Interesting Patron Questions

Jennifer Peterson /

Courtesy: Marc Dalmulder, Flickr | cc-by-2.0

The reference desk of a library is truly one of the most interesting of places. Through an October poll in Crossroads, we asked WebJunction members to share the most interesting patron questions they had received, and the response was amazing! While there are definitely many humorous submissions, we also know that every day, library staff answer patron questions that help them in so many ways. From completing homework to applications for college, to supporting job-seekers and those looking to better understand nutrition or a disease - libraries help people find the information that they need to live informed and productive lives. And some days, it's just really entertaining. Here are a few of our favorite submissions:

  • "Which county in New York State has the most cows per person?"
  • "I checked out a book from your library, a number of years ago, and I really liked the book. I don't remember the title or author, but it had a blue cover. Could you help me find it?"
  • "Does this look infected?"

Thanks to all who shared their questions, remember to subscribe to our newsletter, Crossroads and participate in future polls. 

Reference

  • "Can you give me a list of companies that freeze-dry pets?"
  • "What do elephants in the circus eat?" (A friend said I should have told them--clowns)
  • "What do the children of Ethiopia have for pets?" This was asked in 1993.
  • "I need a photograph of....a dinosaur, Jesus, the Man in the Moon."
  • "Do you know what chocolate-covered espresso beans are?"
  • Q: "Where are we?"
    A: "In the Library."
    Q: "No, like, WHERE are we?"
    A: "The city of Vancouver."
    Q: "No...uh..."
    A: "How about Clark County?"
    Q: "No..."
    A: "Washington State?"
    Q: "YES! WASHINGTON! Thank you!"

  • "Where do I find Captain Underpants?"
  • "Are any of Lady Gaga's back-up dancers Scandinavian?"
  • "What day is it?"
  • "What is an appropriate birthday present for a 95 year old?"
  • "I need information for solar de-salinization."
  • "When is Yellowstone National Park due for an apocalyptic volcanic eruption? (Believe it or not I found an answer (Apocalypse Not Now: Yellowstone supervolcano eruption predictable up to 10 yrs in advance.)
  • "Who was King Rufus?" From a high-schooler, studying history, American History and the answer has to do with an American lawyer and politician, born in 1755:  Rufus King. So, I first had to figure that out before proceeding to provide the student with what he needed: biological information in Rufus King.
  • "Oh, when did you get those?" (referring to shelves of 20 year old print journals that had the requested article. Guess my wand of wizardry was working well that day - even though the internet was temporarily offline.)
  • "I'm doing a science fair project on eggs. Where are your books on eggshells?"
  • A person asked how to spell supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!
  • "Is there a formal numeric scale that measures sweetness in candy the way Scovilles measure the heat of hot pepper sauce?"
  • A request for info on pickpockets in 15th century England.
  • "What's a million times a billion?"
  • My coworker was asked this question, "What's the "correct" way to purify urine?"
  • "I'm driving on I-95, how do I get to that gambling place?"
  • "I'm a carnival worker and need to find where the carnival went."
  • "Do you know what I'm looking for?"
  • "Can you give me some words like beautiful so that I can write a love letter to my girlfriend?"
  • "Will masturbating help with female menstrual cramps?"
  • "Do you have 'How to Kill a Mockingbird'?"
  • "Will you please show me what raccoon poop looks like?"
  • "Do you have a book that has real photographs of dinosaurs?"
  • "Do you have any books on helping a pregnant cat in labor?"
  • "Do you have a book about the life of Jesus Christ before he was born?"
  • "Do you have any books on tennis balls? No? Then do you have any books on inert gases?"
  • "Do you have a biography on Pope Malcolm the Tenth?" (The student really needed a biography on Malcolm X for Black History Month!)
  • "I'm writing an assignment on how the exaggerated drawings of men and women in superhero comics are encouraging girls to feel inferior-- do you have any resources on that?"
  • "Here are some photos of a bird that my cat killed. Can you identify it?" (It was a juvenile Black-Headed Grosbeak.)
  • "When bats are hanging upside down, do they poop on themselves?" The answer was, "Yes."
  • "What was Dudley Do-Right's horse's name?" This was in the 1980's and was answered using the International Television Almanac -- the answer was "Steed."
  • An interior designer who was working on a proposal for an adult novelty store remodel needed customer demographic data.

