Librarian Kee Malesky Considers 'All Facts' For NPR Do you know why ice forms on the top of a pond? Or that red hair is the rarest? Kee Malesky does. The venerable NPR librarian has been dubbed "the source of all human knowledge." She shares her fact-finding prowess with the world in a new book, All Facts Considered.
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Librarian Kee Malesky Considers 'All Facts' For NPR

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Librarian Kee Malesky Considers 'All Facts' For NPR

Librarian Kee Malesky Considers 'All Facts' For NPR

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

The annoying kids who always have their hands up before the teacher even finishes the question grow up to become news librarians - well, at least Kee Malesky did.

She now wrangles facts for a living, searches them out, places them in order, verifies some, debunks others and places still more in that large gray area: unproven. And she celebrates a selection of them in her new book, "All Facts Considered."

We want to hear from other librarians today. Tell us how you do it. Tell us about a memorable fact-finding mission. Our phone number, 800-989-8255. You can also send us email. The address is Or join the conversation on our website. Just go to Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, Ken Rudin joins us for another mini-version of the Political Junkie. Plus Clarence Page on the constitutional gaffe that wasn't.

But first, NPR's longest-serving librarian and the author of "All Facts Considered: The Essential Library of Inessential Knowledge," Kee Malesky has stepped away from her post down the hall to join us here in Studio 3A. Nice to have you with us today.

KEE MALESKY (Librarian; Author, "All Facts Considered"): Hi, Neal.

CONAN: And I assume there are other librarians on duty?

MALESKY: Oh, God, I hope so.

CONAN: In case crisis erupts.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MALESKY: Or pronouncers are needed, yes.

CONAN: Well, pronouncers, that's one of the things the library does here that you wouldn't find in a lot of other places.

MALESKY: And the only regret I have in my library career is offering that the library could help research and keep track and coordinate pronouncers because it's not something that people universally agree upon, and so we do get into some discussions.

CONAN: And these primarily revolve around when do you Anglicize, and when do you not?

MALESKY: Exactly. We figure that on radio in particular, we have to be careful about pronounces because you can't see the word written and figure it out for yourself. And so we're looking for what's comfortable to the American ear. It may not be 100 percent correct but what people are used to hearing.

And unlike other news broadcast organizations, NPR doesn't try to get everyone to sound exactly alike. We not only allow but encourage regional and personal variations.

So envelope and envelope are not an issue. But how to say that volcano in Iceland, that certainly was.

CONAN: We all agreed on how to say it: badly, it turned out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MALESKY: Badly. Well, apparently in English, it was just Big Mountain of Ice, and I thought we should go with that.

CONAN: We should probably go with that, yeah, but you do get, you know, Paris and Paris, that's a long-settled argument, I assume?

MALESKY: Well, not for me it isn't, because if you really want to think about it, Paris is not a French word. It pre-dates the Francs. It's a Celtic word. And it was - the city was Parigi(ph), which is I think what the Italians still call it.

CONAN: Don't they make those in Chicago, the Polish people?

MALESKY: That too, yes.

CONAN: No, those are pierogies, yeah.

MALESKY: Oh, all right. But yeah, Paris is fine for Americans.

CONAN: Okay, and then there are the more obscure ones, and I suspect people like me call you up and annoy you every day: How come we have to say Niger, as opposed to - it's a Francophone country, they call it Niger.

MALESKY: And that one we go back and forth on, and we are not consistent.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MALESKY: Foreign desk has changed their minds more than once. Of course, librarians are not here making arbitrary decisions about these things. We consult embassies, editors, people themselves if it's a personal name and try to come out with something that's reasonable.

CONAN: It is fascinating. In fact, for one thing, you do one thing that all hosts who read books for interviews adore, which is you have a very long index.


CONAN: So there's a whole bunch of pages you actually don't have to read, lots of notes you can read or not.

But included on your source of advisors on language: Sylvia Paggioli, thanks to Sister Mary Walter(ph) of CSJ, who taught me Latin long ago, which has proved to be the most practical and continuously useful thing I learned in high school.

MALESKY: Absolutely, that plus typing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MALESKY: I mean, I would read books on my own. I would read history. I would read literature. But Latin you need to be forced to study, and in terms of understanding vocabulary and word structure and language structure, I find Latin to be absolutely something I use every day.

