After an absence of 16 weeks from work, my first shift at the reference desk went well. Carried along my new attitude. It differs greatly from my burned-out approach to reference work of the previous year.
Service. I was all about service this afternoon. And the truth of the matter was that the students I helped posed great questions. Receiving rote questions like “How do I print?” “Where’s the bathroom?” “Do you got any White Out?” drives a librarian insane. It may be anecdotal, but librarians here feel as though the quality of our reference questions improved once our OPACs evolved into computer lab pcs last year.
Reference work is the heart of what I love about being a librarian. Answering patron questions fulfills a basic need and connects them with the information they desire, whether it be for personal or professional reasons.
I started out my hour by introducing myself to M., one of our grad assistants. He’s in the history program and we talked about his coursework and thesis for 10-20 minutes until a student needed help.
Questions asked during the hour concerned: The Middle English Dictionary, whether we owned books on mountain biking, a follow up on an ILL request, popular culture at the time of Herodotus, Standard & Poor’s Industry Survey for Airlines (11.2007), Wii and physical education, one I forgot (bad, librarian, there are no stupid questions!), and Roger Williams.
Here’s the curious thing: We have the MED in print and I walked her to the shelves holding the set. She told me that she tried using the online edition to no avail. Normally at that point, after directing her to the print edition, I’d consider that the end of the reference transaction, but I persevered. I asked which words she needed to look up for her assignment and she gave me two of several: diuers and abouseyed. I went online, found MED, tried to use it, and had no luck. I returned and told her that. She was relieved. She thought it was just her. That maybe, she was stupid, or just didn’t get it. But since it didn’t work for me, a trained professional. That was another story. We agreed that one would have to already be a subject specialist in order to find MED useful.
The student looking for information on Wii and physical fitness had no luck finding sources for his research paper. He did everything correctly. He had searched databases I would have suggested. He needed 10 sources, peer-reviewed journals, for his annotated bibliography. I said, “You’re on the cutting edge, the vanguard. Nobody’s published in this area. Yet.” I found one or two articles he had not seen and gave him names of other databases to mine.
And then the Roger Williams case was a weird one. The student admitted this was her second time in the library. She needed a biographical source on Roger Williams. He founded Rhode Island. You see, I love biography. It’s my pet area. I took her to American National Biography, just to learn more about him show off the biography reference collection.
But I probably should have just searched the OPAC instead of wasting her time. ANB was useful for at the end of each entry a discussion of the subject’s papers and biographies are listed. The author of the ANB entry mentioned a bio published in 1991 that was the best and I told her we could search the catalog for that. All of this to say: She thought that going to the ANB or any reference book was a bad idea because she wasn’t supposed to use reference books in writing her term paper.