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Vaun Stevens wore a button that said "Ask Me," and in her 40 years at the Missoula Public Library, people have done just that. Over and over again.

"One of the oddest questions I got is, ‘How thick is a rhinoceros hide?' I couldn't track it down," Stevens said.

At least, she couldn't track it down in the materials at the Missoula library. So Stevens, ever the resourceful reference librarian, picked up the telephone and called the San Diego Zoo.

Answer? Some 2 inches thick on average.

On Wednesday, Stevens and friends celebrated her retirement from the library after four decades of service. She spent one year as a children's librarian and the other 39 at the reference desk.

Her long career full of answers inspired her friends and co-workers at the library to burst into song in the normally quiet building: "For she's a jolly good librarian ... That nobody can deny."

In her research, Stevens has communicated with the national library in Scotland and the country of Denmark. One time, she said, someone wanted to know how much a dollar bill weighed, and she still has the answer.

"Let me get my idiot box," Vaun said.

The idiot box keeps notecards with answers to those odd questions. The card labeled "dollar bill weight" says each bill weighs 0.032 ounces, and 490 notes equals one pound.

Stevens' conclusion?

"If you're going to rob a bank, don't take the dollar bills if you're looking for a million. Take the hundreds."

***

Stevens said she'll miss all the questions, but it's just time for her to retire. Of course, in the future, some questions likely will come from fellow librarians.

"They know my home phone," Stevens said.

"I have it memorized," said Marje Doyle, who sat behind the reference desk.

But Doyle said she promised herself to wait at least one month before calling Stevens with a question.

"That way, she'll be glad to get her calls," Doyle said.

During her tenure, Stevens helped not only customers, but fellow librarians. Karen Gonzales worked with Stevens for 35 years, and she remembers how her colleague showed her the ropes, especially in tricky situations. Sometimes, patrons ask bizarre questions, and Gonzales remembers not knowing early on if some were serious or trying to pull her leg.

"When something like that happens, don't buy into it," Gonzales said Stevens taught her. "Be the consummate professional. Be really librarian-like."

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.

 

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