IPL 10th – Ask-A-Question Service

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The Ask-A-Question Service

The Ask-A-Question service is our free, e-mail reference service. From the very beginning, reference has been an important feature of our site, and our service is still going strong. In fact, we’ve now answered more than 50,000 questions from clients around the world. Want to know more? Then read on!

Students and Volunteers

The Ask-A-Question service is, and always has been, a teaching laboratory in which library science and information classes and professional librarian volunteers have the opportunity to practice online reference. Students receive online training from the IPL and then practice their new skills by answering reference questions. Here are some of the enthusiastic schools who’ve partnered with us:

  • Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada)
  • Kent State University (Kent, OH)
  • Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ)
  • St. John’s University (New York City, NY)
  • Stuttgart/Hochschule der Medien (Stuttgart, Germany)
  • University at Buffalo (Buffalo, NY)
  • University of Alberta (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada)
  • University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (Champaign, IL)
  • University of Maryland (College Park, MD)
  • University of Missouri (Columbia, MO)
  • University of South Florida (Tampa, FL)
  • University of Washington (Seattle, WA)
  • University of Western Ontario (London, Ontario, Canada)

Our core group of professional volunteers also answer questions. Without their help, the question service couldn’t keep running in between school terms! Hundreds of volunteers over the years have each helped make our service stronger.


The IPL has developed an extensive training program that familiarizes students and volunteers with the IPL and its policies. Designed to ensure consistent and high-quality reference services, the IPL policies and practices have helped set standards in the field.

At the heart of our reference service are our 6 mandatory elements of all IPL responses.

  1. A friendly and professional greeting
  2. An acknowledgment and summary of the user’s question
  3. A list of sources or summary of facts, satisfying the user’s question
  4. Information about where the facts or sources came from (generally Web addresses)
  5. A description of the search path used to find information
  6. A friendly and professional closing

Our goal is to help every user find needed information as well as learn about effective research techniques they can use themselves. The guidelines also remind our students and volunteers to both do searches and teach others without having the benefit of in-person interaction.

IPL Questions

Users submit questions online using our Adult form (https://www.ipl.org/div/askus/) or our form for kids under 13 (https://www.ipl.org/div/kidspace/ask/refform.html). Our forms are up 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and questions can be submitted at any time.

Here are some examples of what our service can do!

**Please note that these questions are not recent, therefore the links in the responses may no longer work. **


In a typical illustration of an Elizabethan man such as Shakespeare, he is usually wearing short balloon trousers over leggings. What are the trousers called?

location: South Carolina


Greetings from the Internet Public Library! I am writing in response to your question about the name of the short trousers worn by Elizabethan men.

I also had no luck finding the information you wanted through the Web at first, so I went to my public library and looked through costuming books there. It turns out that the short men’s trousers of that time are generally called breeches, although the specific term varies depending on the particular style.

In "Costume: An Illustrated Survey from Ancient Times to the Twentieth Century" by Margot Lister (1st American edition published by Plays, Inc. 1968, Boston), I found the following information: " ‘Venetians,’ worn from 1570 onwards, were pear-shaped breeches swelling out over the hips and decreasing to the point just below the knees where they ended…" (p.179)

With this in mind, I went back to a search engine, Google, http://www.google.com, and searched for "elizabethan men venetians" (without the quotes). This yielded quite a few pictures and descriptions of the trousers, mostly from clothing and pattern vendors.

One of the sites I found from this search (http://alpha.furman.edu/~kgossman/history/elizab/terms.htm) is a glossary of Elizabethan fashion terms. This definition for "hose" on this site says that "men [wore] hose in two parts…The upper hose have a number of fashionable variations including French ’round’ hose, trunk hose, slops, venetians, canions, and galligaskins. " The site includes descriptions of those hose. Apparently the major differences between the types are in the fullness and amount of padding. The site also links to pictures for each variation (except the French "round" hose), but I wouldn’t suggest looking unless you have either a very fast Internet connection or are prepared to wait a while; all the pictures appear to be on one page, so it takes quite a while to load!

Based on the information available, the short answer to your question is "breeches," but the longer, more complete one is "it depends on the cut and padding. "

Let me know if I can be of further assistance, and thanks for the opportunity to research such a fascinating topic!


Hi. This is for a sixth grade science project on energy….I have chosen Wind Energy and to have a working model for the project. I am trying to find information on building a "windmill" that I can use with a fan to activate the windmill and have it connected to a battery to light up a small light bulb….Could you please help me. Thank you very much.

location: Sonoma, CA


Greetings from the IPL, I’m writing to you to answer your request for sources of information about building windmills. I found two websites that provide instructions for building windmills that generate electricity (also called wind turbines, according to the sites I looked at). They are:



Both sites allow you to download a copy of the instructions for free. I found these sites by searching the search engine Google at:


I searched for the terms "wind turbine" and "plans" . A lot of the sites I found were about building large working wind turbines, ones to actually generate electricity for homes.

I found that making a wind turbine that actually generates electricity is a complicated process. Of course, anything dealing with electricity has the potential to be dangerous, so you want to make sure you take all safety precautions and have an adult around to help you at all times. You should also talk to your teacher to see if he or she can provide any suggestions.

Here are links to two organizations that try to promote the use of wind energy. They have lots of information about the subject on their sites. They also have a lot of good links to other Internet sites about wind power you might want to use in your project.



