I am wanting to build a world with a strong retail presence, and became interested in the Information Desk at Selfridge's.
This was not the simple standard store information desk, where you ask directions or make enquiries regarding the store itself. Nope, apparently, this information desk, was an information desk for all information, like the old-timey equivalent of Google, but not where you'd expect it.
Selfridge's is a famous department store in London. Anyway, on the TV show Mr. Selfridge, set in the 1910s, based on the founder of the store, the store's Information Bureau allowed one to "discreetly enquire" regarding a person's debt, where they'd been across Europe, as well as more mundane requests such as a translation for French phrase. (The desk ran much longer than the 1910s, at least through the 1930s).
According this article, their "information bureau" answered questions on everything "from the age of the King to tricky Times crossword puzzle clues." If they didn't have the answer, they could tell you where to get it. And in this one: "For years the store ran its own private Information Bureau, equipped with more books than the average local library and a trained staff dedicated to finding answers to literally any question a customer might put to them." The idea was, no matter what the question, this desk would find you an answer.
I am totally fascinated by this, and want to build something similar in my world (it seems akin to low-level detective work, in some cases), but I need to know more about how out-of-place "information desks" may have worked this way in our world in order to sync it with reality. I am looking for ANY "all information" research desk (not just the one at Selfridge's) that was in an unexpected place. Selfridge's was the one that came to mind, but I am sure that there are others out there. I was hoping that there might be other examples of "out-of-place" or unexpected research desks. Although, will say, want to make it in a retail setting. Does anyone know how they might have worked and could point me in the right direction?
Just for reference, I am building this in a time period not unlike the Renaissance, but with better access to books and printing (more akin to WWI era in that respect) but without radio. So I want to build an "all information" desk, using real-life analogues to start with.