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Daniel Rubin: Libraries’ experts on call: A dwindling breed

“Now that everyone’s an expert on fast facts, I wonder what has become of those Free Library of Philadelphia treasures known as the Know-It-Alls. When I last visited these general-information specialists, in 1991, business was brisk. Surrounded by a wall of books and directories, they fielded 50 phone calls an hour from Philadelphians wondering how to spell Tiananmen Square, what glasnost is, how far to Fargo? The rotating staff of 14 librarians – each with a master’s in science – was in such demand that each caller was limited to three questions.


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