Wednesday, June 29, 2005

ALA was great, Chicago was great, 90 degree weather is great when you live in the PNW and it's barely fifty degrees in mid-June. My hair frizzed, but I can deal with that. Overall, a very good time.

I talked to the RUSA Hot Topics in Frontline Reference discussion group, on the kind invitation of Cheri Smith, about this blog. It was an interesting discussion. A lot of people are using blogs in their reference departments, mainly to share internal information about printer glitches and administrative changes. These are mainly private blogs; nobody else seemed to be doing what I'm doing, which is making patrons' reference questions public on the Internet. I hadn't really considered confidentialiy issues that much before, but a few RUSA members mentioned them as a concern.

I'm still pondering that one. On the one hand, I agree that patron confidentiality is an important component of my job, and a value I believe in strongly. It's why libraries are shredding loan records all over the country, and I think that's good. It irritates me no end when patrons come up and lean on the desk while someone else is trying to ask a question--I'm not a stanchion-lover in general, but some days I'd really like a physical reminder to make people respect each other's privacy.

On the other hand, our investment in patron confidentiality has never prevented us from sharing patron questions with each other, either in person or on listservs. When I get stumped by a hard literature reference question, I often send it to LES-L, the national literature librarian list. I know plenty of other reference librarians use Stumpers to ask their colleagues for help with difficult reference questions. Digital reference services often maintain logs of questions to be entered into a knowledge-base for staff training and assistance with future questions. So we've never had a gag order on reference questions.

What we do have a gag order on is who asked what. When I was doing my MLIS, that was the usual response to questions about information sharing: if you don't identify the patron (either by name or description), it's okay to describe their information need. I thought that was fair then, and I think it's fair now. Reference librarians can't do their jobs very well if they're prevented from talking about what they do, or if they have to reduce their actual desk experiences in so much fuzzy detail and fabrication that the advice they get from their colleagues is moot.

What then becomes interesting is, what kind of information identifies a patron? If I identify myself, as a librarian at the University of Oregon, do I then provide a means for others to guess who asked what at my reference desk? This possibility was raised by some RUSA members, and while I appreciate the point that sharing information on the Internet is a higher-stakes activity than sharing it in conversation with a colleague, or even a group of colleagues, I guess I don't consider this a really convincing argument against doing what I do.

Part of the problem is that whenever I try to imagine a scenario in which someone could genuinely figure out who asked which question at my desk, I find myself having to construct pretty elaborate scenarios. That's not to say it's not possible, or that if it happened it couldn't be a problem. It just seems that posting anonymous reference questions to the Internet is not substantially different from sharing anonymous questions on a listserv. Both activities release the patron's information need into the wild. I don't believe that the difference in technology really changes the nature of the beast.

Even more interesting is the fact that my own library administration and PR rep have asked me to send examples of reference questions, for projects like our library's annual report. If we're willing to publish patron questions in our annual report, are we devaluing our commitment to patron confidentiality? It never occurred to me to think this before, and I'm not sure I really think it now. But I do wonder at times whether the patron who's walking away from the desk would be upset to know that I'm typing her question into the blog, and that I'll publish it to the Internet at the end of my shift. Does she own the exchange, because she's the patron? Or do I own at least part of it, because it's my job?

I welcome comments, if anyone feels inspired to weigh in on this.

Friday, June 17, 2005

So far today:

  • How can I find particular works by Gadamer in English? The catalog lists them in German, and my German isn't particularly good, and it's hard to predict what the translation of the title will be. Sometimes there's more than one translation, too.
  • I'm a new student from Taiwan, and I'd like to find some books in Chinese. I'd also like to learn how to use the catalog to find books, period.
  • Where can I find the Journal of Phycology? How about Ecological Engineering? I'm English and can't use computers. (He was a very sweet guy.)
  • I'm lost. How do I get out?
  • How do I find out which textbooks are required for my class next week?

I'm having a hard time getting a recent, complete, usable list of the titles that MLA indexes. It's huge, and downloading even 500 titles at a time from the OCLC interface is killing me. I hate to resort to emailing a vendor rep, because that means waiting for an answer, but... If anyone knows where I can find a manipulable list of the titles, in, for instance, an Excel spreadsheet, or even just in HTML on a web page somewhere, please comment here!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Things have slowed down a lot at the reference desk in the last few days, because final exams ended last Friday. The campus is empty now. I love a college town in the first weeks of summer. All the faculty and staff walk around with strange expressions on their faces. Expressions of relief and calm.

But for some strange reason, the desk is a madhouse today.
  • I'm looking for information on Yoruba art. I have no idea how to use any of the resources in the library--the catalog, databases, etc.
  • I'm looking for information on agoraphobia. I have no voice. I don't know how to do research at all.
  • I'm looking for a long-term longitudinal study of the depletion of natural resources since pre-industrialization. All resources, all parts of the world. I need some figures on how much has been lost, etc.
  • I need a refresher on doing research so I can find information on Maria de Zayas, a Spanish writer. I haven't used the library in years.
  • I'm looking for a book that I saw mentioned in the NYTRB a while ago, about anti-Semitism. I'm not familiar with the library's catalog.
  • I'm looking for a copy of Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling in English. (Our copies are all out, although we had one in Danish.)
  • I'm looking for information about recovery from a particular kind of thoracic disc injury. I don't know how to get full-text articles; all I can find is abstracts.
  • Where can I find out information about the Lega, an African ethnic group in what used to be Zaire? I need to do a research paper on their art, and I need background information--demographics, population, religion, culture, etc. I've only ever used PsycInfo.
  • Where can I find information about Oregon bills before they become law? I'm looking for any evidence of lobbying for or against, changes proposed, who proposed the bill, etc...

It was one of those days when everyone who came to the desk prefaced their question with, "I don't know how to do research at all." It actually got funny after a while. We're not backing up this week because it's supposed to be slow, and the line-up was getting sort of...intense.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Second shift of the day...
  • Where can I find these articles in recent issues of Journal of Neurological Sciences?
  • Where can I find Japanese art history? (Resolved into: where can I find information about a particular era of Japanese scroll art?)
  • Where are the British Parliamentary Papers?
  • How do I limit my search in PsycInfo to return items about mere exposure effect?
  • Where can I get a copy of Milton Babbitt's article, "Who Cares If You Listen?"
  • Where can I find recent illiteracy statistics for the US?
  • How do I find a reference book that has something to do with pen pals? (Broadened topic.)
  • Where can I find information about China's oil industry?

I've been taking a few days off posting, just catching my breath after the rush of the last couple of weeks. Also, the desk has slowed down and there have been a few shifts without too much of interest to report. So far today:

  • Where can I find a copy of Histoire du nouveau monde in Spanish?
  • Where can I find this article about T. rex and birds, which says was published in Friday's Science? It's not online. (Actually, it's going to be in tomorrow's issue.)
  • Where can I find this article in the fiche version of Comparative Literature? (Diverted patron to non-fiche, out of mercy.)