“I would like the phone number of a cab service. I need to have a ride out of town, so I can send a Western Union money order.” “How do you spell participation?” “Adam Smith is an 18th century economist. What did he die of?” The staff of the Newton Falls Public Library finds the diversity of questions fascinating, and considers no question less important than another.
Before looking for a local taxi service, we offered to see if there was anywhere locally which supplied Western Union money orders. Going to www.WesternUnion.com and searching for locations in the 44444 zip code we found two locations within walking distance for the patron. As a result, we never did look for the phone number originally requested.
As we were standing, speaking with the next patron, the second question requiring a correct spelling was easily satisfied by using the Oxford American Dictionary, which sits on the shelving in the reference area.
The final question was a bit more difficult. The patron had looked in the library’s reference materials, including Chambers Biographical Dictionary and Dictionary of World Biography. Both had information about Adam Smith, including the date of his death but nothing about the cause of his death. We looked online in the library’s database Biography Plus Illustrated. This resource and the reference books revealed that Adam Smith was not only a famous late 1700s Scottish economist, he was also an author. We then searched Gale Literature Resource Center database [http://go.galegroup.com/]. In the biographical information, we located several articles which looked to be helpful. British Philosophers, 1500-1799 by Kurt Norlin (Claremont Graduate University) states that “Smith began to suffer from a real and increasingly severe ailment of the stomach or intestines . . . he died on the night of 17 July 1790.” While it did not list a specific disease, the answer was sufficient for our patron’s needs.