We get asked for all sorts of things in the library: popular books, tie-ins to TV shows, tourist information, bus passes, how to print documents, and of course whether we have toilets. Many of these we can answer not just standing on our heads, but with a smile, a request for ID, and often while serving several customers at once, giving a sticker to a grumpy child, and ignoring the man drinking out of a thermos while recharging his phone.
What I do love though are the odd enquiries. The more unusual the better, especially if it means getting creative with catalogues, websites, and inside knowledge. It usually involves trying to interpret a sometimes quite vague query, and refining it as we go in a mini journey of discovery.
Sometimes I can find a direct answer, or I can at least identify an individual or organisation who does hold the answer, and a means of communicating with them that matches the capacity and preference of the person in front of me.
Recent examples, by way of illustration, include:
- How to buy Premium Bonds without using a website?
- Where do UK travelling circuses store their vehicles during the winter?
- What’s the largest prime number so far identified and what did they use to calculate it?
- Where are the stone road distance markers that still exist in Staines?
- Where was the original Saint Saviour’s Church in Sunbury?
- How can I find out what my national insurance number is?
- Where can I find a list of Grand Prix drivers from 1945-1968?
- Who holds the records of common land in the Heathrow area and any outstanding covenants on them?
- What is the speed of an unladen swallow?
- Did I see you at (venue name) last Sunday?
And if you’re more curious about that last one, then the answers to that are: yes I have stalkers, yes more than one, no it’s not unusual for library staff, and no they hadn’t.