How many nuts and bolts are there in the space shuttle? Where do elephants go to die? Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb? How do reference librarians put up with so many stupid questions?
“Our reference librarians do answer a lot of stupid questions, but they don’t mind at all,” Santa Ana Library spokeswoman Rosalind Morris said. To prove it, the library will hold an “Ask a Stupid Question Day” today from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Morris had just fielded a telephone call from someone who wanted to know how to spell Yosemite as she explained the event’s purpose--"to encourage curious people to overcome their timidity and ask that stupid question.” One recent inquiry, she said, came from a woman who said she couldn’t find any information on the Battle of Bunker Hill--the Los Angeles Bunker Hill.
Nothing much will change from the way the reference desk normally functions, except that flyers hung at the library will encourage patrons to put the staff to work researching.
There are very few questions a reference librarian cannot answer, said Ferrell Morgan, Santa Ana Library’s head of public services. And if they can’t get the answer, the question can be electronically shipped to the Los Angeles Public Library using the Southern California Answer Network, a process that usually takes a day or two. If it stumps those librarians, it can go as far as the state library in Sacramento.
Morgan reluctantly admitted that there are some questions they just can’t fathom. Who knows how much Babe Ruth weighed when he hit his 500th home run?
“You get people calling from home after getting into arguments about baseball and sometimes it’s a question that they manufactured out of thin air,” he said. “Those I think would fall into the realm of stupid questions.”
However, he stressed that librarians take every query seriously and would never actually characterize one as obtuse.