Libraries Got Some Weird Questions Before Google

How did people find things out before Google existed? I mean, think about it: Take a moment and consider the mortal humiliation you would feel if someone found out the disturbing, wacky, and/or totally gross things you have Googled over the course of your life. Odds are, you are cringing so hard right now that you can barely even read this, especially if you, like me, work the kind of job that occasionally prompts you Google things like "statistics of people who die alone" and "Harry Potter dating app" (hmm—I'm suddenly sensing a theme here). But what did we do before Google let us semi-hide by anonymously asking our shameful questions? The New York Public Library has released old questions they received in pre-Google days on Instagram using the hashtag #LetMeLibrarianThatForYou, proving that even before fancy search engines, humanity was every bit as embarrassingly lost and in need of guidance as it is now.

Of course, most of these are over fifty years old, so some of the questions are not only dated, but occasionally smack of some racism or sexism (which is, unfortunately, not a huge cry from today's Google searches). But it's intriguing to see just what bits of information people were so burnt up about learning that they totally didn't mind dropping off a question card or calling on the phone to get an answer from another breathing (and possibly judgmental) human being.

The truth is, we used to rely on libraries for a hell of a lot more than we do now, for everything from simple history questions to questions on etiquette and construction and whether or not Plato and Socrates were the same person. When you wonder how people survived before smart phones, the answer is libraries. But as necessary as libraries remain today, undoubtedly search engines have taken a pretty broad percentage of the awkwardness off their hands. Awkwardness including and not limited to:

Gothamist collected a few others from the NYPL, including:

  • What is the life span of an eyebrow hair?
  • Does the Bible have a copyright?
  • What percentage of all bathtubs in the world are in the US?
  • Is it possible to keep an octopus in a private home?
  • I just saw a mouse in the kitchen. Is DDT OK to use? (1946)
  • Does NYPL have a computer for us of the public? Answer: No sir! (1966)
  • Is it proper to go to Reno alone to get a divorce? (1945)
  • Has the gun with which Oswald shot President Kennedy been returned to the family?
  • What is the life span of an eyelash? (Answer: Based on the book Your hair and its care, it's 150 days.)

Since the library is making this a series, we'll be getting plenty more of these on their Instagram in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, they still have a modern day Ask NYPL that you can use for any questions where Google just doesn't cut it.

Images: Getty Images; NYPL/Instagram