“If Reference is Dead Why Am I So Tired?”

Today I’m trying to catch up with my Google Reader, so hopefully I’ll have a few interesting things to post over the next few days (since, like my own blog, I’ve been neglecting other people’s blogs too!), much like this funny and relevant article from the blog Closed Stacks, “If Reference is Dead Why Am I So Tired?”

The first two paragraphs spoke to me as they discuss the digital divide and the need to still teach people how to do research and how to determine what are and are not reliable sources.  This author works in an academic setting, but the same goes for public libraries too.  We’re faced with kids and adults who have homework to do and papers to write and book reports to fill out, and they want us to help them as though we’re an academic library.

The notion that reference is dead is the new hot idea, it seems.  The comment by Eli Neiburger “We need big servers and the geeks to take care of them. What are we going to cut to be able to hire a geek? We are going to cut reference staff. Reference is dead” seems designed to shock, but will probably make the more knee-jerk librarians chop the desk up to use as kindling and reshuffle the reference staff.

Comments like this speak very much to the nerdiness of our profession. Unfortunately, not the good nerdiness, but rather the so desperate to seem cutting-edge and cool that it comes off as pathetic way.  How about instead of trying to reel in the tech-savvy folk who don’t use the library because they don’t think they have use for it, we stop alienating the people who have always been there by changing things around without real purpose.  I’m all about change, but it can’t be change just for the sake of change; it has to be changes that work.

As the author goes on to discuss, not everyone needs help downloading an e-book.  Some of them need help turning the computer on in the first place or navigating the mouse.  And those are the people that we in public libraries deal with most often.  The non-tech savvy ones which appear in every generation.  I have kids who don’t know how to use basic word and are 10 or 11.  I have adults who don’t know where to type into the search bar.  And they all come to the reference desk.

Especially after the last few weeks at PVLD, I can guarantee that Reference is not dead.  It’s just changing.  We have different resources to use and different things to teach people than librarians 10 or 20 years ago.  I’m telling kids to use online databases for 4th grade reports when they are the last ones to come in and their peers have checked out ALL the books (sometimes to one person, but that’s a different debate).  Since I spend 95% of my work week sitting on various reference desks, I can attest that there is rarely a day that I don’t go home exhausted from dealing with all the things that go along with sitting on a reference desk.  The days where I’m bored out of my mind are few and far between, and I’ve rarely held a job that didn’t have a boring day here and there.  And usually those boring days are my own fault, and because I didn’t seek out that next level of work to do like start compiling a read-alike list or catching up on Library Journal.

What do you guys think?  Is reference dead?

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