Problems solved and questions answered by Providence’s human Google

PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) — There are still ways to solve your information issues without a computer.

No, really!

Just ask Providence librarian Beth Curran, or any of the others who answer the phone when you reach out to AskRI, which is headquartered at the Providence Public Library on Empire Street.

“People will call and say they don’t have a computer,” Curran said. “Look up this website for me.”

So, computers are still involved and if you have one, you can also get answers through a chat portal.

It is the human touch in a world where everyone seems to be Googling something.

“Sometimes we use Google,” Curran said.

Answers are also pulled from one of countless other resources, which might send Curran to a primitive device known as a card catalog.

They look up recipes, find obituaries and search for answers to seemingly unimportant questions like is the thing hanging from the arch on Federal Hill a pine cone or a pineapple. (Spoiler alert – It’s a pine cone.)

It turns out many questions are government-related.

“Why didn’t I get my tax refund? That’s a real popular one,” Curran said. “And we feel terrible because we can’t really do anything about except tell them they’re not alone.”

She reminds us that librarians have been happily helping people answer questions and solve problems for decades. But she admits, being a phone call or chat portal away to help someone who is stumped, might’ve shocked her when she started as a librarian.

“All the years that librarians kept indexes and files and all kinds of resources so they’re ready for questions,” Curran said. “I would’ve been amazed if you told me I can sit a computer and find my answers.”

And they’re not the least bit worried that having this link at your fingertips or realizing you can call 455-8005 will lead to more questions.

“That would be great,” Curran said. “That’s why we’re here.”

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