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Friday, July 13, 2007

Let Us Now Praise Seattle Public Library

posted by on July 13 at 8:00 AM

When in the course of human evenings it becomes necessary to find the answers to the questions in the Ketel One ad on the back of the current New Yorker, and it’s after midnight, it is something to know that Seattle Public Library is there for you. In a shifting, stricken, electronically connecting world, is at the ready. It’s true that long before midnight the librarians manning the quick information line (whom I love) have gone home, but the library has connections. It knows some people. It’s not a problem.

Before we go any further, here is the back of the current New Yorker (at least it’s dated this Monday—there’s probably an even newer one downstairs in the mail box):


In case you can’t see the image, it’s an all-white page with text on it. At the top it says “Dear Ketel One Drinker” and continues “Here are the answers to 10 commonly asked questions.”

The answers to the 10 commonly asked questions are:

George Washington
Depends on who you ask
Down the hall, second door on your left
District of Columbia
86 Cents
The Nile (if you include the Blue & White)
114 Years, 211 days
93.2 million miles

OK, so I didn’t need an answer from Seattle Public Library. I needed a question. I needed the question that “114 Years, 211 days” was the answer to. Because I knew all the other questions.

The first answer, “Yes,” is clearly the answer to the question “Do you find Christopher Frizzelle unbelievably attractive?” “George Washington” is “Who was the first president of the United States?” “Briefs,” “Depends on who you ask,” and “Down the hall, second door on your left” are advertising writers having fun around a conference room table. “District of Columbia” is the answer to “What does the abbreviation in Washington, DC stand for?” “86 cents” is hard, but, with Google’s help, I’m guessing it’s either “Roughly how much do women make for every dollar a man earns?” (from one website: “Women make 86 cents for every dollar men earn in the District of Columbia”; from another: “Female managers in the communications industry made 86 cents for every dollar”; from another: “Asian Pacific American women earn 86 cents for every dollar”) or “How much is an Aussie worth next to a U.S. dollar right now?” The answer “The Nile (if you include the Blue & White)” is clearly the answer to “What’s the longest river in the world?” And “93.2 million miles” is “How far is the sun from Earth?”

But this “114 Years, 211 days”—this one isn’t easy. When I Googled “114 Years, 211 days” I got tables of numbers, pages of equations, databases full of dates. When I put “114 Years, 211 days” in quotes and Googled that, I got only one page: Some guys on a Google Groups thread talking about the “booze ad on the back of The New Yorker.” (I feel so much less alone!)

People weighed in to that Google Group with answers. But the only answer anyone posted—er, question—for “112 Years, 211 days” was: “How long was the 100 Years’ War? (Well, actually, someone else did pose another question that “112 Years, 211 days” could answer: “When will the Celtics hang up another championship banner?”) But Wikipedia says the 100 Years’ War was 116 years. Huh.

I went to the library to see if someone there could help. I went to and clicked on Contact the Library. Then I clicked on Live chat (24/7). Then I typed in my name, my email address, my question, and hit Chat.

Here is what I typed in:

OK. This is a little weird. “114 years, 211 days” is the answer to a question. I need to figure out what the question is. There’s an ad on the back of The New Yorker for Ketel One, and they have a list of “the answers to 10 commonly asked questions,” and “114 years, 211 days” is the only one I can’t figure out the answer to. The question isn’t “How long was the Hundred Years’ War?” because, according to Wikipedia, the Hundred Years’ War lasted 116 years. Is Wikipedia wrong? Or can you think of another question “114 years, 211” days is the answer to? Help me out! thanks, christopher

I hit the button, that went off into space, and a new window opened with instructions to the left and, to the far right, in a vertical column:

Hello, christopher frizzelle
Thank you for your question. There may be a brief delay while we connect you to a librarian. While you wait, can you provide any more information about your question…

Two minutes later, the following text appeared below that:

Jasmine (24/7 Librarian): Librarian ‘Jasmine (24/7 Librarian)’ has joined the session.


christopher frizzelle: Hey Jasmine.
Jasmine (24/7 Librarian): Hi Christopher

It was 12:12 AM, and I had this new friend, Jasmine.

Jasmine (24/7 Librarian): My name is Jasmine, and I’m a reference librarian with the QuestionPoint chat service. Your librarians have asked our librarians to staff this 24-hour service when they are unavailable. I’m reading your question right now to see how I can help you…

Two minutes passed, and she said:

Jasmine (24/7 Librarian): If there are slight delays, it’s because I’m assisting other patrons along with you, but I’m right here with you also.

Isn’t that sweet?

Another four minutes passed.

Jasmine (24/7 Librarian): Still searching, Wikipedia is not always accurate.

