Remember the old days of pay phones, encyclopedia collections, and writing letters on actual pieces of paper? Before the internet, life was a lot different, and the New York Public Library has a fun new project to remind us of that.
Referring to themselves as “Google before Google existed,” the NYPL will be posting old reference questions from the 1940s to 80s on their Instagram account every Monday. The staff recently found a box of these old gems, all of which were asked either via phone or in person.
The NYPL told Gothamist: “The system back then was the same as today, in that we tried to answer right away. While we’re not 100 percent sure how certain questions wound up in this box, they seem to be questions that we didn’t have an answer to at the time (for example, at least one question was put in the box in the 1940s, and then answered in the 1970s).”
Other questions received by the NYPL over the years include:
- Is it possible to keep an octopus in a private home?
- Does NYPL have a computer for us of the public? Answer: No sir! (1966)
- Can NYPL recommend a good forger?
- Where can I rent a beagle for hunting (1963). We also had requests to rent a guillotine.
- What is the life span of an eyelash? Answer: Based on the book Your hair and its care, it’s 150 days.
- What percentage of all bathtubs in the world are in the US?
- Can you tell me the thickness of a US Postage stamp with the glue on it? Answer: We cannot get this answer quickly. Perhaps try the Postal Service. Response: This is the Postal Service.
Today, there’s an updated version of the system available. ASK NYPL lets users pose reference questions to the library via chat, email, and even phone, amounting to about 1,700 requests per month. And to hold you over until next Monday, check out more original questions in our gallery below.
All images via NYPL