Straight Talk from the Reference Desk

We love getting emails about wild and wacky reference questions. Plenty of weird questions come up at the reference desk, but it seems like the most bizarre (and generally more personal) questions are asked over the phone. Perhaps patrons prefer the anonymity of a phone call. Or maybe they are just trying to harass us. Who knows. What we do know, however, is that outrageous reference questions are excellent fodder for Merry Librarian articles! So, thank you to our faithful readers who have sent in these stories. Keep ’em coming!

“A few years ago, when I was still fresh to the reference librarian position, I received a phone call from a man needing a quick definition to a word.  Thinking this was going to be an easy question, I picked up the phone line and asked for the word he needed defined.  He informed me that the word he needed was “gay”.  I read off the first few definitions that refer to happiness and merriment.  He quickly stated that those were not the definition he required.  I continued reading and read the definition referring to homosexuality.  He said that was the one he needed but since the definition was rather vague (“one who practices homosexuality”) I offered to read the definition to “homosexuality”.  After doing so, the man went on to explain that he had recently received a gift for his birthday of an “adult” nature (in the phone call he actually described the device) and then asked me if, since he enjoyed using the toy so much by himself, he was a homosexual.  Honestly, I was a little blown out of the water.  But I retained my composure and stated that I couldn’t answer, and that the decision, and how he interpreted the definition, ultimately lay in his hands.

~ “Rose”

This happened to an unflappable colleague working the reference desk.  I overheard the call, asked what it was about; and when she repeated it to me, I laughed so loud I drew stares.
Librarian (answering phone) : Reference and Information Services.
Male caller: Are you wearing a bra?
Librarian:  Yes.  Are you?
Male caller stammers and hangs up. 
If only he knew we have caller ID…



3 Responses to “Straight Talk from the Reference Desk”

  • Tattooed Fay:

    The librarian in the second one is my hero! I get like a deer in headlights when I’m asked an unexpected odd question like that.

  • I’ve got a repeat caller who won’t give her name but calls me nightly with a wide variety of questions and then asks me to fax her articles.
    One night she asked me if Fifty Cent was a rap group and if so if it could be considered “gangsta rap”. While this question might not be that strange for a public library, I work at an academic library. She also asked me if he rapped about police.

    The next night she asked me why the US was in Afghanistan. While this seems to be a matter of opinion at times, I did my research to come up with an unbiased answer. She wouldn’t give me a number to call her back, so she called me a few minutes later for my results and also wanted to know if the Taliban could be considered religious. Strange questions.

  • Chris:

    If only there was a way(legal way I should say) to record these calls! Too funny is all I gotta say.

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