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by Abigail Van Buren

Public Reference Librarians Are Just Waiting to Be Asked

DEAR ABBY: I read with interest today that you have a "secret weapon" -- a librarian at the Hollywood library. Thank you for broaching the subject of public libraries finding information for people.

Perhaps you could let your readers know that anyone, not just media celebrities, can get virtually any information through their local public library. In California (and many other states), if your local library can't find a piece of information, a published item, an old song, a definition, an address or repair manual -- they have "second-level reference centers" to which they can refer the question. These second-level centers are staffed by professional reference librarians who will go to great lengths to track down whatever is needed.

They use not only the print resources of our host library and the World Wide Web, but they call and fax corporations and other organizations, e-mail all over the world, confer with colleagues in special-interest libraries, and appeal for assistance on librarians' e-mail lists -- to name only a few of the sources. They also research questions in nearby libraries and farm out some questions to other centers with strengths in certain areas.

Many people, unfortunately, do not ask for assistance from a librarian because they don't want to bother her or him, or because they don't think their question is important enough. Librarians are in this line of work because we enjoy helping people find what they need, and we welcome the opportunity to provide information.

Thank you, Abby, for promoting library services -- they encompass far more than just books and videos! -- CHRIS GALLERY, SANTA BARBARA, CALIF.

DEAR CHRIS: I'm pleased to promote library services. Our libraries house a wealth of information -- not to mention entertainment -- for anyone with an inquiring mind. It's all there for anyone with a thirst for knowledge.