CONAN: I do, too. I had a great Latin teacher, Joseph VanWye(ph), and he beat me around the head and shoulders until I learned. I got as far as Cicero. I could never find the verbs, but...

MALESKY: Well, Sister Mary Walter just didn't hit us. She just called us dumb bunnies if we didn't get it right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: 800-989-8255. Email us, We want to hear from librarians today about their memorable fact-finding missions. And we'll start with Jim(ph), and Jim's with us from Meridian in Idaho.

JIM (Caller): Thank you for taking my call. I appreciate it. Neal, I just wanted to ask: Where was this lady 40 years ago when I was in small-town radio in Oregon, in the Vietnam conflict, and I couldn't say all of those names?

MALESKY: I was in college.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MALESKY: I didn't even know yet that I had been born to be a librarian. It was a while yet before I figured that out.

JIM: Well, I appreciated to hear all those names being pronounced correctly today. Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MALESKY: Thanks.

JIM: And you also thank you for pronouncing Oregon correctly. That's one I had to work on after getting many nasty emails.

MALESKY: That's right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JIM: You got it.

CONAN: Thanks, Jim. Let's go next to this is Tina(ph) and Tina with us from Cleveland.

TINA (Caller): Hi. I am also not a librarian, but I am an avid researcher. And I've had an ongoing project, which anybody in the world would care to join me would be welcome to.

What I've been trying to decipher is whether John Donne is actually buried in St. Paul's Cathedral or not, in London. John Donne died shortly before the Great Fire of London, which of course destroyed St. Paul's Cathedral. And as a result, they totally excavated it down to, you know, Roman ruins and rebuilt it.

And so the theory is, is that they moved his bones, and everybody else's, somewhere else and rebuilt the cathedral. So he's actually no longer there.

I have not been able to prove this exactly yet, but I have gone through the records from the Great Fire and found various references to there are wheelbarrows full of bones that they moved from this place to that place, but I've never actually found John Donne.

CONAN: Kee, might you offer any help?

MALESKY: Well, probably not. It sounds like you've made a pretty thorough search, and that's not really the kind of ready-reference question we get here too often. The kind we get are the ones you can answer in 10 or 20 minutes.

But that sounds like a really fun research project. If they don't know themselves at St. Paul's, I'm not sure...

CONAN: Isn't there an architect of St. Paul's like there is at the Capitol? There must be.

TINA: Well, I've asked them, but...

MALESKY: They don't know.

TINA: ...they say that he is buried there.


TINA: But, you know, it just gives me something to do whenever I go to London so that I can, you know, I've got a project.

CONAN: And it's a beautiful building to hang around.

TINA: That's right, that's right.

MALESKY: True. True.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

TINA: Thank you.

CONAN: And good luck on your quest.

TINA: Thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Kee, there's one thing that, as you read books of history, you can generally tell either the age or the political proclivities of the historian by whether they use the letters B.C. or B.C.E.

MALESKY: Well, that's true or at least whether they've been aware of the fact that there's a change in the trend. For many hundreds and hundreds of years, A.D., meaning anno domini, the year of our lord, was the way people dated events, and B.C., meaning before Christ.

But in the last couple centuries, some non-Christians have substituted terms, C.E. for common era, B.C.E., before the common era. And that's becoming more used, especially in academia, where they realize that not the entire world is Christian and relates to using that abbreviation.

And Kofi Annan, the former secretary general of the U.N., endorsed the idea in 1999. I found a quote in an article that he wrote: The Christian calendar no longer belongs exclusively to Christians. There is so much interaction between people of different faiths and cultures that some shared way of reckoning time is a necessity. And so the Christian era has become the Common Era.

And so I use those abbreviations throughout the book as just to encourage use generally.

CONAN: And nevertheless, wouldn't B.C. be more explainable, more easily understood by listeners?

MALESKY: Yes, absolutely.

CONAN: So either is acceptable,

MALESKY: Yes, oh, absolutely. One is not wrong but just, there's something new that I thought people might want to know about.

CONAN: 800-989-8255. Email us, We want to hear from librarians today about memorable searches for facts. And Kee Malesky is our guest, NPR's news librarian, or one of NPR's news librarians.

Let's go next to Travis(ph), Travis with us from South Bend.

TRAVIS (Caller): Yeah, I used to be a shelver at a library here in South Bend, a public library. And we would get asked a lot of reference questions, too.

