where have all the know-it-alls gone…


long time passing… (apologies to pete seeger and his song “where have all the flowers gone.”

no, specifically “the know-it-alls.” you didn’t know there are (were) actually a group of librarians in philadelphia affectionately known as the know-it-alls? me, either. probably because i’m not from philadelphia, and also because i am not the most savviest of library employees.

apparently, the know-it-alls worked in the free library of philadelphia. they are (were) a group of reference librarians who worked at the library and answered any and all questions from any and all comers. and they even kept track of the most-asked questions to save you (and them) time and trouble.

i know what you’re thinking, dear readers. you’re thinking, if she didn’t grow up in philadelphia, didn’t know of the existence of the free library in philadelphia, why is she asking about a group of librarians that worked for a library in philadelphia?

well, the answer to that is in this article by daniel rubin,columnist for the philadelphia inquirer (yes, they still have those) titled “libraries experts on call: a dying breed.”

i think you can see where i’m going with this. here’s the gist, in a nutshell:

  • the year 1991 – 14 librarians (all with MS degrees) – 50 calls an hour – callers limited to 3 questions due to volume
  • the year 2012 – 1 librarian – 9 assistants – “a couple” of phone calls per week

the article goes on to say how reference services are being provided over the internet, how patrons have more access to technology of their own, and how the librarian has an iPad and her 2nd generation e-reader because, “I can’t help people unless I know these things myself.”

of course, this got me thinking about what i thought a naked library would be, which is without physical books. i never really thought of it being without people who were smarter than me. people who not only knew stuff, but knew where to find stuff. 

does that mean google has made a research librarian out of all of us? or just that we “think” we are smarter than we are? quantity vs. quality? do i need to know that loc.gov (library of congress) exists when i’m looking for information on abraham lincoln’s assassination or just leave it to google to point me in the right direction, and maybe never know?

if patrons no longer care about WHERE the information they want comes from, will they care about WHO knows it’s out there?

magic 8 ball says: reply hazy, try again.

thumbs up reading: inspector singh investigates: the singapore school of villainy. an entertaining detective series, usually set in singapore, similar to my other favorite detective, vish puri, the best detective in india. the inspector singh series is a british import so i hope i can put my hands on another.

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