Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I'm both encouraged and dismayed by the recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, on the imminent death of reference desks. (http://chronicle.com/temp/email2.php?id=gdsg4pjjtWWGqc4gjpgpRf43VkdZSTcp, link good for five days for non-subscribers.)

Encouraged because this is a conversation we need to have--reference desk service needs to be rethought.

Dismayed because of this quote: "Since the advent of the Internet, traffic at reference desks has dropped off considerably, as much as 48 percent since 1991, according to the Association of Research Libraries. Questions that were the stock in trade of reference librarians decades ago — like, 'How can I find information about the population and GDP of Uzbekistan?' — can now be answered through a simple Google search. These days, reference librarians are more often responding to banal questions like 'How do I look up a book?' and 'Where's the bathroom?'"

I've been tracking reference questions for several years now, and I flatter myself that many of them are genuine research questions, requiring special knowledge of the library's resources and processes. Every time I'm on the desk, I teach students who'd be literally lost without a helping hand. It's a pleasure and a constant challenge.

I'm not particularly wedded to the notion of the desk itself, and I think we have some serious questions to ask ourselves about how we deliver this kind of service, but all Mr. Carlson had to do was take a look at this blog, or any of the other blogs out there tracking reference questions, to see that we're doing a lot more than pointing to the toilets.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Hello! It's the week after spring break, and the reference desk is seeing major activity.

I'm going to start adding notes about some of the sources I've used to answer the questions. Because I only started adding source notes recently, and because I pull these questions from a larger pool, some of which have been marinating for a long time behind the scenes, some questions may not have source notes. Over time, I should start posting all questions with a note on what sources I tried.

And if you know of a better way to handle a question than the one(s) I tried, please comment! I'm always eager for some quick'n'dirty professional development!

  • I'm looking for statistics on childhood obesity rates in California. (GovInfo reference chat. Located CDC reports on national-level childhood obesity rates, and CA-level reports from nonprofit agency providing data to lawmakers. Census doesn't collect this information?)
  • I'm looking for images of Senegal from 1900 - 1970, from popular magazines and papers, etc. (Readers' Guide Retrospective)
  • I'm looking for information about foreign trade zones in the United States, particularly the western states. These are also called export processing centers. Do we have a book on these? (Melvyl, with Business Source Premier etc. to firm up terminology.)
  • I'm looking for books about lighting in buildings, particularly in libraries. I'm interested not just in lamps, but in daylighting as well. (Pathfinder, limited to ENVI)
  • I need to know average climate information for Vancouver, BC. I'm interested in degree-days, amount of sun, precipitation, temperature, etc. (Canadian gov't website: didn't record URL, but statistics given were precise and historical)
  • I'm looking for articles about Mexico during the United States Great Depression. How did the Depression affect the lives of people in Mexico? (America: History and Life, HAPI. Looked for more general works on the history of Mexico in Melvyl; referred student to these.)
  • I need to find a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five. (Pathfinder. This was ridiculously hard to do, thanks to the hyphenated title and very poor performance from the catalog.)
  • I can't find this call number!
  • I need the most recent editions of the California Building Code and the Universal Building Code. (Catalog records are a nightmare. Most recent versions held at ENVI Reserves.)