  • Courtesy: Steph, Flickr | | cc-by-nc-2.0
  • "Where is the book about all the scary things?"
    "What kind of scary things are you looking for: witches, monsters, dragons?"
    "Just all the scary things."
  • "Can you tell me what sex my parakeet is?"
  • "Can you help me find the lyrics to Bobby Shmurda - Hot Boy?"
  • "How do you make Jell-O shots?"
  • I was asked if I know what the hours are for the local dentist.
  • "What is the formula for "Milk Paint " for an old fashioned farm building?"
  • "Can you tell me the cost of living in France?"
  • "Where can I find a nudist resort in Minnesota?" (And yes, we were able to put together a list of them for the patron!)
  • "If Jesus is the cousin of John the baptist, would that make god John's uncle? Uncle God?"
  • "Why do painters wear white?"
  • A coroner needed help searching our microfilm for newspaper articles that would help confirm the identify of a John Doe.
  • "What is the best color for a plant?" The trick was - they were talking about painting the interior of a corporate facility (the plant) in order to reduce stress, increase productivity, and mask marks on the wall.
  • A patron wanted the name of Che Guevara's companion, but he only knew the man's nickname.
  • "How much does the moon weigh?"
  • "Who wrote the Agatha Christie mysteries?" We thought it was a secret shopper--especially when the customer didn't accept the answer Agatha Christie!
  • "Which Pope appointed the first Saint?"
  • "What is the rut?"
  • "What is the elevation of New Braunfels, TX on the square?"
  • "How can I find out someone's XREF number?"
  • "May please have a half a David?" "The clerk told me to come here to get a half a David." (He was asking for an affidavit)
  • "Do you have a book on teaching pedagogy and also a picture of a Unicorn?"
  • "Do you have any books that talk about...that? You know, books about...you know...that?"
  • "Where are the romance novels?" (Asked by a first grader)

The Obvious

  • "Where do you keep the books?"
  • "Excuse me...do you have any books?" My shocked expression helped her to realize that she had said "books" instead of "audiobooks!"
  • Patron holds up a book and asks, "Is there a way I can return this electronically?"
  • "Do you have audio books in large print?"
  • "What can I do with used tea bags? Can I feed them to the birds?"
  • "How do I get to the upper floors?"
  • After walking around and scanning the shelves, "Is this the library?"
  • "Is this the Library?"
  • "Do you have books here?"
  • "Do you have a bathroom?"
  • "Do I have to bring these books back?"
  • I work on the bookmobile with our outreach program and I am constantly asked, "Have you read all of these?" (We have over 3000 books on the bookmobile).
  • "Why don't you have any of the books I want?"
  • "Where are the good books?"
  • We were closed for a staff in service day; while emptying the outside drops, a staff member was asked by a patron if he could still print, even though the library was closed.
  • Someone called the reference desk and asked for the library's phone number
  • I answered the phone and the person asked "Do you have a phone there?" The real question was, "Can you tell me what letters are on each number of the dial?" (Yes, that long ago...He had a phone number that included letters, but the letters were long-gone from the dial)

About the Librarian

  • "Where do you keep your bed?" (At an elementary school library)
  • "You look old enough to to have gone to Woodstock. Did you go? Did you do all kinds of drugs?"
  • "Which character from Harry Potter are you? (I wasn't dressed as a character.)
  • "Is Librarian your real name?" (Asked by a six year old).
  • "Is that where you sleep at night?" (Empty shelf on the bottom of the bookcase)
  • "Where do you sleep here?"
  • "What kind of bra are you wearing?"
  • During storytime, a little boy asked me, "What's your dad's name?" After I told him, he looked at me and said, "What kind of name is that?!"

