The top five most unusual questions I've been asked

The top five most unusual questions I've been asked
My life working on the Foyer Information Desk
20 May 2015

I have been working on the Foyer Information Desk at the National Library since 2000. During this time, I have been asked a lot of unusual questions—here are a few of the best.

1.        Are there books in the library?

I have been asked this question on more than one occasion. I find it amusing because this is the largest library in the southern hemisphere! Visitors are used to walking into a public library and seeing the books displayed, so it takes them a while to understand that we are a reference library. Books cannot be borrowed like a public library and they won’t see anything on display as the collection is kept underneath the building in what is called the “closed stacks”. Material is requested, retrieved and then used within the reading rooms. Once they get the hang of how we work you often see these people on return visits!

2.        What sort of leaves (as opposed to what sort of trees) are on the trees opposite the Library?

Yes, you heard it right. Because we are a library we are expected to know everything! It’s not unusual to be asked random questions like this. Our very clever reference librarians were able to help out this caller. The leaves are from the Manchurian pear tree.

nla.int-nl40350-cm7-v, National Library - Building - Exterior - 2010s

3.       I want to obtain a replica of the retro 1960’s chair that was once used in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

What was once old is new again. A member of the public redecorating his house had his heart set on obtaining replica 1960’s chairs that were once used in our reading rooms. He had scoured the internet looking for some and thought that maybe he would get lucky here.  Unfortunately we weren’t able to help him and he was disappointed, but it was nice to know how revered the National Library is for many things.

nla.pic-an24999279-v, Main Reading Room, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 1968/Max Dupain

4.        I want to know about your wooden floors for my house.

A lady had been told by a friend that the National Library had put down new parquetry floors and they were beautiful. She wanted to look at them and then wanted to know what type of wood was used, as she wanted the same for her house! Fortunately, our Building Services area was able to help. The wood used on this floor is Australian Blackbutt.

5.        I need to return an inter-library loan that was borrowed in 1983.

As we’re not a lending library, we don’t normally have problems with late fees. However, sometimes items do go out on loan to another library, which is a service called an inter-library loan. In 2014 we had someone returning items that were sent out on loan in 1983. They were found when the borrower was retiring. To avoid this problem and access the Library’s collection anywhere, you can order copies of National Library material through the Copies Direct service. 

Comment: 
Very interesting experiences. I love how people in such positions always have such funny stories to tell!
Comment: 
I used to be a reference librarian at the LaTrobe University in Melbourne a long time ago, and two questions stuck in my mind. How many feathers on a sparrow? And do you have the 16th Century recipe for pig spleen stew? I surprised myself in being able to find both answers within our collection….although I don’t think the person asking was too surprised. They all had great faith in our abilities.
Comment: 
A friend was working on the enquiry desk & had an enthusiastic lady come up to her & say "I have a dead body in a sewer, what sort of insects would be living on it?" My friend looked at her very carefully & said "I asumme you're writing a novel?"