If you get a group of librarians together and ask them about the most ridiculous reference requests they’ve ever had, you’ll hear some humdingers. Most are ridiculous because they’re looking for the impossible, or sometimes just the really difficult but as if they’re simply asking for double pepperoni on their pizza. “Could you go through your entire collection and pull out every photo that has a blue house in it, then create a database of these, and write a report for my son’s 3rd grade class? It’s due tomorrow.” Those are exasperating. The ones we really chuckle over, though, are the impossible ones. More than once I’ve had someone ask me for photographs of the first town board meeting (1818) or from the War of 1812 (aerial shots, no less), and I’ve had to gently explain that photography wasn’t invented until quite a bit after that. Incidentally, the part patrons struggle with the most is that, furthermore, it wasn’t available on a widespread basis two days after it was invented, so expecting a photo of every Tom, Dick and Harry from 1860 isn’t realistic.
Filmmaker Laurie Hill has made a spectacular short film about absurd requests received by the Getty Hulton Archive. Photograph of Jesus showed at the Sundance Film Festival this year.