Jan 10, 2013

Reference Ettiquette

It happens to [almost] every librarian: not wanting to deal with a reference question.  Sometimes you're annoyed by a patron.  Sometimes you're really busy and you just want to focus on the task at hand.  Other times you're just plain lazy.  Whatever the reason is, you answer in the worst possible way: "Go search for it yourself."


Something I witnessed this week at the public library:

Patron [5th grade-looking child]: (looks nervous) Do you have anything on starfish?
Librarian:  (reading a magazine) Did you look for it yourself?
Patron: (looks forlorn) No...
Librarian: Computer's right over there (points). Go search for it.

The poor girl looked so sad.  Now she hates librarians, hates asking for help, and probably hates starfish for getting her into this mess.  Alright, maybe I'm being overdramatic, but I was taught to do the opposite of all of the above.  In fact, we were often given scenarios and discuss point by point what was done wrong.  Soooo:

What did she do wrong?

1) If you can't give 100% of your attention to a patron, at least make the effort to make it look like you are.  Not once did she look away from her magazine.  That's just rude.

2) Asking "Did you look for it yourself?" I get what she was trying to do here.  Librarians don't function to do your work for you, but to help you learn how to do it on your own.  But what she said isn't helpful.  These are better: What have you tried searching for already? What have you already found? What exactly are you looking for, something specific or just basic information? Etc.  Just asking if they've already searched puts the entire burden back onto them.  They're asking for help for a reason.  Help them.  Also, by having them search for themselves, you're pretty much arguing against your job.

3) Never point!! This was practically beat into us by my professor, mainly because she had a bad experience at a previous job where her boss solved every problem by pointing in the opposite direction.  Obviously, it's impossible to always be able to walk away from your desk, so you can be lax on this rule, but at least give good directions.  But pointing can feel like you're shooing someone away (which is effectively what was occurring), so it's better to try to avoid it.  Or learn some nice pointing.  Vanna White knows what's up.

So be better with your reference etiquette! Otherwise, this might be about you:


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