A library is an organism. Technical Services is the digestive system (They supply the materials and discard the ones that are no longer needed.) Access Services is the cardio-vascular system. The circulation desk is the heart of the library—shoot, it is even in the name. Administration is the brain. Reference is the nervous system that is ready to jump as soon as it gets poked by a sharp object, like a question. All of them are needed, all of them are important. They all need to work together.
The vast majority of the public think the kid behind the circulation desk who checks out their books is a librarian.
Many reference librarians believe that students should consult them more often. Most librarians whose primary duties are to other parts of the organism, but put in time at the reference desk, would prefer that the students were 100% self-sufficient.
Most of the one-on-one help a librarian gives is to non-traditional (older) students and community users.
There is a time to teach patrons skills so they don’t need you, and a time to just get them what they want or think they want. Wisdom knows when to do what.
I crunched five years of reference desk data, making generous estimations regarding how long it takes to answer most questions. I can say fairly accurately that a four hour shift at the reference desk will, on average, yield about 16 minutes of work answering questions.
Average is purely a statistical phenomenon. I will have one shift before finals, when I actually have people waiting for my help and have almost 3 hours of work to do at the desk. Then there will be several weeks, or in the summer, months where the only reference desk tasks I have are making an ID card because the administrative assistant is out of her office, or telling someone where the bathroom is.
“Is there a bathroom around here?” is the most frequently asked reference desk question of all time. “Where is the copy machine?” used to hold that place before everyone got a computer and most of the journals went online.
Signs are not put up to inform people. Signs are put up so workers can feel superior when patrons ask questions and you point at the sign that answers the question which is usually less than a foot away from where the patron asked it.
Every database vendor will use “global warming” as their test search. No student will come to the reference desk asking for help finding information on “global warming.” Students will ask for scholarly based research articles written in the last five years on how the rise in temperature of Lake Michigan has hurt the trout fishing and what impact that has had on local economic development. Oh, and the paper is due tomorrow and all they have found so far is a 1973 book on fishing in Wisconsin.
College students don’t want to talk to grownups. They are more likely to consult their friends then a librarian when they need help. If they have to talk to a librarian, more than likely it is going to be one of those frustratingly difficult trout fishing topics.
Despite a reputation for being broadly curious, after helping a patron find resources for a paper my thought is rarely “What a fascinating topic.” More often it is “Glad I don’t have to do that assignment.”
lhg edited and approved
lhg edited and approved