Ask Me Anything, I Dare You…

I had a chat this morning with Brenda Brady and Don Moses, the midwives of, and was reminded of the hidden gem of the service: the online reference service for Islanders called isle@sk.

Anyone — or at least any Islander — can go to the isle@sk page and submit a reference question. Questions get automagically doled out to the most appropriate librarian at Holland College, UPEI or the Provincial Library Service, and answers come back to you by email.

I’ve used the service several times, and have always been overwhelmed with the quality of the replies I’ve received — I ask a simple question, and receive back several pages of pointers and references and suggestions for further research.

I told Brenda and Don that, from my perspective, the biggest hurdle to wide adoption of the service by Islanders is the notion that using it would be “cheating.” Why should I tie up the time of professional librarians to answer questions that I could get the answer to with a little research of my own, in other words.

The thing is — they reminded me — librarians are actually trained answer finders. That’s what they do. And so they know not only where to look, but how to look. And so the results of their searching are, at least in theory, broader and deeper than a simple “type keywords into Google” would come up with.

Given that most of my friends and family are or have at one time been reference librarians, I can say with some authority that having a meaty reference question to dig their teeth into is a great gift, and not at all an imposition.

So, what are you waiting for… @sk.


Shawn's picture
Shawn on September 8, 2006 - 00:38 Permalink

Peter, last fall my co-workers and I were commenting on all the leaves from the poplar tree outside our window, and speculating on how many there could be. So I tried ISLE@SK. Here is part of the reply (edited for length):

Well, your question, “how many leaves does a mature poplar have?”, has been driving the librarians of all three institutions (Holland College, UPEI, and the public library system) crazy for the better part of a day! We do like a challenge, but this one has turned out to be a real “stumper”!

We have not been able to find an exact or reliable estimate of the number of leaves on ANY kind of tree, and obviously there is a wide range, even of poplars (Lombardy, aspen, etc.). My colleague, Nichola Cleaveland, of the PEI Provincial Library Service, located the following website, which estimates the number of leaves on oak, elm, and apple trees:…

Unfortunately the authors do not say how they arrived at this estimate, or quote any other source, and as this is a neighbourhood web site for a small town in Ohio, I am not sure how much we can trust their math! Still, if you reckon that the average PEI poplar is somewhat bigger than an apple tree but smaller than an oak …. maybe 300,000 leaves?

Other methods of estimating the number of leaves an a tree can be found on several K-12 school science sites, and are roughly as follows: count the number of leaves on a branchlet, and multiply by the number of branchlets on a branch. Multiply this by the number branches on the tree, and voila, you have a (large and imperfect) number! Your guess is as good as mine!


You can, however, observe the efforts of some Italian and Belgian scientists to model poplar leaf area in an article from the journal Tree Physiology, published at:…

All of which goes to show that what, at first glance, appears to be a simple question, is anything but!

We thank you for your question, and I hope we have at least provided you with a partial answer.


Brenda Brady
College Librarian
Holland College”

oliver's picture
oliver on September 8, 2006 - 06:37 Permalink

Trees don’t have a genetically determined body plan like us beasts, more like a body pattern. According to temperature and sunlight and rain fall and pestilence and competition from other trees, a tree is going to grow as many leaves as it can, I imagine. So southern poplars are bound to have more leaves on average than more northern poplars in this hemisphere at any given altitude. But I imagine the number of leaves on any poplar you choose is exactly zero in the winter.