People came to the library for reference, but also for info on buying and selling, looking for inspiration, crafty project ideas, and even to find photos. In a world pre-Google, librarians weren’t just Wikipedia, they were people’s Craiglist, Pinterest, Etsy, and Instagram all rolled into one.
A staff member 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).”
Some are sad (“Any statistics on the life span of the abandoned woman?”); some are silly (“You’ll have to forgive me I’m from New Jersey”); some are sufferingly existential (“Trying to solve the riddle of existence”). Patrons of the library are still welcome to seek answers from librarians, but now Ask NYPL offers help via phone, email, chat, or text message.
images via New York Public Library