Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Reflections of a Reference Librarian by Susan J. Beck

In her final column for Reference & User Services Quarterly, Susan J. Beck, outgoing president of the Reference and User Services Association, does more than reflect on the year and say thanks. She has used the column to present a sort of "This I Believe" statement about her commitment as a librarian. Being a contemporary, entering the field just a year and a half before Beck, I read "Reflections of a Reference Librarian" (Summer 2010, Volume 49, Number 4, pp. 305-9) with interest, nodding my head throughout.

I agree with Beck on many counts. Understanding cataloging seems essential to reference work. Fewer people are sharpening pencils. Library students shouldn't hesitate to ask reference librarians for help. Reference librarians are still needed in the digital information age.

On the third page of her piece, Beck issues a challenge "I actually read library literature - do you?" She suspects that many librarians do not, a suspicion I share. I think that many can still do their jobs adequately without constant study, for they have inborn qualities that make them good service providers, and as reference librarians, they can look up what they do not know. And I admit that I read selectively, choosing what interests me and sometime ignoring more management oriented articles from which I might benefit. But "good enough" and "adequate" are not really good enough for our survival. No matter how long we have been around the profession, reading the literature for new ideas and inspiration is essential.

I read her thoughts about volunteering on professional committees with a little regret. I feel I have never done quite enough of this myself. There is a balance that needs to be maintained, keeping the reference desk staffed and also getting away to advance the profession. In the past, librarians in small libraries sometimes could not get away enough to really be committee people. Time, distance, and expenses were at issue. With new ways of meeting via the Internet, more people can be involved. Let's hope librarians avail themselves of the opportunities and not later regret their reluctance.

Beck hints about retirement - "declining years of my career." From what she says, I doubt she is declining as she still seems to aspire to learn and improve. I hope her article inspires old and young librarians to keep up with her.

The column does not appear to be online as I write. Watch for it on the RUSQ website.

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