How Computers Are Ruining The Reference Librarian
I hesitate to take on this topic given the large number of librarians and librarian fans in my life but, true story, my last several encounters with a reference librarian at a public library have been less than fabulous.
Several years ago I wanted an article from a magazine and went looking for the Readers’ Guide to Periodic Literature, a big green book with gold letters that I’d used often when I did research in middle and high school. I like looking things up in reference books.
I wandered around the reference section and finally asked, “Where is the Readers’ Guide?”
The librarian said, “What are you looking for?”
“The Readers’ Guide.”
She wanted me to look the thing up on the computer. I wanted to look it up in paper. I like browsing. I like flipping pages. I knew what I was doing. I wasn’t going to hurt anyone. Why steer me away from the books? I like possibly discovering something that I’d never heard of and didn’t even know I was looking for.
While I would agree that hyperlinks can take you on the same unexpected journey of discovery, basic database research does not. If you’re thinking about making a paper hat for an elf and your search query uses the words, paper, hat and elf, you’re not going to get anything without those words (and miss out on the felt hat articles) and probably a whole lot of items about a hat store on Elf Street in Paper, Pennsylvania which doesn’t help you with your question.
Yesterday, I had an equally frustrating experience trying to research a federal law thing which so as not to bore you, we’ll say it’s too old to be on the Internet.
I am guessing that a huge majority of the people who walk up to a reference desk at the public library have no idea what they are doing, however, I had barely explained what I was looking for before I was whisked off to a book which told all the basic information which I already had.
Wouldn’t it be worth 30 seconds to take the pulse of the patron? I was holding file folder full of paper covered with notes. I asked a pretty specific question about an 35 year old law so not like it was my first time in the library after my teacher told me to do a report on koala bears.
We went back to the desk and parked at the computer. This story is already getting too long so the readers’ guide version is that after trying really hard to answer my question using the computer (which I had already very thoroughly and completely done, believe me, I didn’t want to go traipse across downtown in the cold and spend the day in the public library with a pocketful of quarters), and finding the same stuff that I already had, they asked me what I wanted and I told them the same thing I told them when we started this whole rolling circus. Eventually there were 4 reference librarians running around and FINALLY dragging out the old books and we figured out what I need and I had to order it from come storage cave in the mines of Moria and I won’t be able to dig into the research until next week.
No one ever tried to explain to me what they were doing, they just let me stand there and assured me they were doing their best.
Come on, show me the reference tools, I could do it myself. Am I mixing up the school librarian with the public librarian? Wouldn’t good research skills benefit everyone? I think I’ve drifted from my original topic sentence and my computer time has expired so I’ll just end abruptly here.