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The Reference Librarian Comes Asking

Will Rogers is credited with "I never knew a man I didn't like," but the thought is older than he. One of the French philosophers had said he didn't like so-and-so, and his Boswell said, "But you don't even know the man!" which brought forth the witticism, "Which is why I don't like him!"

The majority of the librarians I have thus jollied to the satisfaction of both of us have been lady librarians, which keeps things on the plus side. And in my trade the reference librarian is the one. I am minded to say a few happy words now about Shirley Grunert, who is the ref. lib. at the library of the University of Maine at Farmington and has belted a four-bagger so far with every query I've lobbed her way.

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Shirley is our assistant columnist and hides modestly in the shade behind my seeming erudition. Did you really suppose I was all that help with the dwindling rain forests of Tierra del Fuego?

We knew each other when she was in high school. Pigtail astern, she'd sizzle down the black state road past our farm on her bicycle, and since she was doing better than 300 miles a second, it was imprudent for her to take one hand off the handlebar to wave me a respectful greeting. She would lift her nigh foot, instead, and I would get an affectionate ankle wiggle, and then she'd be gone around the Card house at the foot of the hill, a right-angle swerve that always gave Liz Card a great scare. Next, I heard Shirley was on the university library staff, and the first time I asked her a question she returned to me the very next day the English names for the sea birds Jacques Cartier found at Anticosti Island. I owe much to Shirley.

Having matured and been graduated from our university, she married somebody named Martin, whom I don't know and lives at quiet New Sharon, Maine, about 10 miles down Sandy River from her library stacks, a scholar of different style who doesn't need to know anything she can look up.

It amuses me much that Shirley does get stuck. And it swells my cultural ego when an occasional letter comes from this young lady asking if I can help her in a present complexity, and what was this and what was that, and if you please.... The first time had to do with "opodeldoc." Somebody had disturbed Shirley's bibliotechnical quiet by asking, and now Shirley's duty was to reply. The question was, "Who was Opie Dilldock?" And that was enough to lead Shirley away from the dictionary, where the wanted word is spelled otherwise and is not, really, a person.

Back in the three-a-day vaudeville bookings, a comedian of considerable popularity used the stage name of Senator Ford, and in his monologue act he told stories about characters in his hick town. One character was Opie Dilldock, a bumpkin Senator Ford took with him when he went from stage to radio. And with this exposure, Opie became well-known across the country. You may remember Senator Ford on a network show titled, "Can You Top This?"

Being of a generation (at least) older than Shirley's, I knew all about Senator Ford without looking him up, and as nursemaid to several farm nags that never loved me, I had heard of opodeldocs. I promptly wrote to Shirley with a cozy gloat and told her one of the few things I knew and she didn't. She thanked me politely, as I had told her to call whenever I might be of help.

Almost at once happenstance played into my hands, and Shirley was back to seek information about ice-out at Sebago Lake. I could tell from her letter that she felt awkward at being an asker. Did I know any way she could find out about this, or even understand it? And I could readily see that she felt sort of undignified that high-class informational talent was momentarily focused on spring ice-out. Ice-out means salmon are in season, but to more than a few people the subject is well covered by the Maine couplet:

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Of all the fishes in the sea,

The bullfrog is the one for me!

I lost no time in getting a letter off to Shirley. Be of good cheer, I communicated, for aid and assistance are at hand. I knew there was no need to seek volumes of reference and tie up the computer circuits.

In the early days of radio, there was a network series of drama segments, built around a player named Parker Fennely. He was the country storekeeper with a wheel of cheddar cheese and ironstone common crackers, who said, "ayeh" a great deal and meddled in all affairs in the real-life village of Sebago Lake Station, Maine, as interpreted by Madison Avenue experts.

One year about the middle of May, a segment was aired about the day the ice left Sebago Lake and the salmon season opened. The script was easy. A gentleman unacquainted with angling is enticed into going to Sebago Lake Station by train from New York to enjoy catching a salmo Sebago, and before the ice goes he is disillusioned and has lost interest. Fennely, the wise old Down-easter, offers to boat him over to the station so he can go back to New York, and slyly gets the man to hold the rod so Fennely can have his hands free for the motor. The man hooks a Sebago salmon, and there follows 15 minutes of exciting dialogue during which the reluctant angler is persuaded to stay at Sebago and catch another one.

That segment was repeated every spring at ice-out time; this was before taped shows, so the drama had to be staged live each time. All this I passed along to Shirley, and it shows the kind of question reference librarians have to field. Or, it shows the kind of question I get from my reference librarian.

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