Wayne Bivens-Tatum posted “On verifying the nonexistence of nonabsurd reference objects” today (March 10, 2008, that is) at Academic Librarian. He describes two reference interviews that left him unsatisfied: He couldn’t find an answer to the question, but he also couldn’t be satisfied that no such answer exists.
I think what we reference librarians need is a reference source that lists all of the questions for which we know there is no answer. Then I could go to this source, look up the obscure German artist, and say, â€œSee, it says here that no biographical information exists on this person, and this is the authoritative reference source on the nonexistence of nonabsurd reference objects. Do you have any other questions?â€ A source like this would let me rest easier after a fruitless search. It could be, though, that this reference source already exists, and I just canâ€™t find it. If only I could know for sure.
A reference source listing all questions for which we know there is no answer is a tall order, as unanswered questions sometimes get answered. (Do we know with reasonable certainty who the model was for the Mona Lisa? We do now, apparently.)
What’s needed here, I believe, is something different. (Remember, what you’re about to read is coming from one of those nasty aging Luddite anti-L2 people; I even precede the boomers!)
I think there should be an Unanswered Questions Wiki. Librarians with legitimate reference questions they haven’t been able to answer could post them here. If someone else comes up with a resource answering the question, they add the resource. If the original poster, or someone else, agrees that this is a legitimate answer, they change the item’s category from Unanswered to Answered.
You would, of course, need some combination of logon and oversight to avoid the spam problems that seem to plague almost all wide-open wikis these days (and wide-open blogs, and wide-open whatever…)
Yes, there was STUMPERS-L and is now Project Wombat–but wouldn’t this make more sense as a wiki, incorporating the open questions from PW?
As I said in my comment on the original post, this seems like a natural project for RUSA, but it doesn’t need to be that formal. No, I’m not volunteering: I may “run” a MediaWiki wiki but I didn’t set it up and I’m not at liberty to host another one. (Yes, I think MediaWiki is the right software, bless its ugly-syntax heart: It’s used by several widely-used multilibrary wikis already–LISWiki, Library Success, PLN–and, to be sure, the whale of all wikis, Wikipedia.)
Let me say this again: Whoever does this needs to have provisions to minimize spam.