For 3 years, it ran in the Greeley Tribune. Since then, it has run in various subsidiaries of the Douglas County News Press. I still have most of my columns in digital format.
For many years, I only gave myself one rule: try to work the word "library" into every piece. My intent was to think in public about just what librarianship means at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st.
There have been many advantages for me. I found that putting library plans out in front of the public, and getting feedback about them, helped me make better decisions. Sometimes, I found that it was very difficult for me to describe those plans or policies -- the kind of thing that makes me realize that they might not be good ideas after all. The weekly discipline of explaining my profession to the public keeps me more mindful, more honest. It also has provided steady visibility for the library and its issues.
September 12, 2001 - Reference Help? Just Ask...
This week's column is courtesy of Naioma Walberg, a reference librarian at our Parker Library. It captures wonderfully well just what happens at this vital service desk.
Librarian. . . Reference. . . Desk. . . nouns that bring up shuddering images of long forgotten term papers, dusty boring books and trying to find magazine articles in the endless shelves of the fungi green volumes of Readers Guide to Periodicals.
We hear many of the same reasons over and over on why people do not want to stop at a reference desk or ask a librarian. I am here today to address those reasons and tell you something about our work, place and responsibilities within your library system.
"I don't need to stop at the Reference Desk ? I'm not doing research." Our job is to get the right information to the right person at the right time. If the information you need is what is the next book in the Hornblower series, that is just fine with us! We can find out what it is, if it is on our shelves or where to get it ? be it another branch or the Maryland State Library.
But if you are doing research that is where we shine, show off and gurgle happily. We have a world of information at our fingertips and our job is to research, locate and retrieve the information that you need. I think that people doing family history research were one of the first groups to realize the extent of the information available to them from their local library. We can provide you information from a copy of the May 23, 1841 Altoona Penn. Daily News, a copy of a family history in which only 50 copies were published in 1923, magazine and journal articles, internet sights as well as recommend other avenues for their research such as the U.S. Census, marriage records, passenger lists and a wonderful list of web sites.
"I know how to use a library so why stop at the reference desk?"
One of our jobs is to find and accumulate information in a variety of formats. So a stop at the reference desk may help save you time. If you need Title 10-4-11 of the Colorado Revised Statues, I can quickly go into the computer, pull up the proper web site and print the Title for you. However if you need to look at all of the civil penalties in regards to insurance my text version with a user friendly index is the way to go. Through a process called the reference interview librarians seek to find exactly what you are looking for and the best way the information can be presented.
"Anybody can find a book."
Well, especially in a library. But if all you are looking to find out is if the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog is a real dog breed or if someone is pulling your leg you could waste a lot of time in the section about dogs. A quick chat with a librarian will get you "The Complete Dog Book," a publication of the American Kennel Club which provides information on all recognized breeds. A part of our job is reviewing and updating materials. By testing materials when we receive them, with questions from patrons and evaluations from colleagues a reference librarian can create sources that can be tapped into quickly.
"There is nothing here on my subject."
Sometimes a librarian's job is a lot like a detective's. We pry into encyclopedias, snoop through magazine indexes, dig into worldwide databases and case websites. All of our training is geared toward finding the information you want - be it obscure or down right impossible. The universal war cry of librarians is " there is always something on the subject!"
"The librarian looks at me like I'm stupid."
Shame on us! Our job is to assist anyone regardless of race, gender, age, IQ or if you are from Alpha Centauri. Our job is to assist everyone no matter what their question without bias or judgment. We provide you with the basic American right to information and the privacy to pursue that information.
"The librarian looks too busy to help me."
Never, never, never. We are at the reference desk waiting to help you. While we are waiting we may be weeding the collection, researching for new titles, planning a program, doing committee work, processing book request, getting Value Line into its binder or writing this speech ? It all stops when a patron needs help. The Castle Rock reference desk has a sign that says "Please interrupt me" and every librarian means it because the patron really does come first.