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The Varsity

The University of Toronto's
Student Newspaper Since 1880

Sidewalk librarians collect donations for answers

By Christine Jeyarajah
Published: 4:24 pm, 26 October 2009
Modified: 6 pm, 11 January 2012
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Among the busy intersection’s high-end shops and hot dog carts nestled a library reference desk. Pedestrians passing by Bloor and Avenue Road on Saturday had the chance to ask any question they liked to Master’s students from the information faculty, who set up shop from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The students collected donations for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, which works to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa.

“People have assumptions of librarians as passive, and we wanted to debunk myths about the mundane librarian,” said student Stephen Spong. The project sprung from a class assignment for a library sciences course. When professor Nadia Caidi gave her students the option of compiling an annotated bibliography or fundraising for the Stephen Lewis Foundation, Spong—along with Katya Pereyaslavska, Cybil Stephens, Sarah Jones, and Brandon Weigel—opted for what they called “Street Reference.” Pereyaslavska said they had a little over eight weeks to brainstorm ideas.

Stephens was surprised to find out that many pedestrians did not know that librarians require a Master’s degree to find work. “Most librarians who work on a desk have a Master’s degree,” she said.

The project was advertised through various libraries, and librarians gave tips on how to make the idea work. “Random librarians also stopped by during the event. One librarian brought a box of cookies and was eager to help out,” Pereyaslavska said. “The faculty has also been very supportive, and the student council had given us mugs to sell in return for donations.”

Equipped with laptops from the faculty of information, reference books, and (most importantly) coffee, the students fielded 63 questions on Saturday. Spong said they answered all queries, including, “Where does the name Saskatchewan come from?” and “Are investments in South African farming indicative of a larger trend?”

The team said their aim was to raise $500, but they surpassed their intended goal with a successful turnout. They also said that the assignment provided some on-the-job learning experience.


Library science students answered these questions Saturday. Can you?

  • Why do musicians tune to A (440 HZ) and why has this changed over the years?
  • Why can some planes fly upside down?
  • How does one gain refugee status in Canada?
  • Are investments in South African farming indicative of a larger trend?
  • When was the first mummy discovered?
  • How old is the oldest mummy?
  • What sports are part of the decathlon?
  • Where does the name Saskatchewan come from?
  • Are there any English language theatres in Shanghai?