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Hilarious Questions People Asked NYPL Librarians

Before there was Google, where did people go for answers to their obscure, specific, and sometimes alarming questions? They went to the library.


Before Google gave us an easy way to search for information on basically anything without moving more than our fingers, the only way to access a comparable repository of documents was through a visit to the library. One academic says that Google has cut down on research time by 80%, simply because she does not have to make a trip to the library every time she needs more information. And the public could submit questions for librarians to find answers to.


A few years ago, the New York Public Library rediscovered a box of cards with these questions, spanning from the ’40s to the ’80s. A lot of them look just like the sort of question you’d enter into Google today.



Image Via NYPL

“Where can I get all available statistics on volume of business, money involved, etc. in the sale of cadavers?


Okay, I’ll give this person the benefit of the doubt – maybe they’re just curious, maybe they’re a journalist or writing a book. But the card says the question was an “inquiry at the desk”. I would have been more than a little nervous if I were the librarian at the desk that day.


Here are some other weird and funny questions:



Image Via NYPL

“Does the female human being belong to the mammal class?”



Image Via NYPL

“Have you ever been a mother?”


“Well, you are a lucky girl!!!”


Others include:

  • “How many neurotic people in US”

  • “Why do 18th Century English paintings have so many squirrels in them, and how did they tame them so that they wouldn’t bite the painter?”

  • “List of famous men born prematurely”

  • “Can mice ‘throw up’?”

  • “May a funeral be held July 4?”

  • “If a poisonous snake bites itself, will it die?”

  • “Is it proper to go alone to Reno to get a divorce?”

  • “Charles Darwin’s book. Oranges & peaches.” [What they mean is On the Origin of Species.]

  • “A man wanted to know about a poem, ‘The rime of the ancient mariner,’ by Tennyson, he thinks. Anyway, it begins, ‘I must go down to the sea again.'” [NYPL notes: “Well, there’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, or there’s the poem that begins “I must go down to the seas again,” which is Sea Fever by John Masefield, or there’s plenty of good poetry by Alfred Tennyson, as well.”]

  • “‘Can you give me a reference book listing the colors of different countries?”‘…I thought reader was confused and meant colors of flags and started to direct her accordingly….But no. She wanted one identifying color for each country and finally siad, ‘If Harvard is red and Yale is blue, then what color are the United States and France?'”

  • “Do you have information about permanent people?”

  • “A book on how to grow hair on your chest?”

  • “What is Marx’s latest work? El Capitan?”

  • “Where in New York can I get an original gold nugget?”

  • “What is the difference between pig and pork?”

  • “Life cycle of an eye-brow hair.”

  • “Asked for nutritional value of human flesh”

  • “Where in New York City can I rent a beagle for hunting?”

  • “What is the name of the Fresh Water fish?”

  • “Does Decoration Day commemorate the Decoration of Independence?”

  • “When was the Battle of Armageddon fought, and who won – what was the outcome?”

  • “When did Moses first come into the public eye?”

  • “Where may I take a correspondence course in hypnotism?”

  • “Any statistics on the lifespan of the abandoned woman?”

  • “Are Plato, Aristotle and Socrates one and the same person?”

  • “Where rent a guillotine?”

  • “Is it possible to keep an octopus in a private home?”

  • “Can the N.Y.P.L. recommend a good forger?”

  • “Please give me the name of a book that dramatizes bedbugs?” 



Which hilarious question is your favorite?


Feature Image Via NYPL