Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Reference Equation: What I Really Want

I had a dream a few nights ago that a decorating committee from the board of trustees got rid of the reference collection without consulting me. The reason given was they did not "look so good anymore." All the bookshelves were taken away. Big potted plants were put around the open room, and a few plasma screens were mounted on the walls. The screens were touch activated and had no "unsightly" keyboards. To get to them, clients had to get around the plants. The dream still haunts me.

In reality, I am the one who has gotten rid of bunches of reference books that are no longer being used. Not wanting what remains to follow quickly, I have been urging the other reference librarians and public to remember and use them.

At the same time, I am very excited about our joining a consortium of libraries to acquire dozens of databases in a big group purchase. To make this really good deal really good, I am urging all the reference librarians to remember them and use them. Click here to see what we now have. It is an impressive list.

It occurred to me that there is some an unstated desire behind my urgings, which might be seen as contradictory. How can you use both the books and the databases more. It becomes clearer when I put it in an equation.

More use of reference books + more use of database = more reference questions answered.

The problem with this equation is that "more reference questions" is stated as the result. This is actually backwards.

More reference questions asked = more use of reference books + more use of databases.

That's what I really want. I want the whole community to rise up because they know how good we are at what we do and ask us more questions. I want us to be in place, at the desk and around the collections and on the phone and on the web, available and eager to answer the many questions coming our way. And I want us to enjoy the pleasures of opening those great reference books and searching those powerful databases.

Oh, am I still dreaming? Maybe. Don't wake me.

1 comment:

Caroline Hopkinson said...

This resonates with me at a college library reference desk!