[Libs-Or] does Oregon need reference librarians?

Emily PAPAGNI emilyp at multco.us
Thu Oct 4 10:18:21 PDT 2012

One of the things that I learned in my reference class is the
complexity of the search process, especially in terms of managing
difficult questions, coping with dead ends, and having the ability to
think 'where else could the answer to this question be found?'.  I
feel so fortunate to have learned this, both in theory and in terms of
search tools, while I was in school.

And even though ready reference may be less common now than it was
years ago when I became a librarian it is by no means dead, at least
not in virtual reference.  We have research that backs this up.  One
of the conclusions of OCLC's Seeking Synchronicity report is that the
death of ready reference has been greatly exaggerated

A good reference class should teach the basics of print and online
resources and the management of questions, difficult and simple.  But
it can also teach us why reference matters, the impact access to
information has on our patrons, and the democratic nature of that
access in libraries.  Maybe that can be taught on the job, but aren't
our patrons better off if we all understand this before we step behind
a reference desk?


Emily Papagni
L-net Partner Support Librarian
Multnomah County Library
Phone: 503.988.5433
emilyp at multco.us

On Wed, Oct 3, 2012 at 4:37 PM, Brzozowski, Bonnie
<Bonnie.Brzozowski at corvallisoregon.gov> wrote:
> Being a Reference Librarian and having taught reference to graduate students
> at a library/info school makes it hard for me not to weigh in as I can say
> with certainty that my primary job function is not dead.  I am regularly
> instructing people on how to best pose their query to a database or an
> internet search engine, explaining the nature of information (how it is
> collected, used, made available), and making clear the processes behind
> finding accurate information quickly and efficiently.
> It has changed a lot in the short time I've been a professional Reference
> Librarian (5 years; I agree w/ another responder that ready reference is
> pretty much dead), but I found my reference course at the University of
> North Carolina at Chapel Hill to be incredibly valuable (it was required at
> the time; I graduated in 2007) - I learned about and had to use tons of
> resources I had never used before and I learned a lot about the importance
> of the reference interview.  On the job and by working with other more
> experienced librarians is how I learned the bulk of my practical skills, but
> the foundation was laid by my reference class.
> I had the unique experience of teaching the graduate level reference course
> for the University of Texas' Information School in Spring 2011 (it is not a
> required course there).  It was incredibly challenging to figure out what to
> teach and how to approach it, but I incorporated some real reference
> question answering (students answered four questions each for the ipl2) and
> I included an assignment that had students evaluate their experiences asking
> questions of librarians in a virtual and real-world context.  I was
> concerned that the latter assignment wouldn't work out so well, but, after
> our class discussion, it was clear the students were thinking very
> critically about the reference interview as a good number of them were
> dissatisfied with the reference services they received in those contexts.
> The ipl2 answers I graded very critically - I often had to figure out how to
> answer them myself before I would grade them.  I provided lengthy comments
> to the students about the sources chosen to answer the questions, whether or
> not they had interpreted correctly what was being asked, etc.  There were
> many instances where answers were unsatisfactory, sources provided were not
> credible, or the answer was just flat out wrong.   Some of the questions
> asked on ipl2 are pretty challenging as a number of questioners have
> exhausted Google and do not know where else to turn.  While the students
> were already pretty information literate, I did find that I had to go over
> what made a credible reference source on many occasions.
> I did emphasize the reference interview in the class I taught as I do not
> think it should be underestimated.  Google and other search engines cannot
> put a question into context; that's the value of a good reference librarian.
> We are capable of fully understanding where a patron's been in a search,
> where they want to go, and why they're trying to get there - something a
> search engine cannot do.  I emphasized what sets a reference librarian's
> service apart from just Googling something.  The student evaluations were
> overwhelmingly positive and I think being a practicing librarian and
> constantly telling them about questions and other things I handled on the
> reference desk every day was very enlightening to them.
> I think it'd be great if practicing professionals could have more of a hand
> in educating library students on reference services.  The established
> reference librarians I met at my first job that had been doing reference
> before Google was a thing, taught me so much and I worry about losing their
> amazing knowledge when they retire.  Having taught, though, I must say that
> the time commitment is no joke.  I worked 10-20 hours a week on that class
> in addition to my 40 hour workweek.  I was invited back for Spring 2012, but
> I declined before I even knew I was moving to Oregon to accept a new
> position as I just can't handle that kind of working life (I do love me some
> free time!).  It'd be really great if a college/university would consider
> allowing a team of reference librarians to teach a course like that.
> Here's an analysis of the class I taught from the Hack Library School blog:
> http://hacklibschool.wordpress.com/2011/08/12/declassified-reference/ (a
> former student compares it to the same course offered at Indiana; best
> quote: "I love, love, love that this course was taught by a working
> librarian; in fact, this course is offered in other semesters and is taught
> by a well-respected professor but I decided to go for something different."
> :) )
> Here's a link to the full syllabus:
> http://www.bonniesue.net/documents/syllabus_bb.pdf
> Bonnie
> Bonnie Brzozowski
> Reference Librarian/
> Interlibrary Loan Coordinator
> Corvallis-Benton County Public Library
> 645 NW Monroe Avenue
> Corvallis, OR 97330
> (541) 766-6965
> bonnie.brzozowski at corvallisoregon.gov
> http://cbcpl.net
> http://cbcpl.net/wordpress/blog/
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