Lexicon Valley

The Weird, Embarrassing, Fascinating Things People Asked Librarians Before the Internet


via NYPL

Before Google came along to offer us confidential answers to our most embarrassing, random, and incriminating questions, librarians roamed the earth. They fielded anonymous queries by phone and in person; transcribed on index cards, some of those scraps of curiosity (in both senses) were customarily filed and stored away. The New York Public Library’s archive of batty inquiry languished until Tuesday, when staff announced on Instagram that they had unearthed an old recipe box while cleaning out a desk. It was full of “Interesting Reference Questions” from the 1940s to the 1980s. Some entries were scholarly (“Did Jules Verne write Alice in Wonderland?”) and some desperate (“Any statistics on the lifespan of the abandoned woman?”). Gothamist and BuzzFeed picked up the story, fascinated by the window into the private bedevilments of New Yorkers past. And folks at the NYPL said they would start unveiling their favorite questions every Monday with the hashtag #LetMeLibrarianThatForYou.


via NYPL

Meanwhile, something even weirder was happening at Slate. Cleaning out our own storage room, we discovered a box that contained … a dusty, omniscient librarian! We ran some of the NYPL queries by her, and are pleased to publish the results.

Q: Has the gun with which Oswald shot President Kennedy been returned to the family?

A: No. It’s at the National Archives and Records Administration building in College Park, Maryland.

Q: I just saw a mouse in the kitchen. Is DDT OK to use?

A: No.

Q: Do mice throw up?

A: They do if you spray them with DDT.

Q: Is it possible to keep an octopus in a private home?

A: Yes, but make sure your medicine and liquor cabinets are extra childproofed. ​

Q: What percentage of all bathtubs in the world are in the U.S.?

A: 28 percent. Is this about the octopus?

Q: Are Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates the same person?

A: No. They all have different ideas about snack mix.

Q: Where can I rent a beagle for hunting?

A: Victorian England.

Q: What does it mean when you dream of being chased by an elephant?

A: You are President Obama.

Q: What is the life span of an eyelash?

A: You want to know why it was that upon this beautiful feminine tissue, sensitive as gossamer, and practically blank as snow as yet, there should have been traced such a coarse pattern as it was doomed to receive; why so often the coarse appropriates the finer thus, the wrong man the woman, the wrong women the man?

150 days, based on the book Your Hair and Its Care.


A: Yes, send a thank you note. As for figuring out the name of the 27 million dollar Bahrainian heir, let me Google that for you.