I have left and returned to this post so many times, but now finally I’m getting it out. I have been thinking quite a bit about reference services lately. In the days of the Internet, libraries are frequently weeding out their gigantic reference tomes and putting more computers in their place. People are more likely to Google something than come into the library. There is nothing wrong with Google: I Google a ton myself, but its existence puts into question libraries’ roles. That being said, I think libraries are still an integral part of the community and can still be a valuable information source. I can talk a fair bit about information sources, but that’s not the point of this post.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Massachusetts Library Conference. It was a fantastic experience, and I heard a lot of interesting things that I’m still mulling over. One particularly interesting thing was a presentation on reference in public libraries; technology workshops and related programs are the norm. Reference questions are also being redefined. It is no longer exclusively about answers; the definition of reference should expand to include both technology questions and questions that fit into that traditional definition. If the conference was any indication, we’re already moving in that direction. I like to think of reference today as providing individuals with what they need to create something awesome.
In terms of academic libraries, I think we’re also finding people do not come exclusively for answers or our help in finding them. However, when people do come to us, it can be for any range of help. In many cases, I get basic institutional questions, technology questions, or I can get serious reference questions. I won’t lie that serious reference questions are among my favorites, but I also am happy to respond to technology questions. Mark Stover wrote an article called “The Reference Librarian as Non-Expert”. If you have not read this article and are in the profession (or simply curious), I seriously recommend doing so. What I liked best was this concept of meeting of the minds in order to achieve a plan or direction for the individual with an information need; I’m with Stover in that librarians can no longer assume “the sage” appearance (although I will freely admit to being pretty awesome at searching databases). I’m okay with not being the sage of the library. At work, I’m dealing with subject areas that I do not know much about or possess a degree. I’d rather my customers tell me what they’re looking for, rather than having to rely on my personal comprehension of terms that I’ve looked up on Wikipedia. I’d rather like to see reference interviews come to be viewed as a collaboration between two expert mad scientists in order to create a brilliant final product.
I’m eager to see libraries continue to continue to develop their new role, and I think this combination of basic and advanced questions both fit into the definition of this new reference. One of my goals as I enter the professional workforce is to figure out effective channels of communication between myself and the community. To wrap this all up, I would like to know what would make patrons feel more comfortable approaching librarians. Everyone should feel like competent awesome mad scientists (or whatever icon you prefer) in the library.