They would come up to us, rather than going to the reference library, and say: Where is this book? Where is this book here? And a lot of times, we knew. And they were always asking for general questions, not specific things, you know, like how, you know, where was someone buried and whatnot.

And I was wondering, you know, did you have any thoughts on that? Did you ever get large questions that were kind of hard to just nail right down onto?

MALESKY: Well, my entire library career has been here at NPR. So we don't have a collection of the size that a public library would have.

At its largest, our book collection was maybe 3,000 volumes, and it's entirely a reference collection. So we don't have novels or travel books or other kind of...

CONAN: It makes the Dewey Decimal System a little easier to master.

MALESKY: Well, we yeah, we didn't need to use the system like that at all.

TRAVIS: When the earthquake in Haiti happened, you know, you guys would probably have to kind of just start shot-gunning right into it, picking this topic, picking that topic. Like, how did you start selecting it down?

MALESKY: And related to the Haiti story? Well, it means background on, you know, geo...

CONAN: Geography.

MALESKY: Geography issues and of course background on Haiti and the government and lots of collecting material on the groups who were there working to rescue people and to rebuild the country.

CONAN: And I can tell you, Travis, that at time we used to get these really nice briefing books in three-ring binders.

MALESKY: Actual paper.

CONAN: With actual paper. Now we get directions to a Wiki.

MALESKY: Well, yes...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MALESKY: But the Wiki - and we've replaced most of our print collection with the same exact information in electronic form. So that makes it easier to share with the NPR staff because the library's not all around the world, and we're not here 24 hours a day.

But this way, our reporter in Beijing or reporters who are in Haiti, if they had electricity, would be able to access that same information. We collect it once, and we disseminate it, and everybody has access.

TRAVIS: Well, hopefully Wiki has the same sort of people like you working for them, too.

MALESKY: Yeah, and this is an internal Wiki. So there are no issues. It's just Wiki software. There's no issues of people being able to vandalize or tamper.

CONAN: Or re-edit.

MALESKY: Or re-edit. Yeah, not exposed to the public.

CONAN: Travis, thanks very much for the call.

TRAVIS: Thank you.

CONAN: And how many books do you have left in the reference library?

MALESKY: Well, we have only now really a couple of hundred that are just kind of backup in case - I mean, this never happens - the NPR computer goes down, or the power is out. And then there are still a few of our users who do like to use print.

CONAN: Do you still have that great OED on that wooden stand that used to sit in front of the library?

MALESKY: No, but we have another. We do have an unabridged dictionary on that.

CONAN: NPR library Kee Malesky is with us. The book again is "All Facts Considered." More of your calls in a moment. Librarians, tell us about memorable fact-finding missions, 800-989-8255, TALK OF THE NATION, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

And when we have factual questions here at NPR, we usually call Kee Malesky, or one of our other librarians, to find out what's a New York minute, why ice forms at the top of a pond or which pitcher threw a four-hit shutout to defeat the Giants in Game Seven in the 1962 World Series.

MALESKY: That's not in my book.

CONAN: It's Ralph Terry. I can get that one out for you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Kee Malesky has compiled many of her fact-finding missions in a new book, "All Facts Considered: The Essential Library of Inessential Knowledge." In one chapter, we even learn presidential secrets, like which president was the first to speak on radio.

You can find that in an excerpt from the "All Facts Considered" book at our website. Just go to, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We want librarians to call. Tell us your fact-finding missions, 800-989-8255. Email And we're going to talk with Lee. Lee's calling from Yerington, Nevada.

LEE (Caller): Yup, Yerington.

CONAN: Go ahead, you're on the air.

LEE: Hi. You know what? I'm going to move my car backwards because we have very sketchy cell service here.

CONAN: Okay.

LEE: I am an assistant librarian and - for the Lyon County, Nevada, library system. And thank you for saying Nevada and not Nevada.

CONAN: Again, I had to be beaten into pronouncing that correctly.

LEE: You and the rest of the press, it seems like. But anyway, we have a little stone on the outside of our building that says when it was built. It was built in 1976 A.D., and this is Yerington Library, that I'm sitting in front of right now.

And it also has underneath that: A.L. 5976. And so I had a patron come to me. I hadn't even noticed it. And the patron came in and asked, you know, what is A.L.? And I didn't know.

CONAN: I don't know, either.

MALESKY: I have no idea.

LEE: Well, and so I, you know, I thought oh, goody, a reference question. I can put that on our little, you know, our little hash mark for reference questions.

