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We All Have Questions

Before there was the Internet and Google, the only way to find answers to a pressing question was to visit the local library and ask the all-knowing librarian. A few years ago, the staff at the New York Public Library discovered a box of cards containing questions posed to the librarian by members of the public. The telephone “Ask A Librarian” service was set up in 1967 and operates to this day. And surprisingly, despite people having information at their fingertips these days, the New York Public Library receives roughly 30,000 calls per year.

Help line manager Rosa Caballero-Li said, “People have been reaching out to librarians for as long as there have been libraries. Often time people do not have access to the technology at home, and I think some just want somebody to talk to.”

Among the questions that were discovered:

What does it mean when you dream you’re being chased by an elephant?

Why do 18th Century English paintings have so many squirrels in them?

If a poisonous snake bites itself, will it die?

Somebody in 1962 was looking for “Charles Darwin's book. Oranges & peaches." The librarian politely directed the person to On the Origin of Species.

One person just wanted to know how to put up wallpaper. “I have the paper; I have the paste. What do I do next? Does the paste go on the wall or the paper? I've tried both and it doesn't seem to work.”

"There are no stupid questions," Caballero-Li told NPR. "Everything is a teachable moment. We don't embarrass people; we try to answer any questions they have with honesty and we try to refer them to appropriate resources that they might find useful."

Possible Preaching Angles:

The Bible is a resource of God’s answers to our deep questions. God never forbids a sincere question but invites them (Jer. 33:3, Jam. 1:5) because they are teachable moments and lead us closer to him. Important Bible questions include those about: God’s presence (Ps. 10:1, Ps. 13:1), forgiveness (Matt 18:21), purity (Ps. 119:9), Christ’s return (Matt 24:3), guidance (Acts 1:24), and his attention to our needs (Matt. 8:25).


Kaushik Patowary, “Before the Internet, What People Asked New York Public Library’s Librarians?” Amusing Planet (7-19-18)

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