Archive for Sunday, August 15, 1999


August 15, 1999


KU Info provides answers to almost any question.

The phones ring almost constantly, and the questions range from the mundane to the complex.

The "brain" of Kansas University is almost always on in the form of KU Info. The information center has been answering questions for university students and anyone else who calls in since 1970.

On a recent day director Susan Elkins was on one phone line, helping a student figure out the proper way to punctuate author and title footnotes for a paper, while student employee Sheri Martin was looking up all the lost and found venues on campus.

"We're here to help people out in a crunch, not to do their homework," Elkins said.

Rumor control

KU Info started as rumor control during college unrest in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Elkins said.

"It was a place to call to see if someone was hurt, and we would tell them the truth as far as we knew," she said.

The questions turned into things ranging from bus schedules to art to pop culture, and the center endured.

Today, not only do people call KU Info looking for information, some want to share.

"Most of the calls we get that are bizarre are true," Elkins said. "Most of them deal with pop culture, like someone has died or had breast implants or recent crimes on campus."

KU Info employees do their best to keep up on current events and calendars. When they don't know an answer they look it up either on a computer, in one of myriad of references books the center owns or check with other offices on campus.

The center has two phone lines open from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m. during the academic year and summer school. A recording listing various campus events and important telephone numbers for callers who dial during the five hours the office is closed each night.

The one area KU Info employees do not specialize in is telephone numbers.

"We don't like to do telephone numbers," Elkins said. "However, we do department numbers and the numbers for the dorm front desks. Even people in the dorm often don't know the front desk number. That's always surprised us."

Lending a helping hand

Staff members keep track of the incoming calls by writing down what kind of question the caller asked, from general information to sports trivia.

It's important for employees to tune into callers' questions, Elkins said.

"Sometimes you'll get a nutty question and you have to be careful," she said. "One time one of the employees had a caller who asked, 'How many calories are there in a grape?'"

Before he told her that the answer is 7 calories per grape, the KU Info employee asked why she wanted to know. It turned out that the caller was trying to diet and had only eaten grapes for the previous two weeks.

"It turned into a personal assistance call," Elkins said.

The employee talked to the caller at length and convinced her to see a dietitian at Watkins Health Center instead of continuing her eating habits.

"In that way, we sometimes say, 'I made a difference in someone's life,'" Elkins said.

When KU employees don't know or can't locate an answer they try to direct callers to the appropriate resource, Elkins said.

"We send them to the library or music stores or other places if we don't have the answer, she said.

Martin, who started working at KU Info this year, said she often gets calls she can't immediately answer.

"I always get questions I'm not prepared for," she said. "Generally people are really nice because they want the information."

Martin said she derives a great deal of satisfaction from helping people.

"I really like being able to look up information," she said. "I have a pool of knowledge I can sift through. That's pretty nice."

-- JL Watson's phone message number is 832-7145. Her e-mail address is

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