I went about trying to find out. I went online. I actually pulled some books on architecture down. I could not find anything about A.L. I Googled it. I Wikied it. I tried everything, and I could not find out.

And, like, here it is on our library building. This is so embarrassing, you know. And I promised her when she came in the next week that I would have the answer for her.

So I was sort of musing out loud the next day, and one of our fellow librarians came in and said oh, that's the Masonic calendar. And I said: How did you know? And she goes: You know, I don't know. I asked somebody else who worked here.

And we went around, and I mean, I guess this question gets asked periodically, by somebody who wanders in and wonders what that stands for. So A.L. on a building stands for the Masonic calendar. And I had just been stumped. And I just thought that was so funny that there didn't seem to be I don't even know how to get the answer to this day.

CONAN: Maybe a secret handshake.

MALESKY: Exactly.

LEE: Exactly: Wear your decoder ring. And I did the only reason I get to listen to you today is because this is the national, the American Library Association's Snapshot Day. So I'm driving around to all five branches of the Lyon County Library taking pictures today. So I was able to listen to this wonderful I'm such a fan. I'm such a fan of the show and of you, Kee Malesky. You and Nancy Pearl are two of my heroes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MALESKY: Thank you.

CONAN: Thank you, Lee.

LEE: Thank you, bye.

CONAN: Drive carefully. Here's an email from Nora(ph) in Oakland: I was a law librarian for 29 years, had some very challenging legal questions over the years. But one non-legal question that has remained with me was to find the identities of famous individuals with only one eye who led notable careers.

And she put down Sammy Davis, Jr., as an example. You might add Lord Nelson, though he had two eyes until one was shot away, but yes.

MALESKY: Ah, okay, well. If I were faced with such a question, I might contact some organization, the Society for the Blind, because probably their librarian would know that. And that's one of the first lessons I learned working with journalists, is to always turn to an expert because there's somebody out there whose job it is to know the thing you need. And they're just waiting for us to call.

CONAN: It's also a good way to get the journalist to shut up, because they're going to say: How'd you know that? And then you say I talked to Dr. Schmidlap(ph), and they say oh, all right, well, if Dr. Schmidlap says it, it's okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MALESKY: I call Dr. Schmidlap all the time.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to Diane(ph), Diane with us from Columbus.

DIANE (Caller): Yes, I'm a retired children's librarian, both public library and school. And I thought you might enjoy hearing one of the toughest ones I had, which was a very earnest fourth-grader that wanted an autobiography of a caveman.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DIANE: It was so fun because he was so sincere.

MALESKY: That is really sweet.

CONAN: I hope he reads cuneiform.


(Soundbite of laughter)

DIANE: Okay, thank you.

CONAN: Thanks, Diane.

MALESKY: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's an email from Linda(ph) in Columbus: I worked at a library as a student in college, and someone called and asked if we had Thomas Payne's famous leaflet. The librarian went to the stacks and came back to the phone and said: I'm sorry, we don't have "Common Sense" here. And the book wasn't there, either.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to this is Donna(ph), Donna with us from Portland.

DONNA (Caller): Yeah, hi. Kee, I just want to say thanks for speaking at the PLA conference a number of years ago.

MALESKY: Oh, yes.

DONNA: And, you know, in public and in academic libraries, one of the skills that we have to have is the reference interview and getting our users to ask us for what they need in a way that we can understand, readily, and help them.

And I'm wondering, have you had to train staff at NPR to ask you for information in ways that would make it easier for you to find, or are they just, they just know how to ask?

MALESKY: Oh, I mean, reporters know how to ask questions but not necessarily how to conduct their half of the reference interview. So we don't overtly train them. So don't tell them. But yes, they've been trained.

But we do feel at least 50 percent of the responsibility is on our side. And we do sometimes get calls from a reporter, an editor who hasn't really quite finished thinking out the question yet. And so, part of the responsibility is just smiling and nodding and letting them talk it through and maybe make a few suggestions here and there, and then by the end, we actually have a question.

CONAN: I have no idea what you're talking about.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MALESKY: I know.

DONNA: That's how it works, right.

MALESKY: That's right.

DONNA: Thanks very much.

MALESKY: But I really respect people in public libraries, dealing with strangers all day long and having to smile and nod. At least I know all my patrons, and it's a little bit easier to say no when we have to.

CONAN: I take it PLA is Public Library Association?


CONAN: Okay. Thanks very much for the call.

