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Revisiting Old Questions: 1961 Student Letter

September 25, 2023

The American Library Association defines Reference Librarian as those who “recommend, interpret, evaluate, and/or use information resources to help patrons with specific information needs.” As a reference librarian, I was particularly drawn to a book while traveling in New York City last year, Peculiar Questions and Practical Answers: A Little Book of Whimsy and Wisdom from the Files of the New York Public Library featuring old reference questions with modern answers by the New York Public Library staff.

That got me to thinking, do we have any old questions for which we can provide new and updated answers? It turns out that we do. One interesting question I stumbled upon from the spring of 1961, was the question above by a student in Columbia City asked by their teacher to research Newton County. Questions about the history of Indiana, its counties, and cities, have been very common over the years.

What has changed is how we answer them. While in 1961, we didn’t have the ability to share large amounts of information on specific counties, as noted above, today, we take a different approach. If asked this question now, it would likely be via email, or provide an email address we can respond to, and I would send the following:

“Dear [Student],

Thank you for contacting the Indiana Historical Society. We received your request for information about Newton County. Some great resources about the county are available online:

The Indiana Historical Society’s Destination Indiana Journey for Newton County, featuring select items from the IHS collection:|0

IHS Digital Collection items which include information on Newton County:

Old County histories, most Indiana county histories were published before 1920: Newton County: a collection of historical facts and personal recollections concerning Newton County, Indiana, from 1853 to 1911:

A standard history of Jasper and Newton counties, Indiana: an authentic narrative of the past…:

There are so many other great resources available as well. If you have any questions, please let me know.


The digital age sure has increased what we are able to share with researchers today. However, as a reference librarian, I must warn you, MANY RESOURCES ARE NOT ONLINE. Stop by or reach out to your friendly librarian to learn more about your research topic’s available resources.

Contact the Indiana Historical Society Reference Services Department if you have an Indiana history question.

Amy Vedra

Amy Vedra is the director of reference services. She is currently reading her way through the Great American Reads list.

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