Hilarious Questions Posed to the NYPL Pre-Internet

New York Public Library
New York Public Library

People Google a lot of strange things. But while the anonymity of the internet certainly helps them feel comfortable indulging certain inquiries, our curiosity as humans didn't start with the invention of the search engine.

"If we didn’t have the Internet right now, and you were looking to find out information on the migratory patterns of blue birds, you couldn’t just go to a computer and ask," says Morgan Holzer, New York Public Library's Information Architect. "You had to find an encyclopedia, which were expensive, so you would go to your library. And if you were at the library and didn’t want to find an encyclopedia, there’s a person standing right there who you could just ask and who had been trained to either give you an answer or tell you where to find an answer."

And sometimes those librarians in the general research division—who are responsible for fielding all sorts of inquiries, either over the phone or in person—wrote down the questions they were asked.

"When they heard one they hadn’t heard before, that was a little weird or a little funny, they might write it down," Holzer says. "Or if it was a hard one that they might have to ask someone later on or couldn’t answer right away, they would write it down." Recently, the Library stumbled upon a box of some of these old reference questions, with dates ranging from the 1940s to 1983 (and a particular concentration of questions from the '40s and '60s).

Some of the cards include notes on who was doing the asking: A lady who asked for "a book on Reincarnation that has illustrations ... seemed relieved that she could come in and look at it." Some include answers: What is the life of an eyelash? 150 days. And some aren't questions at all: On January 20, 1983 a reader approaches the desk and said, "You'll have to forgive me, I'm from New Jersey."

But most just speak for themselves:

Starting this week, Holzer will post one of these cards on the Library's Instagram each Monday. If this has inspired questions of your own, you can take it to the librarians with Ask NYPL. Even in the age of the Internet, the Library gets 1700 reference questions a month—and that's not including inquiries about the logistics of the Library itself. These days, people are looking for resources to help them with difficult research topics. Check out some of the recent questions posed:

Are vegetables and fruits being sold to American supermarkets that are fertilized with human excrement?
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What are the chances of survival after someone’s heart stops for more than five minutes? I am having trouble finding a good source that breaks this down. The databases are tough to use and google is being no help. Thank you for any help you can lend!
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I am looking for articles in sociology about how individuals in small group settings tend to look outward to have their needs met, while people in larger groups tend to look inward. The specific context is about people with developmental disabilities who live in residential facilities, and trying to get support for the proposition that people are better off in smaller settings where they would look more to the community rather than the institution for support. Thank you for any guidance about searches or articles.
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I'm looking to do a comparison between the efficiency of buses versus the subway. At rush hour, how many people can load and unload from a subway train (say, the 4 at Grand Central)? About how long does that take? 10 seconds, 45 seconds? Through how many doors in how many cars? Thank you in advance!

And if you've got a family lighthouse to unload, it can't hurt to ask:

Vlasic Is Working on Pickle Chips Made Entirely of Pickles

iStock.com/bigacis
iStock.com/bigacis

It's easy to find pre-sliced pickle chips in a jar, but if you prefer to eat your snacks out of a bag, your pickle options are limited. Both Doritos and Lays potato chips have released products where pickles are used as flavoring and not the main ingredient. Now, the experts at Vlasic are developing bags of chips that don't just taste like pickles, but are made from real pickle slices, USA Today reports.

Vlasic's parent company Conagra Brands confirmed during a recent investor event that crunchy, snackable chips made entirely of pickles are in the works. Instead of struggling to open a jar every time you crave pickles, you'll be able to eat these chips straight from a bag. They will be vacuum-fried, making them dry and crispy like potato chips.

Vlasic hasn't revealed when the pickle chips will be released, or where they will be available to buy. But according to USA Today, Conagra co-chief operating officer Tom McGough did reveal that they "taste absolutely fantastic."

Can't wait to for Vlasic's pickle chips to arrive in your local grocery store? Here are some products that taste and smell like pickles to try in the meantime.

[h/t USA Today]

The Helvetica Font Has Been Revamped for the First Time in Decades

Monotype
Monotype

The Helvetica font family is everywhere. It’s used on everything from subway signage to federal tax forms to advertisements for a diverse group of companies, including Harley-Davidson, Oral-B, and Target. Job seekers are also likely familiar with its clean, sans-serif characters, which make it one of the best fonts for a resume.

“If it's me, [I’m using] Helvetica,” Matt Luckhurst, a graphic designer, told Bloomberg in 2015. “Helvetica is beautiful. There is only one Helvetica.”

Until now. As Wired reports, the typeface has just been revamped for the first time in decades by Monotype, which boasts the world’s largest type library and owns the rights to Helvetica. The new and improved version, called Helvetica Now, aims to better serve modern users while also working out the kinks associated with the old design.

The new Helvetica font
Monotype

While Helvetica is still ubiquitous, several major companies—including Google, Apple, IBM, and Netflix—have dropped the typeface for branding purposes in recent years. Issues related to kerning, punctuation sizes, and scrunched characters are all common gripes with the old version.

By contrast, Helvetica Now comes in three versions to suit different needs. There’s a Micro version for small screens, a Display version for larger type sizes, and a Text version that makes use of white space to offset visually “demanding” designs. Companies will need to buy the license to the new Helvetica, but the font’s creators are hopeful that everyone will be making the switch in due time.

“Helvetica Now is the tummy-tuck, facelift, and lip filler we’ve been wanting, but were too afraid to ask for,” graphic designer Abbott Miller, a partner at design consultancy Pentagram, said in a statement. “It offers beautifully drawn alternates to some of Helvetica’s most awkward moments, giving it a surprisingly, thrillingly contemporary character.”

The original Helvetica was invented in 1957 by two Swiss designers who dubbed their typeface Neue Haas Grotesk. It wasn’t until 1961 that the typeface was renamed Helvetica, and the font’s last major facelift came in 1982 with the release of the desktop-friendly Neue Helvetica.

Of course, that was pre-internet, and Monotype’s director, Charles Nix, says everyone's font needs have changed a great deal in the intervening decades. “Neue Helvetica was the first digitization of Helvetica,” Nix said. “That was a long time ago, and so much has happened in our world since then.”

[h/t Wired]

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