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Librarians Were Google Before Google Existed

A peek into the archives at the New York Public Library reveals the many (often zany) search queries lobbed at librarians in the pre-internet age.

Imagine a search engine powered not by servers and electricity but by coffee instead. They do exist, these coffee-fueled knowledge machines. They’re called librarians and before that pesky Google emerged onto the scene, they were the go-to folks for queries such as:

  • What does it mean when you dream of being chased by an elephant? (1947)
    • Where can I rent a beagle for hunting? (1963)
      • Is it proper to go to Reno alone to get a divorce? (1945)
      • These excerpts are from a pleasant piece by NPR’s Linton Weeks featuring a trove of similar questions lobbed at the New York Public Library’s dutiful librarians in the pre-internet age. 

        “Several weeks ago the folks at the iconic 42nd Street building of the New York Public Library in Manhattan happened upon a box of old reference questions — ranging from the 1940s to the 1980s – asked by patrons.

        As NYPL spokesperson Angela Montefinise points out, the questions — in and of themselves — are compelling. And perhaps they speak to a gentler, more naïve time.”

        Be sure to check out the full piece (linked below) for more interesting queries and some additional information about when you’ll be able to see some of these old questions pop up on the library’s Instagram account.

        Read more at NPR

        Photo credit: chippix / Shutterstock


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