As a Reference librarian, my job is to answer questions. From “where’s the bathroom?” to “Can you tell me if my husband is dead?” to “who exactly IS my husband?” I have been asked them all. But sometimes, just figuring out what the question IS is the real job.
A woman called the desk one night. “Can you give me the phone number for that college in Berkeley, California?”
“UC Berkeley? Sure, hold on just a moment while I find it,” I said. This was the question.
“Well, they would have an archeology department, right?”
Ok, maybe not.
“Maybe. Would you like me to try to find their number?”
“Yes, they would deal with linking Egyptian artifacts to DNA, right?”
Ok, the phone number was definitely NOT the question.
“Um, I’m not sure what you mean. Like finding out the cause of King Tut’s death?”
“No, YOU know – tracing living DNA to artifacts.”
“You mean the DNA of a person living right now? To ancient artifacts?”
“Yes! So that you can trace your ancestry.”
Oh. Well, then. Of course. THIS was the question.
“Well, I’m not sure the archeology department would cover that. Wouldn’t DNA fall more into the biology department?”
“Maybe you’re right. Never mind that, can you tell me how people get the Nobel Peace Prize?”
Oh, THIS is the question? “Sure, I can find that out for you.” I began to read her the information off the Nobel website – that a person must be known for their work and contribution to world peace.
“To peace? Can’t it be for other things?” she asked.
“Well, no. Not for the Peace prize.”
“Well, how about the Nobel Peace prize for DNA? I know they have one like that.”
Ok, if this is the question, then I have some serious homework to do. But fortunately, the penny dropped for me ... “Ma’m, I think maybe what you want is the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine?”
“Yes, that’s it. How does someone get that?”
I continued to read from the Nobel website that the prize is awarded for outstanding contributions in the field. The person must be nominated by a professor or scientist from a selected medical academy or university, or by a Nobel laureate.
“You mean I can’t nominate my pastor?”
Voila – that is the question. Finally.
“No, ma’m, unless you are a professor, scientist or Nobel prize winner, I’m sorry, you can’t.”
She sounded fairly cheerful about it. “Well, thank you for all the information. I’m so glad I can call the library and find out things like this, aren’t you?”
You know, maybe THAT is the real question. And I was happy to answer this one:
“Yes. I am.”