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November 30, 2023

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Fact Line answers questions

When pondering dire questions like: How many Oreos does it take to get to the moon? What does the volcano at the Mirage casino in Las Vegas smell like? or How tall is a smurf? The answers may seem unattainable to some, but for over 30 years there has been one place to turn to for answers to these bizarre questions and more; the campus Fact Line.

What began the spring of 1971 in lieu of campus protests nationwide has since become a BGSU tradition. The Fact Line was originally intended to control and clarify rumors on campus regarding demonstrations, but as students began to call it for general information, its purpose transformed.

The first day of operation the line received 28 calls, which soon mounted to the thousands of calls it now receives each year.

Throughout the years Fact Line has seen many changes, among them the employees who work there, the references used to answer questions and the number of calls received each year.

But one part of Fact Line has remained the same, the number; 372-2445.

Many alumni still call the number, said Steve Domachowski, assistant director for information services. Often times it’s the only phone number they remember from their time spent at BGSU, he said.

Alumni lend operators some of the most interesting calls, said Chad Nichols, a Fact Line operator for three years and coordinator for Information Services.

“The neatest moment for me is when you get some older people who are alumni and they call and you answer and they’re like ‘Holy cow! This thing’s still running?’,” he said.

Workers at the Fact Line have utilized electronic resources extensively in the past few years, Domachowski said. With the Internet movement, workers are trained to obtain much of their information from the World Wide Web, he said.

The Information Center eliminated a lot of unused print materials this year, moving in stride with the transition towards electronic resources, Nichols said.

“The first thing about Fact Line is really learning about all that is available in the info center,” Domachowksi said.

The student employees for the service all have one thing in common, Nichols said.

“The biggest thing with Fact Line is you have to be pretty computer and Internet savvy,” he said. “We’ve gone from books and a lot of binders to computers and the Web. The people who are really good with Fact Line are good with a computer and understand search engines.”

In addition to the Web, workers utilize EMS (Event Management System), which lists all events going on at the University, and Resource 25, which catalogs classes and their locations across campus, Domachowski said.

These programs have made working at Fact Line much easier with faster service to callers, Nichols said.

“It used to be cat and mouse calling departments trying to find out what was going on,” he said. “But now that we have those two programs it’s very easy for us to pull it up and see what’s going on.”

All calls are logged in a computer system too, Domachowski said. The staff keeps records on how many calls are taken and how long each call lasts, among others.

Eighty percent of the calls workers receive are regarding phone numbers and events, Nichols said.

“Then you get your five to ten percent belligerent, totally out of control, totally random questions,” he said. “And those are the fun ones that fill up the rest of the time.”

The remaining calls depend on the season, but other common questions are for area movie times, sports scores and concert times and from people driving needing directions, Nichols said.

Employees have a list of bookmarked Web sites they commonly refer to and sometimes they bookmark oddball sites in hopes they will reference them again, Nichols said.

During the end of the semester and scheduling times the line is quite busy, Domachowski said. And during graduation season the Fact Line staff will answer countless calls for last minute graduation tickets, where to get a cap and gown and where a good restaurant is for them to take their parents to, he said.

There will also be a fair share of students calling up to find out when their finals are, some of which miss them, Nichols added.

Two of the most common and humorous phone number questions are for 2-RIDE and the Fact Line itself, Domachowski said.

Some callers are regulars, Domachowski said. Such as a lady who calls about once a week for the answers to crossword puzzles.

Some people have even called more than once a day, said Lisa Milano, operator for two and a half years. She answered the same question for the same caller twice in one day.

“It boggles my mind, the questions people come up with,” she said.

In a reversed scenario one regular caller gives the workers random facts in hopes that they will use them to answer other calls in the future, Milano said.

“Not only are we giving facts, but we receive them,” she said.

A memorable call for Milano came when someone called from a grocery store and asked where the sauerkraut was. She quickly referred them to ask an employee at the store.

There are a lot of questions received about celebrities, such as their height or how many movies they have been in, said Rochelle Perez, operator of three years.

It’s not only adults who call either, Milano said. She has received calls from children needing help on their homework.

Operators are trained to follow specific guidelines for answering calls, Domachowski said. They cannot answer any legal, medical or opinion based questions. Operators can also refuse to answer any uncomfortable questions. They cannot endorse any services or businesses.

While they are trained to do their best to answer all calls, there are some that are not possible to answer, Nichols said.

“It’s very rare when we have no ideas. We almost always give some sort of info though,” he said.

Operators usually check a few different Web sites to verify a fact before telling the caller, Perez said.

In conjunction with the trend towards electronic resources, Fact Line will be starting a Web site, Domachowski said.

To be up in a few weeks, the site would include frequently asked questions, bookmarked Web sites operators frequently reference and possibly a way to submit questions to operators online, he said.

“It has a lot of potential and it will be a nice resource for us and also for the people calling to see what we do,” he said.

Prior to mainstream use of the Internet the Fact Line was averaging 50,000 to 60,000 calls a year, but now they average around 20,000 to 30,000 per year, Domachowksi said.

“The arrival of the Internet has taken the top off of some of our calls,” he said.

The record number of calls received to date is 10,500 during three days of the infamous Blizzard of ’78, with the one millionth call reached that year also.

Regardless of technology, callers shouldn’t worry about hearing a dial tone from the Fact Line, Nichols said.

“There’s always going to be the people who are sitting next to the directory and will just pick up the phone and ask for the number,” he said. “It’s definitely staying and it’s something that’s really used.”

Preceding to its location in the new student union, as of 2002, the Fact Line office was housed in a somewhat hidden location in the Administration building, Domachowski said.

Students who work for the Fact Line are those employed at the front desk in the Union. The staff consists of 18 students working four hour shifts.

The Fact Line operates from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., a far cry from the original hours of operation that kept students working until midnight or 2 a.m. on some nights.

“A lot of people call for jokes later in the evening,” Milano said. “That’s why we turn it off.”

Many schools have information or help lines but few have a number with the history of Fact Line, Domachowski said.

“It’s definitely one of the highlights,” he said. “You never know what you’re going to get. It’s definitely cool to work here and you learn a lot.”

Being of service to the campus and community is encouraging, Nichols said.

“You do help a lot of people,” he said. “There are those who are in a hurry and don’t want to go through 14 voice prompts and three academic advisors. It’s nice to have one number and an answer.”

Working at Fact Line has been a rewarding experience, Perez said.

“I like the people I work with and it’s fun and flexible,” she said. “You learn a lot about the University and the city as well as random facts. It helps to keep you up to date on current events.”

The staff encourages everyone and anyone to call Fact Line.

“Call it. It’s what we’re here for. We have fun with it,” Domachowski said. “And be nice to us.”

Editor’s Note: records kept by the Office of Marketing and Communications were used in research for this article.

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