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.


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