Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What does a librarian do?

Tonight, a teen came in and went to the catalog, looked around for a bit, and then went up to the circ desk. As I was on my way by, one of the circ people said, "Well, ask her - she's the reference librarian, and if we have something, she'll be able to help you." The boy immediately balked and said, "I already looked in the catalog - I couldn't find anything." (I'm not clear on why, then, he was asking anyone for help since he seemed convinced that we didn't have what he needed, and he really didn't seem to want MY help (?), but whatever.) I asked what he was looking for, and he told me he needed info on Zapata for a five page paper. I told him to come to my desk, and I would take a look.

I tried the obvious searches first, while he stood there and hemmed and hawed about how he had already done that. He didn't have time to get anything sent over from another library (naturally), and, *sigh* we didn't have anything - he was sure of it. I asked if he could use internet/online sources, and he said, "Yeah, but not Wikipedia because that's not a real source." Then he said he'd rather have books, to be on the safe side. I broke out my mad catalog skillz (HA!), wrote down some numbers, and he reluctantly followed me to the stacks. Sure enough, I found four books with pertinent info for him (in a couple different places). This surprised him, but made him happy nonetheless.

Yesterday, a favorite patron of mine came in to see if we had the latest Hoover's - we no longer have it in print. He then told me that what he was really looking for was a used set no older than 2003 that he could purchase, and that he was having trouble finding it on ABE. He said there were too many kinds, and that he couldn't find anything as current as he would like. After asking him some questions (ah, the reference interview), I determined what, exactly, he was looking for, and suggested that we use Amazon and look at the used book sellers on there (because I knew from experience that that would likely yield more than ABE for that title) and, yay, we found several 2006 copies at very reasonable prices (and I should him exactly how do it so that he could order from home). He was thrilled, and said that I am his favorite librarian and that he'll be sad to see me go.

Another patron asked me to help her with some code so that she could fix her (old style) Blogger blog sidebar, and she asked me about free photo hosting - done and done. And an adult college student in education asked me to help her find sources for a paper. I asked her if she knew about ERIC (she didn't), so I told her what it was (she had never heard the term "database" before - what on Earth are the teachers doing?), and showed her how to access it and use it. She left with 4 journal articles, and said, "I've been looking for info like this for days."

Tonight I also found critical analysis books for someone on King Lear, directed a kid to the MAD magazines, and showed a patron the free YA Book Box because he wanted Stephen King books in paperback (and I knew I had just weeded some old ones).

So, what's my point?

Well, my point is that I would guess many reference people do the exact same thing day after day. Which is why it drives me crazy when I hear stories about some librarians wanting to decide what is best for their patrons, and other stories about librarians who are downright hostile about us "hipster" librarians and our damn library 2.0 nonsense.

In two days, I've used what I have learned over the past three years about reference print sources, our somewhat crappy OPAC, the internet, online databases, silly magazines, HTML, blogging, email, USB drives, literary fiction, and genre fiction. My patrons ranged in age from 11 (MAD magazine) to 70s (email help). And everyone left happy.

This is what it takes to be a good, general reference librarian TODAY. And the sooner we all get on board with the "old" AND the "new," (and that goes for MLS programs as well), the better.


Paul Capewell said...

Sorry to spam your comments pages but this is the most accurate post I've ever seen that reflects exactly how I feel about my work.

I LOVE having loads of different utilities at my disposal, and being able to help using books, the internet and more.

Great post.

Jennifer said...

I was just doing some research on what it takes to be a librarian and I came accross your post. I really enjoyed reading it and it gave me a clear view into one of the angles of being a librarian. So, thank you!