering interesting reference questions, as Ellen just posted, BHPL staffers are proud of the service we provide to our patrons, but have you ever met an over-zealous  librarian who wants to give you more information, more books and book recommendations than you want or need? A patron emailed us the following shaggy dog story which reminds us that sometimes it’s better to wait until people ask for advice before offering it. Thanks, Bernie.

A cowboy named Bud was overseeing his herd in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand-new BMW advanced toward him out of a cloud of dust.The driver, a young man in a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes , RayBan
sunglasses and YSL tie, leaned out the window and asked the cowboy,
"If I tell you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, will you give me a calf?"
Bud looks at the man then looks at his peacefully grazing herd and calmly answers, 
"Sure, Why not?"
The stranger parks his car, whips out his notebook computer, connects it to his cell phone,and surfs to a NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo. The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg , Germany.Within seconds, he receives an email on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored. He then accesses an MS-SQL database through an
ODBC connected Excel spreadsheet with email on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response.Finally, he prints out a full-color, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP LaserJet printer, turns to the cowboy and says, 
"You have exactly 1,586 cows and calves."

"Amazing, that's right. Well, I guess you can pick one from the herd," says Bud.

Bud watches the young man select one of the animals and looks on with amusement as the young man stuffs it into the trunk of his car.

Then Bud says to the young man, 
"Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my calf?"
The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, 
"Okay, why not?"
"Well now, seems to me you must be a consultant", says Bud.
"Wow! That's correct, but how did you guess that?"

"No guessing required." answered the cowboy. 
"You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked. You used millions of dollars worth of equipment trying to show me how much smarter than me you are; and you don't know a thing about how working people make a living - or about cows, for that matter.  This is a herd of sheep. 

Now give me back my dog.

PS: just ask us a question and we will try to find an answer for you, nothing less and not too much more, we hope.

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