This week has been crazy. Too crazy to devote time to thinking about an intentional blog post. So I’m taking a shortcut, and sharing some things that gave me pause this week, both inspired by the amount of time I spent on the reference desk.
Patrons are People: a pamphlet developed by Minnesota librarians in 1940s, published as a book 1945. The tenements in this book seem to ring truer than ever right now, after a Erin Smith called students at her institution ‘sweet little dum dums,’ in an ACRL presentation and Indiana State Library held a virtual conference about how “Patron Bashing is Killing our Spirit.” I spent a lot of time this week on a reference desk helping people to read the internet, learn the different from a right-click to a left-click, explaining to faculty and students how, even an elite library, can’t have all the books all the time. Looking at the pamphlet reminded me of why I became a librarian. I wanted to help others learn how to do their research. Hit that ‘ah ha!’ moment. It got me out of my patron-bashing funk.
1913-2017 | The Record of the Newspaper of Record: an obituary for the New York Times index, which is cancelling publication after 2016. This article, while chronicling the history of the New York Times Index, saying “A journey through the Times Index is like a journey through any great encyclopedia,” details how evolving research methods has contributed to the index’s shrinking staff, leading to a mass backlog and inability to continue publication. It’s difficult to read this piece without seeing parallels to the library’s reference desk, which libraries are struggling see as relevant in a world of decreasing reference questions.
The reference desk can be a hard place to spend a lot of time. But, I believe, it’s also one of the most informative places. Spending time on a reference desk can show you how your patrons are using the library, what resources they’re most interested in, and what might be some of the most confusing parts of your website. I love the reference desk, and believe that I will always want to staff it. However, I do believe that in this day and age, the desk does not always need to be manned by librarians. Rather, staff your desk with well-trained students. Give students the opportunity to learn more about the place they like to spend so much time. Help them discover research skills by having them teach others. Maybe one day, they’ll be the new face of librarianship.