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Why Google when you can ask the know-it-alls at the Seattle Public Library

Photo via Seattle Municipal Archives

Every single day, every single person seems to have a question they need answered. Most of us turn to Google – but not everyone. Some choose to go the human route.

The Seattle Public Library’s Quick Information Center has a staff of 25 people* whose job is to answer your questions, over the phone, in five minutes or less. They’ve been doing this since 1976.

“A kid called up who was doing a school project and he wanted to know the date that fire was invented. If we didn’t know the exact date, just the year was going to be okay,” laughed library associate four, Jon Triesch.

Jon has been manning the QIC phone lines since 1997.

“We still get quite a few calls, where people don’t have access to the technology themselves. We also talk to a lot of people who are kind of finding their way through our society. People like recent immigrants. Even just people who are new to the area here and they don’t know Seattle that well. So they’re trying to figure out how to do certain things that we all take for granted. Like, a lot of people will call up and ask, ‘Who do I call up to get my electricity turned on?'”

Jon says they field about 300 calls a day, 7,800 a month.

“I had somebody recently call up wanting to know what Hanukkah was all about. What’s the anniversary gift for an 18th anniversary? Give me three of the top rated sushi restaurants in Seattle. I do a lot of measurement conversions for people. They’ll call up and they’ll say, ‘I have a recipe that’s from Europe. How do I go from milligrams to ounces?'”

Jon answers each call with the patience, even if it’s the same guy asking the same question, again and again.

“We tend to get some people who seem to gravitate towards us, just as a means of social interaction. I think we get a lot of people who are shut-ins or in a nursing home facility or something. I kind of feel like we might be the only contact they’re really getting that day. So they’ll call us up with some kind of mundane question that could probably, easily, be answered elsewhere, besides calling us. But I kind of feel like they just want to talk to somebody. That’s okay too.”

Library associate Sarah Scott says they can gauge what’s going on in the world, and what people care about, by the number of calls they get on certain topics. Recently there’s been a lot of Ebola inquiries.

And Sarah says, “I had somebody call during the Seahawks game wanting to know if they had actually seen what they thought they saw happen on the TV. So I had to actually go to Twitter and look at the Seahawks live stream and verify that what they had seen had indeed happened.”

The QIC line is open the same hours as the main Seattle library branch. You can reach them by calling (206) 386-4636.

*Only half of this staff are full-time workers and it’s the QIC staff’s job to answer the main library line. They are assisting the entire library system and have other responsibilities as well.

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