Pickup Lines

Courtesy: Kevin Dooley, Flickr | cc-by-2.0
  • "Outside of this library, would we be friends?"
  • "Will you pick me up for church tomorrow, then I can take you to lunch after?"
     (I politely declined).
  • "When are we getting married?"
  • "Do you have the book...'How do you ask a Librarian on a date'?"
  • What are some good pick-up lines to use with chicks?
  • A patron from Georgia came in to use one of our computers. He asked me out for dinner. I was confused by why he would do that since he did not know me and I did not know him. He called the next day and said he could tell I was uncomfortable. I replied by saying did he ask all women he did not know out for dinner. He apologized.
  • "Why is your hair always down?"
  • "Has anyone ever told you that you look like Clark Kent?" In response, I took off my glasses and said, "So does that mean...?" They shook their head "No" and walked off.
  • "Will you go on a date with me?"

21st Century

  • "Can you print me out the Craig's List?"
  • "Is it alright if I fly my drone over the library?"
  • "What is a social security number and can you give it to me because I need to enter it into the computer?" (Asked by elementary student) 
  • "Where can I find a photograph of George Washington? What do you mean there are none? There are photographs of Abe Lincoln!"
  • "Can Google tell me the date I'm going to die?"
  • It's interesting to me that so many patrons do not know how to use a library catalog. I work in a law school library and it boggles my mind that many are clueless when it comes to searching for a title, author or subject. Either they are used to someone doing everything for them or they are so conditioned to "ask" their smartphones to find something. Is this a symptom of the Millennial generation or am I just old school?
  • "What is Google?"

Above and Beyond

  • "Can you clean my earbuds for me?"
    "No, I can't do that."
    "I thought you helped people."
  • "Will you be a witness in our wedding ceremony?"
  • "Does this mean she's pregnant?" (As the student showed me the pregnancy kit stick.) Since that wasn't covered in library school, I took them to the counselor.
  • "I am related to King Arthur. How do I do my genealogy?"
  • "Have you seen my friend? She's blond."
  • "Have you seen my wife?" (from a tourist who had just arrived in town)
  • "Can you tell me where I put the DVD that I checked out?"
  • "How do I send this picture of a sexy firefighter to my girlfriend in jail?"
  • "Would you mind checking if I have nits?"
  • "Could I get someone to tie my shoe?"
  • "Do you do divorces here? Someone told me I could get a divorce at the library."
  • I actually had a patron call to get a phone number of a doctor across the country. What is so strange about that, you ask? I had left him a message with the information about a month earlier; but he didn't get the message because he said "My raccoon friends have stolen my phone."
  • "Do you have sex?" (turns out I couldn't understand his accent - he was asking for a SACK so that his books wouldn't get wet in the rain)
  • "What kind of pen do they use for the VW 'Sign and Drive' events?"
  • "Is this poison ivy?" It was.
  • "Can you change the prices on Amazon? The item I want is too expensive."
  • "Do you have a Q-tip? I need to do a DNA paternity test."
  • "May I look at your video surveillance tapes for every Thursday over the past 2 months? My Mom said I wore this shirt (points to her shirt) before and I say I didn't. She said I wore it to the Library and I want proof that I didn't." ~woman in her 50's
  • "My pig has vertigo. What do you think I should do for it?"
  • "I heard that you rake leaves. When would someone be available to rake my leaves?"
  • "Can I pay for prints with Food Stamps card?"
  • The lyrics to the old Crackerjacks commercial, which I then had to read to the person over the phone, loudly because the patron was hard of hearing. For the curious, they are:

What do you want when you gotta eat somethin',and it's gotta be sweet, and it's gotta be a lot,and you gotta have it now . . . . What do you want? Lip-smackin',Whip-crackin',Paddywhackin',Knickaknackin' Silabawhackin',Scalawhackin',Crackerjackin,Cracker Jack! What do you get when you open the top,and you look inside and smack your lips,and turn it over and spill it out? What do you get? Lip-smackin',Whip-Crackin',Paddywhackin',Olagazackin',Infolackin', Alliganackin',Crackerjackin',Cracker Jack! Candy-coated popcorn,peanuts and a prize . . . .That's what you get with Cracker Jack! "


Courtesy: Alexander Olm, Flickr | cc-by-nc-2.0
  • "Can I bring my Macaw bird into the library?"
  • "Where is your machine that sanitizes the library book pages?"
  • "Do have some lotion?"
  • "How do I find my lost hedgehog?"
  • "Can you reach into my pocket and get the change to pay for my copies?"
  • "Do you have a TV to watch shows?"
  • "How do you spell my cousin's name? (Asked by elementary student)
  • "Can you please hang fly strips by the computers? They are driving me nuts!"
  • "Do you eliminate papers here?" (After some questioning, I determined that she wanted us to laminate her papers.)

