May 12-18, 2000
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White House calls on library

It seemed like a routine call to the reference desk at the Science-Technology Library in Clark Hall. Sandra Kerbel fielded a request from the president's office for some technical journals having to do with petroleum refining and processing and the costs involved.

Then Kerbel asked the caller for the fax number. "When she gave me the number and it started with 202 [the Washington, D.C. area code], I said, 'Oh, that president,'" Kerbel said.

The call from the White House last week was not unprecedented, according to library officials.

Deputy University librarian Kendon Stubbs said that in 1970, a White House staffer called seeking a Jefferson quotation for then-President Nixon's State of the Union address. "The quote was identified by Maveret Buenfil, our resident hippie in reference, who was editing the short-lived Sally Hemings Newsletter out of the reference office, and who hated helping Nixon," Stubbs recalled.

A Washington Post sidebar on the Nixon speech made note of the quotation, adding that "it took aides many hours of diligent research to identify the source and the date" -- work that was done by Alderman reference staff. Later, a letter from James Keough, special assistant to Nixon, thanked the library staff "for your cooperation above and beyond the call of your normal duties."

For her more recent efforts, Kerbel received a small box of chocolates wrapped in the presidential seal. It won't go into Special Collections, she said. "We opened it and ate it at a meeting this morning."


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