An Answer for Everything: 10 Years of “Ask a Librarian”

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the Ask a Librarian reference service. Through the service, users from around the world can submit online reference questions to the Library and receive responses from Library staff. On average, the reference staff receives more than 58,000 inquiries per year. In 2011, more than 62,000 inquiries were received through Ask a Librarian. Since its launch in 2002, nearly 580,000 questions have been fielded.

From the Ask a Librarian homepage, users can choose the specific area of the Library to which they’d like to submit their online inquiry. Library reading rooms also provide links to their own Ask a Librarian web forms from their home pages.

Currently three areas of the Library provide live-chat reference service: the Digital Reference Section, the Serial and Government Publications Division and the American Memory collections.

Many questions turn up repeatedly. People seeking electronic books and other electronic materials do not always understand that the Library doesn’t digitize everything – although it has more than 31 million digitized items available on its website. Many researchers want to know if the Library holds copies of every book ever published in the United States, which isn’t the case.

Users also inquire on topics ranging from art history to zoology to various presidents, as well as people seeking congressional materials of various types, such as government documents and information on government services.

Ask a Librarian also receives library and information science and digital library questions from all over America and from many other countries. In fact, in response to the volume of these questions, Library’s staff created a guide to online materials in Library Science, “Library and Information Science: A Guide to Online Resources.”



  1. Sue
    June 28, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Thank you so much fo all the answers you have provided, all the resources you have referenced, all the minds you have eased! Ask A Librarian is a FANTASTIC resource! Thank you, Thank you!

  2. Barbara Crawford
    June 28, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    I am looking for information on my great great great great grandfather John Brock Harrison who was sent by Washington, D.C. to do surveying in what is now the state of Texas. The only thing I know is he was related to both President Harrisons but I’m not sure how. Our family tree on that side has us stumped because we can’t find anything passed him. Please tell me where I can find any information on his order from Washington?

  3. John Sayers
    July 6, 2012 at 8:52 am

    Barbara, you should try the genealogy section of our Ask a Librarian service at

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