The Mysterious

  • A patron called requesting to see one of our collections because her medium had told her that her deceased grandfather had included a will in that collection.
  • "Are you a Pleiadian?""
    "A...what?"
    "You know, a star person."
  • Patron approached Reference Desk and asked for a picture of his father.
    "Who is your father?" I asked. "God." 
    "OK, well God doesn't like to be photographed but we have some artists' paintings of God in books. Would that do?"
    "Yes!"
    Exit happy patron.
  • "Who's car is that out there in the parking lot with all that stuff in it?" (We have a patron that his a hoarder.)
  • I had a patron at the reference desk who was insistent that he needed to find [a] source to purchase dragon blood. I thought perhaps he was referring to another substance that he knew as "dragon blood" but no, he actually wanted real dragon blood.
  • "How do I find out whose ghost is haunting my house?"
  • "I think my house is haunted. How can I tell if it really is and what should I do about it?"
  • "What really happens after you die?" (talk about an open ended question)
  • "How do I find scholarly articles on the zombie apocalypse?"
  • "Where's the best place to see UFOs in the state?"
  • "Can I get a photograph of a dinosaur?"
  • A patron needed a referral to someone who could take out the implanted device placed in his brain by the government.
  • "Do you have any books on selenophobia...a fear of the moon?" (Patron said he only recently developed this fear.)

Classic Readers Advisory

  • "I checked out a book from your library, a number of years ago, and I really liked the book. I don't remember the title or author, but it had a blue cover. Could you help me find it?"
  • "Do you know where that book is with the blue cover?"
  • "Can you help me find the book with the green cover?"

Just Wow

  • "What is the phone number to an Italian meat market in New York?" The person needed the number because they were positive they are all run by the Mafia and needed their number.
  • "What smells like pork and beans?"
  • "How can I break up concrete without a jackhammer? There's a concrete block in my basement and I think someone hid a body in it."
  • "Why does your library have Danielle Steel? I thought this was an educated community."
  • "How did I get so smart?"
  • "How long does it take for a dead body to stop smelling?"
  • "Why doesn't the library have ONLY dinosaur books?"
  • "Where are your large print books? See? I'm visually impaired." Then proceeds to pop out her glass eye to show me.
  • "Why do you have public restrooms?"
  • "Can you ban all noisy children from the library?"
  • "Why do you have so many books in this building?"
  • "Do you know if [insert retail store name] is hiring for a morning only shift?"
  • "Are you a sister library of the New York Public Library?" (We are in Virginia!)
  • "Is Captain Crunch Charles Manson's father?"
  • "Can my dead grandma get a library card?"
  • "I had a Spanish family move in next door. How do I say their names in English?"
  • "How many languages are spoken on the moon?"
  • "Describe the taste of blood."
  • "How much does it cost to work at the library?"
  • "Do you think the reason California has so many earthquakes is because of all the illegal immigrants?" (from a Midwestern Great Lakes region library)
  • When our local fire department tested the tornado siren (which happens monthly) here in our small town, a patron called us to ask if there was a tornado. I must admit we told her to go to the basement just in case, which was probably not an appropriate response, since it was just a test.
  • "How do you change urine into drinking water?"
  • "What's the nutritional content of human sperm?"
  • I once had someone ask if it is legal to bury someone in your yard  in Alaska. (Turns out it is....go figure....)
  • Using the Chicago phone book, tell patron which people named Genovese were in the mob. I had to tell that person the phone book did not provide that type of information.
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