Category Archives: reference

Dude, I know what I’m doing

Scenario: me on the reference desk after 5. Guy in line. Helping a student who like EVERYONE ELSE IN HER CLASS is trying to get her hands on the one recent copy of a textbook for her course. I’ve helped her earlier in the week on the same issue–helped her do a recall and explained/warned that people could do the same thing to her. Now she is dismayed and indignant that this has actually gone down.

Meanwhile guy in line is getting impatient. I make eye contact, tell him I’ll be with him in a minute.

Now the student is looking at getting a previous edition. The only one left that we have is from 1989. She wants that one. Of course, she does. Maybe it’s me, but I get awfully nervous when a medical student is willing to learn from a 19 year old book and the subject is not “where is the spleen?” Finally we’re done and I turn to the patron.

He needs a “drug desk reference book.”

Ok, fine, are we talking PDR?

Yes, no. A drug guide.

I start to walk him over to the reference collection.

No. He wants one he can check out.

Which means an older edition. Ok. Does he have a specific one in mind? Does he have a particular drug he’s trying to look up? What does he need to know about the drug?

He tells me “just type in ‘drug guide’ into the catalog.”

I meanwhile am trying to see what we have and am searching for specific titles.

He walks around and goes, “No. Just type in ‘drug guide.’

I try to explain that this is not really the best way to search.

He insists. Naturally we get garbage.

“You must not be doing it right.”

I’m trying to offer him online options, but in order to do that I need to find out if he’s an affiliate. I start to ask and he storms out of the library.

Meanwhile, first student comes back. The 1989 edition is off the shelves. Is there anything older than that available?

It was not a good night.

So you’re in a car

and you realize (even if its only on a subconscious level) that you are lost. Do you:

  1. Keep on driving
  2. Look for another car on the rationale that the driver surely must know where he or she is going
  3. Stop and ask for directions

To me the answer is always #3. Why waste my time and that of my passengers’, not to mention the gasoline when I could get back on the correct path right away?

I had a reference interview today with two students who were very very lost. Paper is due Friday. And they apologized up and down, this way and that for not knowing what they are doing. I also got the “I’m sorry you must have something important to do.” To which I replied, “Yes, helping you.”

People don’t like to ask for help and I just don’t get it. Like the guy who will drive clear into another state rather than stop at a gas station to get directions, they will wander around for days lost and confused. Why? Because it’s an admission of what? irredeemable failure? stupidity?

The system is flawed. Sorry, it is. All the OPACS and the Link Resolvers and the databases–it’s become so complex.

“The user is not broken.”

Would you use a screwdriver to hammer in a nail?

On one of the listservs I read, not too long ago, there was a flurry of exchanges about Wikipedia. Now this is a largely student listserv, so there’s always a bit of, well…let’s just say passion. It’s not a new debate. Wikipedia is a morass of unverified garbage. Wikipedia is what 2.O is all about. Pick your side. Wikipedia freaks people out for some reason. Freaks a lot of librarians out. It scares me to say this, but so does Google (although I must admit I’ve caught myself saying this on occasion too).

“Well, you know what they do. They go straight to Google.”

Well, yeah, they do. So do I. I have Firefox set up with a search plugin for Wikipedia. I also have one for Science Direct and one for EBSCO. But I go to Wikipedia and Google a lot.

That doesn’t make me a bad librarian. It doesn’t make a user a stupid person either. These are tools. And they are often starting points. What would make me a bad librarian would be if I took what it said on the Wikipedia page and stopped there. It would make the user kind of stupid if he or she did the same. But it is not a bad or evil thing to begin with Wikipedia.

It’s not exactly the primrose path to hell. It’s a tool. And like any tool, you need to know what its purpose is and when to reach for it. My reference professor spent a lot of time on learning to use reference books. I am profoundly grateful for that. When I train the library school students I work with, I put a lot of emphasis on the books too. It’s important. But those are not the only tools we as a profession should be turning to.

The Free Range Librarian posted this about 2 years ago. I have it tacked to my door.

For anyone who actually reads this. I urge you to take a look at it. Because it applies here.

Bizarre reference questions

Loved this article on crazy reference requests.

All things to all people

I seem to have become everybody’s personal reference librarian. It got out in my neighborhood that I’m librarian. Now I have the people next door asking me to do reader’s advisory for their pre-teen daughter. Another person wants me to tell her what her books are worth–ten boxes of books. Bear in mind that I’m a medical reference librarian. You go to a dinner party. People ask you to find out what is honey exactly and who was that guy? You know, the one who was in that movie that they can’t quite remember the name of (bookstore employees will recognize this as a variant of the Green Book Syndrome*). I suppose it’s better than being asked to look up symptoms and tell them if they have a disease or not…

Incidentally, everyone seems to think I spend my days in an ivy-covered edifice, seated in a leather club chair reading Dickens. Even when I mention committee meetings, e-mail, and problem patrons, they don’t seem to believe me.

*Green Book Syndrome: “I’m looking for a book. No, I don’t know the title. No, I don’t know who wrote it. No, I don’t know what it’s about. Oh, wait, it had a green cover!”

Librarian manifesto

Brilliant post. About time somebody said it.

You can tell you’re a geek when

You get all excited about new tweaks to PubMed’s searching interface. Over the last couple of years, I’ve gradually come to appreciate PubMed more and more. However, it’s always had its limitations–chief among them that you can’t pick more than one limit in a given category without some really cumbersome searches. It’s also been deficient in the limit choice area. Well, now looks like that’s going to be a thing of the past.

If they would only fix that pesky automatic explode feature, I’d be a very happy camper.