DONNA: All right, thank you.

CONAN: Here's an email from Nichel(ph), or Michelle(ph), in Appleton, Wisconsin. I'm a librarian, and I retired in 2000. However, I do have one client, a non-fiction writer. One question he wanted me to find the answer for was how fast water flows from a Waterpik. Hmm, I said. And I called the company that produces it. The person I spoke to said that, unbelievably, they had that information.

Another question I had was how fast walking sidewalks how fast the moving sidewalks in airports move. I found that on Google, as I recall. And obviously, your job has probably changed a lot since the advent of Google.

MALESKY: Yes, mostly in good ways. Of course, the advent of the Internet in general has had a profound influence on any kind of library work, reference in particular.

But it doesn't mean you don't still need the same skills that I learned in library school before everything was in the computer. It's still about evaluating and looking closely at the sources and being sure that what you're finding is really the best information.

And as anyone who uses Google knows, that's not necessarily going to be on that first page of results. And I find often I'm going to Page 8, Page 10, Page 15. And there I finally find the absolutely perfect, appropriate primary source with current information that seems nice and comprehensive.

So Google maybe spends a lot of time figuring out how to rank their results, but they don't know what I need. They don't know what journalists need. So it's still often about being perseverant, which is just what it was when we were doing everything with books and magazines and paper.

CONAN: You said earlier, that you didn't know which that you would end up as a when you went to school to study this, what end of the business did you think you were going into?

MALESKY: You mean when I went to graduate school to get my library degree?

CONAN: Yeah.

MALESKY: Well, I had worked at NPR for a few years in the late '70s, as kind of an administrative drudge and really hated it. And I felt library work would be interesting.

And I, as I was in grad school part-time, I got a project for a writer who lived in Hawaii and needed information from the National Archives. And so I really enjoyed doing that kind of digging through material and really focusing on a question.

And I thought that's what I would wind up doing. But I sort of inadvertently wound up back at NPR. My colleagues in the broadcast library, where we catalogue all the finished programs and curate anything to do with audio and video, and they were having a cataloguing emergency and invited me to come back and help with that. And I've been a librarian at NPR ever since.

CONAN: When you write a book called "All Facts Considered" and it's about the -you're going to get nitpicking.


CONAN: Now, I'm going to pick in this...

MALESKY: I've noticed that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: your article about naming the Big Apple and when it was New Amsterdam, and for a brief time, you write it was called New Orange until the Treaty of Westminster returned it permanently to English control. I bet it's going to come as a shock to Mayor Bloomberg.

MALESKY: Actually, isn't it? Yes. Yeah. Well, all right. In the...

CONAN: Return it temporarily to English control.

MALESKY: edition, though - long temporarily. But...

CONAN: Long temporarily. Yes.


CONAN: Here's an email, a question we have, this from Rachel: I'm teen librarian in Washington and wanted to share one of the more unusual questions I have received over the years. We have many farms near the library. And one day, a few years ago, a young woman came in wanting to know how to hypnotize chickens. We found more than one way in the "Farmer's Almanac." Putting the chicken's beak under its wing, apparently, works quite well. Not only did I answer the question, but I established a relationship with the teen, and now she works for us a library page.

MALESKY: Oh, that's very, very nice. We've not ever had a question about chickens quite like that one. No.

CONAN: Another email, this from Katherine in Folsom, California: As a reference librarian, I was asked the names of the seven dwarves shortly after I'd won a radio quiz, because I knew those names. So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Yeah, that's a good bar bet...

MALESKY: Oh, absolutely.

CONAN: ...the names of the seven dwarves. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Let's go to Mary, and Mary with us from Burlington in Vermont.

MARY (Caller): Yes, hi. In talking about sources, I'm wondering if she's comfortable naming sources or use - mentioning ones that she uses. I had been veered away from Wikipedia because it was, you know, questionable - some of the editing that was in it. And I'm wondering if, besides Google, which she mentioned, she'd be comfortable in talking about that.

MALESKY: About Wikipedia. We do not...

MARY: Well, about sources in general.

CONAN: About more reliable sources.

MALESKY: Yeah. Yes. The problem with Wikipedia is that anyone can insert anything into any article at any time. And I have seen...

MARY: Correct.

