Susan Gibberman Knows How To Research
The best part of research, to me, is that it’s one giant, living version of Trivia Pursuit. Every day, I research topics – some interesting, many not. But I love it when I can find out some bit of trivia about a topic I never knew before, or even an area in which I think I’m pretty well informed, e.g., movies. Are you aware that Marni Nixon (who was the dubbed singing voice for Deborah Kerr in The King and I and An Affair to Remember, for Natalie Wood in West Side Story, and for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady) had only one on-screen singing part in which she sang as herself? (I’m going to make you wait for the answer.) Granted, such details don’t come up in everyday conversation, but some day it may come in handy.
Working in a large public library and we’re trained to say there aren’t any stupid questions. But, yes, there are (we’re just too polite to say it to the patron’s face, but we do talk about them in our staff areas).
I love regaling my family with stories of the kinds of questions we get at our Reference Desk and their response is always, “You are kidding, right? People don’t call the library for that, do they?” Yes, they do. Constantly. When telephone companies began charging for ‘411’ information, patrons decided they could call the library and have us look up the numbers for them for free. Patrons have called us to look up word spellings, settle grammar questions, help their kids with math homework – the list goes on and on.
Our “regulars” and their research requests always amaze me. One patron calls daily with a list of telephone numbers that came up on her caller ID and she wants us to look up the numbers to find out who called her. A resident hypochondriac wants us (not her we-assume-licensed-physician) to diagnose her current maladies and other health concerns – “Why are my lips chapped?” (asked in the middle of winter) or “Why doesn’t caffeine affect me?” One of my personal favorites was the patron who wanted to know exactly how far over the bed her bedspread should hang.
Do these questions constitute “research”? Yes – there is the need to know and they ask us to provide the answer. Answering these mundane questions is not my favorite part of the job, but it is definitely a part of everyday life in a library.
Because of my work as a librarian, I’m often drawn to books that involve research – historical novels, or just books on a topic about which I am unfamiliar. Imagine my frustration when a piece of information is so blatantly wrong that I’m pulled out of the story. One book had the characters meeting at the corner of State and Dearborn in my hometown of Chicago. That might prove a little difficult because those streets run parallel to each other. All I want to do is yell at the author – “Look at a map!” Call your local library and ask!
I will freely admit that I’m not an expert in all areas (after all, as a librarian, I’m trained to research, not know a topic – although people expect us to spout off information on command. I blame Katharine Hepburn’s character in Desk Set). Therefore, there are many instances where I completely skip over some major faux pas if I’m involved in the story. If I’m dying to find out what happens on the next page, I’m sometimes willing to forgive the zipper on the Regency heroine’s dress.
Oh, and Marni Nixon? She’s one of the nuns – Sister Sophia – in The Sound of Music. Amaze your friends next time at the water cooler.
Susan Gibberman is the Head of Reader Services at the Schaumburg Township District Library – a job she believes she got as cosmic karma for never having read her high school English assignments. Despite coming late to the world of fiction, she is honored to be a two-time recipient of the Windy City RWA Northern Illinois Librarian of the Year award, and was named RWA’s 2008 Librarian of the Year. A television aficionado, she’s published a bibliography on Star Trek and is a contributing author to the Museum of Broadcast Communication’s four-volume Encyclopedia of Television. Her first fiction short story was published in the anthology Missing earlier this year by Echelon Press.