New Roles for Reference Librarians

Gregory V. McClay Wrote:


Here\'s what we do and what we have always done:
We help people access appropriate information as quickly and effectively as possible.
Here\'s what we used to use.... Books
Here\'s what we use now.... Books and Computers
Information used to come in .... Books and Periodicals
Information now comes in .... Books, Periodicals, Audio, Video, Computers
Nothing has changed but our options. We do the same thing. A patron asks a question. Depending on the type of information and the time available for the patron we access the materials that will best answer the question in the time allowed. Here\'s what the public used to do:
If you were rich you had a personal library or was member of a private one.
If you were poor you went to the public library or if there was none you remained uninformed.
If you were somewhat intelligent you used either the private or public
library effectively on your own (unless the problem was very involved than
you asked for help). If you were not very intelligent, or possibly just
lazy, you asked for help from the private/public librarian.
Here\'s what the public does now.

If you\'re middle class and up you access the internet at home and find a
fair amount of information, or you go to a bookstore and buy the book you
need. If you are poor you go to the public library and use the internet
there and take out whatever book you may need.
If you are somewhat intelligent you get what you can from the internet,
get what books you need from the bookstore, and if its something really
involved, something you can\'t get a handle on you either call or come to
the public library and ask for help. If you are not very intelligent, or
possibly just lazy you fiddle with the internet and either give up or come
to the library to ask for help.
Librarians give poor people access to materials they could never access at
home. They assist rich and successful entrepenaurs in finding information
that the individual simply has no experience in to provide a basis in
searching. We are guides in a maze of information that is becoming more
and more mapped out. But no matter how mapped it is there is a significant
portion of the population that cannot even read that.
We are educated and well trained. We do not need to market ourselves. No
advancement in technology short of artificial intelligence will ever change who we are or what we do. The tools are different but the work is the same. We are the last and best source. There is a percentage of people who will live very happy lives without our help, either through
natural ability or incredible lack of interest. The percentage of people who still need us and will always need us is more than ample. We may give reference service over email, someday we may even do it through videoconferencing, but it will not change what we do or who we are. We are librarians, we haven\'t changed in a thousand years and we won\'t be changing for the next thousand.

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Gregory V. McClay
Reference Librarian
Tewksbury Public Library, MA
mcclay@mvlc.lib.ma.us
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