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.
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…