If you simply must know why princesses wear those pointy hats or whether you can get sunburned in your car with all the windows rolled up, now all you need to find the answer is an Internet connection and a little bit of patience.
The Undergraduate Library's infamous Question Board (or QB as its known by seasoned campus inquisitors) is now operating online at www.library.uiuc.edu/ugl/qb/default.htm. The Web site was launched in August and so far has received about 20 to 30 questions. Answers, however, just started appearing there last week.
The idea to take the service to the Internet is credited to Wei Ma, professor of library administration and assistant undergraduate librarian and reference coordinator. Ma supervises the Undergrad Library's stable of 10 graduate assistants, who among their other duties devote an hour or two per week to maintaining QB. The electronic version was designed by Ma and graduate assistant David Ward.
Ma said before she and Ward developed the online QB, "we didn't see any similar services offered by a library anywhere else."
Initially, Ma said, "QB's Web-page answers will be limited to questions submitted electronically. "The subjects covered, however, mirror those that QB has long fielded on a 6 x 10 foot bulletin board on the lower level of the Undergrad Library since 1970: sports, entertainment, biography/people, health and sciences, and hard sciences."
Besides finding and noting sources for the answers, the QB staff usually does its best to insert a bit of wry humor into the replies.
"That's the whole point," Ma said. "Instead of trying to enter some dry, boring response, we try to make people laugh ... to make it personal, as if QB were more of a friend."
And, Ma notes, that old, familiar friend is still there in its original form as well. While high-tech systems often steamroll over traditional information delivery systems, that's not the case with QB. The online QB was developed to augment the original service. Students, faculty and staff members wishing to unchain themselves from their desks can rest their screen-stressed eyes and exercise their legs by making a real-world visit to the library. There, they can indulge themselves in the increasingly rare and some might say, quaint experience of picking up a pen or pencil and actually writing down their questions and placing them in an envelope on the bulletin board.
Either way virtual or actual inquiring minds must be patient. With so many incoming questions (about 400 per semester) and so few reference librarians assigned to the detective work, the answers don't appear instantaneously. A new set of answers is posted every two weeks.
Not every question can be answered, however. For starters, the question
to answerer ratio makes it impossible to honor every information quest.
And many queries go unanswered because they don't have fact-based, easy-to-reference
answers. For example, Ma cites this question, posed to QB: "What is
love?" If anyone knows the answer ...