August 2009

Why Do You Ask?

Author: Roslyn Farhi

There probably isn’t a question under the South Carolina sun that residents and visitors to Bluffton and Hilton Head Island haven’t asked of the Beaufort County Library’s reference librarians.
Where does our sand come from?
Why are there ripples on the beach?
What causes the tides?
Why do we have barrier islands?
What is Spanish moss?

Sometimes there are even phone calls directly to the desk of Dennis Adams, coordinator for reference and information services for the Beaufort County Library. The last urgent call he remembers came from a desperate homeowner whose dog had just devoured a strand of Spanish moss.
“Is Spanish moss poisonous to dogs?” the man asked.
“I’m not certain,” Adams answered, in one of his rare moments of uncertainty, “but I recommend you get him to your veterinarian immediately!”

It seems people want to know about everything related to their new environment: the flora, the fauna, the sand, the beaches, the Gullah people, movies made in Beaufort, the local food, the famous people (past and present) who have lived here, the books that will connect them to the folkways of this area and, above all, what to do in case of a hurricane.

“I love that people are curious and ask our reference librarians difficult questions. It keeps our librarians on their toes,” said Adams. “A good reference librarian wants to know the answers as much as you do and enjoys the quest involved in coming up with the right answer,” he added. “A superior reference librarian knows where to go for answers, but above all, the exceptional reference librarian has strong communication skills and an ability to understand why an informed answer to the question is so important to the person.”

Francesca Denton, reference manager at the Bluffton branch library has fielded many questions posed by history buffs who show up at her desk. Imagine searching for a copy of the letter of complaint filed by General Beauregard (CSA) to General Gilmore (U.S. Army) regarding the burning of the town of Bluffton, South Carolina on June 4, 1863. Do you think this library patron might be writing a book on the history of Bluffton?

Denton sees many library browsers who are pursuing leisure activities and want more information related to their hobbies. She remembers the person who asked for a list of factories that make vinyl products suitable for creating a doll’s face. Of course, with her research skills, she was able to provide the required list, but she never got to see the doll in its finished state.

Of course many health and legal topics might take hours of search time. When the question calls for lengthy research, don’t be surprised to be handed a small brochure titled, “Research Resources,” the Beaufort County Library’s guide to free online resources available with your Beaufort County library card. You’ll be directed to and then to a link for research resources where you’ll gain access to magazines, journals and other reference sources.

Getting back to our original question (“Why Do You Ask?”), our reference librarians know the answers: You want to improve your home with the latest innovations. You want to be a wise investor. You want the latest health and consumer information. Or maybe you’re a middle or high school student and you need to complete an assignment or a term paper. Perhaps you’re getting ready to take an exam for law enforcement, teacher certification or cosmetology and you would like to see some practice exams before you sit for the big one. It’s all there at your branch library. The library’s tagline and reference librarians’ motto sums it up succinctly: “For Learning, For Leisure, For Life.”
So go ahead and ask!

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