Look at Jasmine and I, in this together. She’s so right, Wikipedia isn’t always accurate.

christopher frizzelle: great, thanks.
christopher frizzelle: great, thanks.

[I accidentally hit the button twice. Slight delay on the site.]

Rather abruptly, Jasmine dumps me without so much as a personal goodbye. All I get is a message that says:

Librarian: Please wait a moment while I transfer you to another librarian

Jasmine, we coulda had something! We coulda been some people! You and me, baby. Why’d you have to go chang—

Two minutes later:

Raul (24/7 Librarian): Hi

Hey, Raul!

christopher frizzelle: Hey, Raul.
Raul (24/7 Librarian): I’m reading your question.
Raul (24/7 Librarian): I’m now searching.

And then, in a miraculous two minutes flat:

Raul (24/7 Librarian): On March 29, the Guinness Book of World Records certified her as the oldest living woman at 114 years and 211 days
Raul (24/7 Librarian): /msg01378.html

As this link appeared in the far right column, a web page—that very page he’s just given me the URL for—opened up automatically in the larger left frame.

christopher frizzelle: oh, awesome.
christopher frizzelle: did you just find that through google?
Raul (24/7 Librarian): Puerto Rican Ramona Iglesias-Jordan died on March 29 aged 114 years and 211 days.
Raul (24/7 Librarian): yes

A minute went by.

Raul (24/7 Librarian): Can I help you with anything else

I kind of wanted to keep talking.

christopher frizzelle: somehow google couldn’t find that for me. well, thanks. hey, just curious, where in the world are you? I’ve never used this service before.

But Raul was all business. A minute went by, and then:

Raul (24/7 Librarian): This service is monitored by librarians across the United States when your local library is not open.

So, like, everyone can see us, Raul, is that what you’re saying? They can see what we’re saying to one another? Before I could reply—

Raul (24/7 Librarian): Thank you for using our service. Please, contact us again if you need further assistance. Goodbye.

The whole thing took 16 minutes.

Then there was a pop-up survey about my experience. Under “The ease of using this online reference is?” I clicked “Very Easy.” Under “Will you use this service again?” I clicked “Very Likely.”

But in the “Additional Comments” field, I was honest about my feelings:

This service is excellent.

One thing: I wish I knew where my librarian was. Just for the sake of, I dunno, true global connectivity. It’s 12:29 AM in Seattle — dead of night — but it is, for example, 9:29 AM in Madrid. I picture the guy who just helped me sitting at a desk and eating a muffin, his blinds open onto a view of Madrid in the morning sun.

He’s a librarian, but he’s also human, right?

thanks again (whoever’s getting this, wherever you are),

It’s only now—now that I’m retyping all this for you—that I see that Raul told me the thing is “monitored by librarians across the United States.” So much for Madrid. Or the morning sun. Maybe he was eating a muffin.

Anyway: Raul, ladies and gentlemen.

RSS icon Comments


Too funny. I was thinking the answer had something to do with astronomy (say, maybe that's how long it takes Neptune to orbit the sun).

Posted by Matt from Denver | July 13, 2007 7:21 AM

i have a crush on raul.

Posted by Pine Street | July 13, 2007 8:25 AM

i have a crush on raul.

Posted by Pine Street | July 13, 2007 8:27 AM

Are you going to share the answer in the Google group thread?

Posted by Maggie | July 13, 2007 8:27 AM

What kind of underwear does Bill Clinton not wear?


Posted by whatever | July 13, 2007 8:46 AM

That's fantastic. An on-call googler. I should have gone into library science.

Posted by bitch on heels | July 13, 2007 8:51 AM

The SPL is awesome. They have great books - reading Babylon is Burning. They have great CDs - listening to No Thanks! a Rhino punk collection that is THE BEST. SPL's also works as NetFlix if you're diligent, and they're very nice every week when I manage to return CD covers without the CDs.

Posted by vegetable lasagna | July 13, 2007 9:07 AM

Raul and I share jobs! Zing!

Posted by Mr. Poe | July 13, 2007 9:11 AM

@7, hope you're not stealing CDs from the library, bc if you are, that's really lame. just burn them if you like them that much.

Posted by don't steal CDs | July 13, 2007 9:14 AM

I think she's referring to forgetting them accidentally.

Posted by Mr. Poe | July 13, 2007 9:19 AM

Raul is, quite possibly, the coolest name ever.

Obviously, his parents were on to something.

Posted by Kate | July 13, 2007 9:25 AM

Librarians are the most awesome people on the planet.

