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Monday, August 17, 2009

Answering Life's Little Questions

One of my first activities upon my arrival at the Mississippi Library Commission was to complete a scavenger hunt. Tracy explained that the task was a fun way for new staff to become more familiar with the reference resources that reference staff use most often . Now that I’m finished with the task, I thought I would reflect on a few things with a blog posting.

First, not all information needed is available online. One of the biggest misconceptions about reference librarians is that we spend all day searching through Google. This is simply not true. Our collection at the Mississippi Library Commission has tons of information that is not readily available on the web. This is especially true with regards to information about Mississippi. Our collection has county cemetery records, tax revenue information, literacy ratings, and countless other bits of information about our great state. Here’s a couple of examples:

Question: How many deaths were investigated by the Mississippi State Crime Lab in 1991? How many autopsies were performed?

Answer: The state crime lab tested 12,400 cases in 1991 and 1,093 autopsies performed in the state.
Some good news did appear in this report: only 81 heads of cattle were reported stolen for the whole year in 1991. Not too shabby, Mississippi![1]

The next important lesson that I learned is that I can trust my supervisor. The questions were allegedly based on real questions received in the reference department, but when I began looking for the answers, I thought, no one will ever ask for this kind of information. Well, during my short stay here I have located information on municipal tax revenues, given advice on how to wear tie clips, given contact information for our state Tax Commissioners, and checked up on Patrick Swayze’s health status (repeatedly). The point is: a reference librarian has to be ready for any and all questions…just like Tracy said! Here is an example of a question we often get at the reference desk:

Question: Who is the owner/manager of Pee Wee’s Muffler and Brakes in Meridian?
Answer: Dewayne Massey is the owner of Pee Wee’s Muffler and Brakes in Meridian![2] By the way, I read a review of Pee Wee’s Muffler on Yahoo and the reviewer gave Pee Wee five stars for his excellent muffler work. Keep up the good work, Dewayne!

Lastly, I learned that Tracy’s idea of “fun” is pretty twisted. I mean, whoever thinks that looking through dusty copies of Mississippi phone directories is fun has some serious issues. Here’s an example of one cruel question she composed:

Question: My grandmother, Stella Smith, was born somewhere in Mississippi around 1890. Where was she during the 1920s and 30s?
Answer: Who knows? There has to be at least four thousand Stella Smiths born “around 1890”!

I think this last question shows Tracy’s true diabolical nature. But, in all seriousness, I did learn a great deal about our resources and that experience should make me a better reference librarian.

[1] Annual Report. Jackson, MS: The Department of Public Safety, 1991.
[2] Mississippi Business Directory. American Directory Publishing Co., 2009


  1. You didn't tell us where she was during the 20's and 30's! I'm DYING TO KNOW. The name Stella Smith sure does sound familiar...

  2. That's right: he didn't actually answer the question! Bad Jesse!

    Also, if he thinks he can get away with NOT answering that, he's nuts!


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