One of the oddest things that remained after I had finished settling my father's estate in 1981 was a courtesy bookmark from the Vleigh Branch Library of the Queens Borough Public Library. Vleigh Place was a little street perhaps a quarter of a mile from our home that sticks in my mind because of its unusual name. The bookmark, a piece of decorated cardboard six inches long and an inch and a half wide, lists the hours of service -- 1-9 on Monday, 10 - 9 on Tuesday and Wednesday, and 10 - 5:30 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. It was the inscription printed on the back that entranced me when I read it for the first time a few moments ago:
"GET THE FACTS BY PHONE -- RE 9 - 1900"
"Next time you need information fast, just telephone the Queens Public Library. Professional librarians, using a collection of 500 reference books of the handbook of statistical information type, will quickly supply the answer you need.... whether it be on business statistics, spelling, politics or sports, or as technical as 'how do you convert temperature from Fahrenheit to Centigrade?'
This is just one more way the Queens Public Library puts its extensive reference facilities within easy reach of the entire borough of Queens. Make note of the number RE 9 - 1900."
There is a hilarious old Katherine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy movie in which Hepburn plays the super-efficient head of a TV station's research department and Tracy plays the techie called in to install a new [enormous, card-spitting] computer to take its place. Needless to say, Hepburn, rather like John Henry, defeats the machine, and she and Tracy fall in love.
How much quieter and simpler my father's world was! Today, all that information and vastly more is available on a computer or a cell phone, and with the right cellphone, one can simply ask the phone and it will tell you the answer. Google has just informed me, in roughly fifteen seconds, that the movie I recall so fondly is Desk Set, 1957.
I imagine by the time my granddaughter, Athena, is old enough to drive, she will have a chip implanted in her brain that will obviate the onerous necessity of typing an inquiry or even speaking it. The thought will be enough.