When I accepted my current position, Information Services Manager at AHML, I knew going in that there was some risk in linking my career with a traditional reference department. Ultimately, I decided to take the job in large part because of the challenge of helping to reshape reference in public libraries. During my interview, my soon-to-be supervisor and I spoke frankly about the current state of reference and the task of creating a new vision for information services at the library. I knew what I was coming into and I have to say that after being here a little under a year, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
So, when people talk about the death of reference, as Eli Neiburger recently did and has done in the past, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I understand the argument that reference is not what it used to be; but then again, what in public libraries is? I also understand that having one’s job primarily consisting of staffing a public service desk waiting for that one decent, challenging question that stimulates the mind is not ideal for any professional librarian. Like many others, I’ve sat at public services desks answering a seemingly endless number of questions regarding the phone number of the local drug store, the call number for a particular book, and, yes, the location of the nearest restroom. But I’ve also spent a lot of time with talented, passionate librarians who are finding new ways to use their skills and talent to make a real impact in their communities.
Here’s the response I posted to the LJ article:
Anyone who has worked in public libraries in the past decade can’t argue that reference has changed dramatically. Is traditional reference, in the sense of someone sitting behind a desk all day long waiting for that rare juicy question, dead? Perhaps. Can reference librarians find a new purpose and way of making a difference in people’s lives? I sure hope so! In the short time I’ve worked in public libraries, I’ve seen reference librarians create a community-wide reading program, assist countless job seekers, teach local business owners how to use tools like Facebook pages and Google Places, create community websites, and empower people to get creative with digital media. As much as I agree with Eli’s statement that libraries need to invest more in geeks, I hope he agrees that librarians, many of whom have passionately served their local communities for years, can find new life.
Eli’s statements and presentations are great because they challenge people working in libraries to be better. I think reference librarians still have a lot to offer and can be part of this process. Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know and let’s talk about it.