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Before Google: Ask the Librarian, Recently Discovered Cards Reveal How It Was Done

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Believe it or not, there was once a time without the Internet. If you needed an answer to a question, you asked a librarian.  Beginning in the 1940s, the NY Public Library started taking questions via telephone, and those would take the call typed the query onto a reference card and filed it away.

Recently, while cleaning out a desk, a library staff member found a recipe box labeled ”Interesting Reference Questions” with hundreds of cards with question asked. NYPL has been posting pictures of its contents to Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #LetMeLibrarianThatForYou. They wrote:

”People came to the library for reference, but also for info on buying and selling, looking for inspiration, crafty project ideas, and even to find photos. In a world pre-Google, librarians weren’t just Wikipedia, they were people’s Craiglist, Pinterest, Etsy, and Instagram all rolled into one.”

The library said they always tried to answer inquiries right away, but the ones in the box might have been those for which they didn’t have an immediate response. Some are humorous: ”Is it possible to keep an octopus in a private home?”, while others are heartbreaking: ”Is it proper to go to Reno alone to get a divorce?”. Yet, they all are examples of human’s best quality, our endless curiosity.

Images courtesy of the New York Public Library


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