QUESTION: What's the one organization Washingtonians can call to learn which agencies offer help for alcoholics or where they can go to pick their own fruit and vegetables or how they can get a list of physicians? Answer: the D.C. Public Library. Library officials recently inaugurated their community information service, a catalogue of a wide range of services available in Washington. The information is indexed at the library's main branch, the Martin Luther King library in downtown Washington. Copies of the file also have been placed in every branch library and in the libraries of all public junior and senior high schools and the University of the District of Columbia, a total of 103 locations.
This use of librarians as gatherers and conveyers of "live" information is not so unusual as it might seem. Librarians, individually, come naturally to be repositories of information about the communities they serve. Several years ago, for instance, the library's Washington Highlands branch in Southwest drew up a comprehensive community-services list for its own neighborhood. What is unusual is the organized extension of such activity to the entire system.
The librarians, of course, just provide information about services; they don't counsel callers. D.C. library officials believe that the potential for such a system in Washington - both to provide needed information and to draw people's attention to the varied uses of the library - is vast. The point out that the Detroit public library system, which pioneered the idea three years ago, now lists over 1,200 services and answer over 6,500 calls a month. Baltimore County's libraries have a similar information system. Incidentally, the D.C. library's information service isn't just for those seeking a social-service agency. It's for anyone who has a question about practically anything to do, as a library official puts it, with "daily living."