Even the lady who sat down next to me and gently chided me for having pornography visible on my laptop screen, and suggesting that I angle it away from the children if I wanted to view it at the library. "We don't want to censor anyone" she said. I was pretty steamed, because I WASN'T looking at porn -- but the guy at the next table saved my pride by admitting to her that it was HIS porn. I think the librarian was a little suspicious still.

But that's what you get for going to a different library than your local. The folks at Wallingford are always delightful.

Posted by Fnarf | July 13, 2007 9:32 AM

Yet another self-indulgent post by a Stranger staffer... no big suprise there.

But man... if that is what you are doing with your Thursday nights then I think a part time job might be in order.

Posted by Get a life | July 13, 2007 9:44 AM

I LOVE Seattle Public Library. I can't afford to buy tons of cds, so I've burned quite a selection from SPL. They augment my Netflix habit as well...always dvds to watch around the house. Last night it was the films of Kenneth Anger. I love the online holds...and on my daily downtown run I just run in and pick them up. Super cool staff too. And fuck me...I like the building too. I'll have to use the question line sometime.....

Posted by Sally Struthers Lawnchair | July 13, 2007 9:51 AM

This is a LONG post. Add a jump.

Posted by bb | July 13, 2007 10:03 AM

Thx poe for defending me. Obviously, I'm not stealing CDs. I feel guilty when I don't return things on time. My only quibble with SPL is the 1 hour Internet policy. I understand why there needs to be some cutoff, but if there are computers avaiable couldn't the policy be that you could get another hour? A lot of our lives are lived on the computer, including job hunting, and an hour a day is a little short.

Posted by vegetable lasagna | July 13, 2007 10:04 AM

You don't post enough, Christopher!

Posted by Callie | July 13, 2007 10:27 AM

This was tremendously awesome. :)

Posted by Nay | July 13, 2007 10:54 AM

This just made me applaud in my dining room. And want a muffin.

Posted by Dominic Holden | July 13, 2007 11:03 AM

Christopher, you obviously need to add the powerful weapon known at the 'quotation mark' to your Google arsenal.

Posted by boydmain | July 13, 2007 12:04 PM

Shit, I could have told you all the questions without reference to a computer. Mind you, I am a treasure trove of useless information.

Anyone wanna hear about the Arian Heresy?

Posted by Gitai | July 13, 2007 12:07 PM

I want Raul's job. Is it as simple as getting an MLIS? Is that really what librarians get to do? I can't think of anything that would make me happier than to be paid for looking up obscure stuff for people.

Posted by Kristin | July 13, 2007 12:15 PM

Happy to hear there are other libraries offering this awesome service - it's called 'askaway' in Vancouver, Canada, and I've been using it for years. I find the late hours are awesome for us bloggers who are itching for that special reference late at night. I plugged them in my blog a couple of months ago.

Posted by Natalie | July 13, 2007 4:16 PM

good god, you didn't think of longest lifespan when you saw 114years?

Posted by Investigatory Journalist | July 13, 2007 8:02 PM

"Down the hall, second door on your left" is probably an answer to the well-known most-frequently-asked-question-at-the-library-reference-desk: "Where's the restoom?"

Posted by Sandy | July 14, 2007 8:28 AM

@ 25,

no sandy, its up the stairs, second door to your left for the ladies and third for the guys

Posted by matt | July 14, 2007 11:25 AM

Muffins? In Madrid?

What a moron...

Posted by sally | July 15, 2007 11:04 AM

Aw, cut Chris some slack sally@27. I'd never have known about this cool service without him. I just tried it myself and LOVE IT.

Plus (callie@17) this was probably all the work he could manage to do this week, aside from the readings listings. We all know he isn't great at multitasking.

Anyway thanks Chris!

Posted by Graham | July 15, 2007 11:26 AM

Okay, this isn't about the library, but my dad and I were wondering about the ad and I decided to e-mail Ketel One and ask. They sent back the most pathetic list of questions -- not at all clever. Seems to me if you're going to do this kind of marketing, you need to have a second stage that's as fun as the first. In any case, here's what they wrote back:

Dear Sarah,

Thank you for visiting the Ketel One website and for writing us with
your request. Here is a list of answers that our creative agency came up

1. Could be anything
2. Could be anything relating to George Washington (first president,
cherry tree, most schools named after him, etc.)
3. Boxers or Briefs?
4. Could be anything
5. Could be anything (where's the bathroom? Where's your office?
Where's the copier?)
6. What does 'D.C.' stand for? American citizens living where lack
voting representation in Congress?
7. Could be anything
8. What's the longest river on Earth?
9. Could be anything
10. What's the average distance from the sun to the Earth?

Kind regards,
Dana Hollenbeck
Marketing Assistant

Posted by Sarah | July 23, 2007 9:46 AM


Posted by sarah ashley | July 26, 2007 6:27 PM

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