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Monday, July 26, 2010

Take Me Out To The...Reference Desk?

We are Cubs fans in our family. Dad grew up on Wood Street in Chicago and while his family had next to nothing, it only cost a few pennies to sit in the bleachers in those days. These days, it's $10.00 for a bratwurst and a Pepsi - let's not talk about the ticket prices. It's a treat for us, once a year, to ride the Wrigley Field Express and cheer on our long-suffering heroes. We were at the game this past Friday, July 24, 2010, when temperatures soared into the 90s and the Cubs faced their hated foes, the St. Louis Cardinals. We expected the environment to be tense and unpleasant, but even with a mix of blue and red shirted fans all around us, it was a surprisingly enjoyable day.

A man behind us, perhaps experiencing Wrigley for the first time, leaned over to my brother and asked how old the ballpark was. Brother didn't know and surprisingly, my Dad couldn't come up with a number, either. Me? I grabbed my cell phone, called up Google, and had his answer within seconds: Wrigley was built in 1914. The man thanked me and said, "I may have more questions." I informed him that he was in luck, as he was seated behind a librarian. Another voice immediately piped up, "Okay, then - is Boston's baseball stadium the oldest then?" A quick search determined that Fenway Park is the oldest major league baseball stadium still in use. (1912) The second man gave me a smile - "I bet you don't get much chance to help people anymore. Everything's on Google and it's not like anybody needs the Dewey decimal system!" Well, if you don't need librarians anymore, why did you ask me about Fenway? Ahem.

The fact is, everything isn't on Google, Google isn't always well-organized and easy to search and, given the number of books checked out at DPPL every week and month and year, plenty of people are still making use of Dewey decimal. Yet the myth persists - libraries are outdated, it's all on the Internet.

Last week, I got the chance to work the Reference Desk here at DPPL as the regular reffers had their monthly meeting. For two hours, myself and two other colleagues helped you make photocopies, fill out employment applications, sign up for free email accounts, find books about Indiana's geography and Alaskan malamutes and the poetry of Adrienne Rich and plan your high school reunions.

That last one was fun. A local man is trying to plan a 65th (wow!) high school reunion back in Kohler, Wisconsin. He knew one former classmate had been living in Naperville, IL. Her husband had passed away. It was possible she was now living in an assisted care facility. We searched and searched through white pages listings, obituaries and social security records. Finally? Maybe? Perhaps? We located an address and phone number for one of her brothers, living in a different small Wisconsin town. I've got my fingers crossed that our patron can find his old friend and, who knows? Perhaps they can travel to that reunion together. What I do know is this: without a friendly, persistent librarian and two of our specialized databases, and ReferenceUSA, he would have walked away empty-handed. (He'd already done plenty of his own Google searching, in case you are wondering.) It may "all be on the Internet," but not necessarily through free Web sites that are open to the public. It may be out there, somewhere, but it might take the expertise and tenaciousness of, yep, a librarian to dig it up and make it useful.

Now if only a librarian could get the Cubs up to 500. Have you received expert, above-and-beyond help from somewhere here at DPPL? Leave some kudos for my colleagues here, I know they'll appreciate it.

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