MALESKY: ...some really horrible, horrible examples of that. That doesn't mean that Wikipedia can't be a good tool. Most articles include references to outside material, to other websites, to articles that they claim support the contents there. So that could save you some time, going to those websites or checking those articles. Unfortunately, those links are not always permanent. They sometimes go away. They sometimes are rather specious. But it's a part of the process.

But we do a lot of - we use a lot of primary sources whenever possible, so government agency and association and academic institution that has some authority behind it. Any material we pass along to a journalist will be sourced. Anything in our internal wiki will be clear where we got the information from, so that in addition to the library judging the quality of that information, the reporter and editor can judge that for themselves, as well, and decide what they want to use or what needs further investigation.

CONAN: You tell a story in the book about our former colleague Alex Chadwick calling you up one day having a fact that he absolutely loved and wanted to put in a story, but needed to know if it was true.

MALESKY: And it wasn't. And so over the course of about an hour, I kept looking for things and sending him little notes saying, well, I'm seeing that other people say that that really is not true. And it took about 45 minutes to convince him not to use that fact. But to a librarian, that's just as satisfying, to keep something off the air as to get it on.

CONAN: Thanks very, very much.

MARY: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking with Kee Malesky, NPR librarian, about her book, "All Facts Considered: The Essential Library of Inessential Knowledge."

And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

Let's go next to Hal, Hal with us from Nashville.

HAL (Caller): Yeah, hi, Neal. I would've let this pass if you weren't dealing with one of the more persnickety aspects of NPR. I'm a member of the Nelson Society, and Vice Admiral Lord Nelson's eye was not shot away. That's a very common thought. He had both eyes till the end of his life at Trafalgar. But he had nerve damage, which prohibited sight.

CONAN: Ah. So it was no good to him.

HAL: Exactly. Exactly. It was...

CONAN: Because he famously - wasn't it the Battle of Copenhagen, he...

HAL: He placed the glass to his eye.

CONAN: The telescope to his eye patch, to which we couldn't see and says, I see no signal asking me to retreat.

HAL: And he said to his - the shipmates that he said that to, there must be some advantages in having one eye.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, maybe I quoted him and thought that was a good source. So...

HAL: Thank you, sir.

CONAN: Thank you very much.

HAL: Bye-bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's see if we can go next to - this is June, June with us from Fairbanks.

JUNE (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call. I have another anecdote from the reference interview side of the desk. A man walked up to me when I was first out of library school and said that he wanted a book - very uncomfortable, said that he wanted a book about feces. And about half an hour later, it turned out that he wanted a book on making a methane gas production plant using chicken manure, but he was too shy to bring himself to say anything more racy than feces when he came up to me at the desk.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, I guess, speaking your mind and saying what's in front of you, that could be difficult if you're asking for factual information.

MALESKY: Not a problem we have here.

CONAN: No. Generally not.

MALESKY: They're pretty willing to tell us exactly what it is they're looking for.

CONAN: June, thanks very much for the call.

JUNE: You're welcome.

MALESKY: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's go next to Katherine - Katherine, another caller from Columbus.

KATHERINE (Caller): Hi. This is a pre-Google story. We have a telephone line in Columbus at our public library so you can call the number 645 to ask and pose your question. And there's a research librarian at the other end that works miracles time and again.

So during the first Gulf War, the British - let's see, what would it have been? The British Air Force asked one of our aircraft carriers if they would please store five British airplanes for some period of time. And a young man who was from Columbus, Ohio, called 645-2ASK from the Gulf and said, we'd be happy to store these, but we don't know how big they are. Can I tell you how look it up for me? So they got the dimensions and were able to clear space and accept the five airplanes.


(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That's fascinating, Katherine. Well, congratulations.

KATHERINE: Absolutely. Take good care.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an email from John in Mount Vernon, Iowa: The Masonic designation, AL, stands for anno legis - or legis - or year of the law, and refers to the legendary founding of the fraternity. There is nothing secret about it. And if your caller had looked at the cornerstone more closely, she would have seen that it was set in space - laid, in Masonic terms - by the Grand Lodge of her jurisdiction. A simple phone call to the Grand Lodge or, in fact, almost any Mason would have answered the question. So, again, when in doubt, call an expert.


CONAN: And our expert librarian here at NPR is Kee Malesky. Her new book: "All Facts Considered." Kee, thanks so much for coming in today.

MALESKY: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: When we come back, we're going to be talking with syndicated columnist Clarence Page about the constitutional gaff that, well, really wasn't. It was a considered suggestion.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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