For Reference Librarians...No Two Days the Same

OXFORD, Ohio — “Do you have the latest Danielle Steel book?”

“Who is the district manager at Kroger?”

“What is the weather like in New York?”

No two questions are alike for a reference librarian, meaning each day on the job is a drastically different affair.

Rebecca Smith, branch manager at the Oxford Lane Library, said in her 10 years of working she has heard just about every question under the sun.

“There is no typical day for me,” Smith said. “People will come in and ask their question and it’s not always clear what their information needs are. Sometimes knowing the question is just as difficult as finding the answer.”

In the age of Google and Wikipedia, is there as much demand for a reference librarian? That is one of the few questions Smith can’t answer.

“We’re still used, just in a different way,” Smith said. “The amount of homework questions for kids has decreased and we’re not sure if it’s because teachers are focused on a more specific curriculum or if students are just using Google for everything.”

Middletown (OH) Journal.


If you think the world doesn't need librarians because it now has Google, consider this reference question: A college student asked me for a biography of Timothy Leary. I found it for him, but half an hour later he came back to me and said he couldn't find the information he needed. Only after talking to the student for a good 5 minutes was I able to ascertain that what he really needed was a diagram showing the chemical composition of LSD. This kind of difficulty in expressing one's information need is surprisingly typical, and getting people to tell you what they want is like pulling teeth sometimes. Search engines will undoubtedly get better at performing an automated version of what librarians call the "reference interview," but will never take the place of a trained librarian. --Jenny, Miami, FL

I've had people ask me for phone numbers for people in Puerto Rico, companies in France that deal with glassware, places in the local area that offer free tutoring for SAT classes, nursing home ratings for the state of Florida, and books on "the guy who did all those 1970s concert documentaries." I can go on and on but no two reference questions are the same and this is only a small sampling of the reference questions I've had in the past two weeks.

Sure this is stuff people can find out on the computer, but just because Google and Bing and other search engines are out there doesn't mean people know how to search them properly. We've had college students come in and take some of our Advanced Internet searching classes. College students who have spent their entire life in the computer age.

Subscribe to Comments for "For Reference Librarians...No Two Days the Same"