I love reference libarians. There is no group of people on this planet who seem to know more about more things than they do. They know where the bodies are buried. Their life’s work is to make secret things un-secret. If anyone discovers the key to the universe, it will probably be a reference librarian. Or at least they’ll tell you who did find it and how.
As a former journalist always in need of arcane facts to finish a story, I was constantly turning to my newspaper’s reference librarian with a sheepish look and a plea: “How many votes did Mr. X get in the 1938 election?” Or, “Do you know how the Tiffany diamond got its name?” My friend Lee never took more than a minute to get back to me with the answer. Invariably it was the right answer. No matter how peculiar my request, Lee seemed to take it as his personal challenge, and no matter how long it might take or how many searches it required, he would always get to me with that right answer.
At the Decatur Library, where I’m fortunate enough to work, there are some amazing reference librarians. And when I was researching a book on Scotland a couple of years ago, they were indispensable time and again. Need a long out-of-print Edinburgh book title? No problem. Need to find how many Scottish ministers have been named Hamish? Got it. Want to know where the best pubs in Glascow are? Well, that might take a little time.
I couldn’t have finished the book without the help of reference librarians, here and in Scotland, all of them truly people with limitless knowledge at the fingertips. Almost every author who’s gone into a library would agree, I know. Further, I’ve never found a reference librarian who took offense at requests. To the contrary, in fact, they love giving out accurate, helpful, useful information. How can you not love folks like that?
Writers who come to speak at this library gratefully acknowledge the help they’ve gotten from many places. Dr. Stanly Godbold was here the other day, and after spending nearly 20 years researching a biography of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, mostly at the Carter Library, he couldn’t say enough about the help he received. Dr. Jim Cobb, the UGA history who has spent years preparing his new history of the South since 1945 (he’ll be at the Decatur Library to talk about it Monday, November 15), has always paid tribute to the reference librarians he’s utilized all over the country,
So in appreciation, I’ve officially declared the month of November to be “Reference Librarian Month.” It’s up to you to do your part — take a librarian to lunch. Buy one a gift. Or, best of all, ask one of them a question. I think getting you an answer is what makes them happiest.