These next links are just sites that have general information about wind turbines and wind energy, including information about how they work.



If you want more information, you might want to try your own Internet search on any search engine using terms such as "wind turbine" , "windmill" , "wind energy" , "or alternative energy" . This is how I found the general sites on wind power and turbines. In addition, you might want to visit your local library to get books on the subject. Try searching the catalog for terms such as "wind power" , "windmills" , or "renewable energy sources" . Make sure you ask a librarian if you are having trouble finding anything.

I hope these ideas help get you started. If you need some more help, please feel free to write us back. Good luck with your project, and thanks for writing the IPL!


What does a bookkeeper do? When asked by a client to balance their books, what does this mean? …thinking of becoming a self employed bookkeeper after my college years.

location: Bristol, U.K.


Greeting from the IPL! I am writing to you to answer your question about bookkeepers and balancing the books.

I found a lot of information to help get you started. First, here are basic definitions of "bookkeeping" and "balance the books" . I found these definitions by entering the terms, exactly as you see them between the quotes, into Xrefer, an online reference site that lets you access many reference resources such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, etc. You can repeat the search by going to the site at:


Just enter the terms into the search box at this site to see the definitions.

I also found many Internet sites that have information about bookkeepers, bookkeeping, and what they do. Initially, I did a search on Google, an Internet search engine that indexes million of web pages. It is located at:


I entered the words "what is a bookkeeper" . You could repeat my search by using these words to see even more of the online sites related to bookkeeping. Here are some of the sites I found when I did the search.


This is a site called BookkeeperList.com. It contains an incredible amount of information about many subjects: the differences between bookkeepers, tax preparers, and accountants, information about wages and certifications, articles on industry issues, information about starting a bookkeeping business, and job listings among other things. It also has a very extensive list of links to sites related to bookkeeping, many from international organizations.


This is from the Occupational Outlook Handbook, a publication of the United States Government that provides data on many types of jobs (including expected salary) and predicts the future outlook for the jobs. It covers US data only, but it might give you some idea of general trends in the industry.


This site is from WorkTrain, the UK’s national jobs and learning site. It gives information about bookkeepers, their training, and other sources of information in the UK. The Work Train site also has similar information about other professions.


This is the site of the International Association of Book-keepers. It has information about the Association, its certification programs, industry issues, job search help, and other resources.

If you want more information about salaries, how to find a job, or job trends don’t forget to check the IPL’s Business and Economics subject collection, which has links to sites that deal with different business and economics issues. The Business and Economics collection is accessible from the IPL’s main page or directly at:


Notice in particular the "Employment" and "Business Administration and Management" headings, which give information on things like getting jobs, what salaries to expect, and managing your own business.

Finally, if you want more specific information about bookkeeping or any aspect of the industry, you could do another Internet search, using a search engine such as Google, entering words that would target your interests such as "bookkeeper salaries" or "bookkeeper certification" , etc. Your local library might also have books on bookkeeping and/or accountancy that could provide more specialized information if you decide to explore the subject further. Ask a librarian there for help.

I hope this information helps to get you started in your exploration. If you would like more assistance in this or any other matter, please feel free to write us back. Good luck, and thanks for writing the IPL!


What is the name of the stick that is used to separate between peoples’ grocery orders?

location: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada


Greetings from the Internet Public Library! Thank you for your question about the official name of the stick used to separate people’s grocery purchases on the conveyor.

This is a challenging and intriguing question. To find an answer, I first did a search using Google (http://www.google.com). I used the search terms "plastic bar" and "grocery" , "plastic bar" and "supermarket" , and "plastic divider" . I also searched using "supermarket equipment supply" to see if I could find a distributor or manufacturer of the dividers. These searches did not help me locate an official term from someone in the supermarket or retail industry, but I did find ordinary people tend to use the terms "plastic bar" and "plastic divider" .

Because I was unsuccessful finding an official term using Google, I made a phone call to a local grocery store in my area (New Seasons Market, http://www.newseasonsmarket.com/). Various store employees I talked to called the divider an "order divider" , "plastic bar" or "plastic divider" . This market’s divider supplier is a company called Killion Industries in Vista, California. Killion distributes retail checkout equipment and if you go to their web site at http://www.killionindustries.com you will find a link to Checkout and then a PDF document of their Checkout brochure at the bottom of the page. (Or just click the link below). You will need Adobe Reader to open the document.


On page three of the document, to the right of the KCu-5000 Mobile Checkout photo, you will find under standard features, "order divider bars" are included!

Using Google I also found a site that sells the bars, Hot Off the Press Promotions, at


This company calls the bars "grocery divider bars" .

Using "plastic bar" and "grocery" in a Google search, I found a link to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio program "This Morning" . Click the link below to find information on a program that aired in February 2001 about "Wanted Words: From Armajello to Yawncore – More Language Gaps Found and Fixed" . This is a humorous book that provides ideas for new words. If you scroll down to "Challenge #56" you will see listener suggestions for a new term for the plastic bar. I thought you might appreciate the ideas!


Also during my searching I found the "Glossary of Supermarket Terms" at the following site: http://www.fmi.org/facts_figs/glossary_search.cfm.

While I could not locate the term in the glossary, you can find all sorts of other definitions for terms used in the supermarket industry.

I hope this information is useful to you! As you can see, we were not able to find one standard term. Thanks for using the Internet Public Library and come visit us again.

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