Monday, February 12, 2007

Why do we use water to bathe? (or, "The Librarian & the Advisory & Enquiry Service")

Some people might think this is a silly question.

I think not.

You might or might not have sought help from a librarian for a question. I don't know about other libraries in Singapore or overseas. At the NLB public libraries, we actively encourage people to ask anything.

Some people (librarians included) question the logic in encouraging people to "ask anything". What if they ask "stupid questions"?

I'd say the REAL question is, "What is a Stupid Question?"

It's my sincere belief that there is no silly question; not if your intent is sincere. Granted there are people who make statements disguised as a question, or that their intent in asking the question is suspect. Nevertheless, I believe a truly competent librarian can take on any question and use it as an opportunity to advise, educate, and promote the library's service and collection.

Librarians need to tell their customers, "It's OK to ask anything".

Questions are sometimes not asked the right way, but I don't think it's right for librarians to consider any question stupid or silly.

The worse thing that can happen is when the library customer (particularly a child or young person) asks a question with sincere intent, only to be met with scorn (in words or subtle action) by the librarian who thinks it's a "silly question". That's akin to professional suicide. It's likely that the child or young person would never ask a question to any librarian, ever. Then libraries would wonder why enquiries aren't forthcoming. Library administrators would start asking if hours or staffing headcount ought to be reduced since the enquiry service isn't in demand.

Here's another way of looking at the "silly question" issue: if it's true that "one person's poison is another person's food", then I say one person's silly question is another person's enlightenment.


  1. I also feel that there is no such thing as a stupid question, so long as like what you said, the person is sincere.

    All of us have different levels of maturity, intelligence, life experience, perceptions and even prejudices. All these affect the way we think and thus will affect the questions that come out of our mouths, which will ''range'' from questions that seem ''intelligent'' to questions that seem ''stupid''.

    As a librarian, I feel that it is my duty to enlighten people, no matter what their question is. That is what a professional librarian should do as an information professional.

  2. Come to think if it, I have never questioned, nor know why we use water to bathe!

    It is one thing to take something for granted, and another to know why something is that way.

    And the question led me to wonder, what if an area has no clean water? What do the long-term residents do?

    (or perhaps it's presumptuous to think they too use water because we do??)

  3. You've already demonstrated the value of a (supposedly) "stupid question", Mike :)


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