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Reference Librarianship: Notes from the…

Reference Librarianship: Notes from the Trenches

by Charles R. Anderson

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This book amounts to a dozen short essays and long lists of single-line entries. I skipped most of the "ref grunt" entries because I can only stomach so much "She looks asleep, but one finger is tapping. Reboot. I can’t help you until I finish helping her, sir. Reboot." Pretty dry stuff. The essays are a little meatier, but eventually betray the author as a cynical librarian nearing retirement who sees modern-day libraries as bloated mammoths which should be streamlined into distribution centers based on a retail model. It's a disheartening viewpoint which undercuts the educational value of libraries (and library staff) and ignores the importance of libraries as a "third place." Missing is an understanding of the deeper value libraries provide (beyond books on shelves): safe communal spaces, information and computer literacy instruction, and linking people with solid information from trusted sources. There is some valuable perspective in this book, but the majority of its value is in knowing the mindset librarians must fight (from within and without) to justify their jobs. ( )
  The_Kat_Cache | Feb 8, 2015 |
Reference Librarianship: Notes from the Trenches is made up in large part of a long, long list. An anonymous reference librarian at a public library in the Midwest blogged, in list form, everything that happened during his desk shifts. Reference questions, printer help, odd remarks from patrons, and so forth. The blog is reproduced here, broken up by brief essays that reflect upon the changing world of libraries in the 21st century. The reference desk log becomes a sort of springboard for these essays, although no direct allusions are made to particular incidents in the log.

The result is a bit disappointing. If you are a librarian and you read the professional literature, or even American Libraries, the essays don't say much of anything new. It's more naval-gazing, something at which we librarians are all too skilled. "Things aren't what they used to be!" "Technology is changing everything!" "What is the mission of a library?" "What are we losing, what are we gaining?" And so forth.

If you are not a librarian, or if you haven't read the professional literature for some time, these essays will open your eyes to some of the issues facing libraries today. You'll get a picture of what it's like now, and what quandaries the profession is facing as it looks ahead. Unfortunately, I found the tone of the essays mostly rather sour, except for a concluding couple of pages that were incongruously optimistic.

For practicing librarians who don't see the appeal of these essays, flip through and read some of the blog entries. For the first thirty pages or so, I found it amusing, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Not because it's extraordinary, but just the opposite -- we librarians will recognize it right away. This is what we all see every day (especially public librarians), and there is something warm and fuzzy about knowing that our colleagues everywhere share in these experiences. It's all in there -- the interesting questions, the annoying technology issues, and the just plain inexplicable moments.

After around thirty pages, though, the sameness starts to wear. Maybe it would work better reading a few pages of the blog every week (the way it originally must have appeared online!), to keep it fresh. It's just too much, page after page of "printer advice," "copier advice," etc.

Also -- this anonymous librarian strikes me at times as just too embittered. I think that I get this impression because he notes his frustration and repressed anger at certain patrons, complains about being called by his first name, doesn't seem to like kids -- but he almost never makes any positive comments about his experiences as a librarian. After a while, it's almost as wearing as going through a bad day and wondering why you're there in the first place.
( )
  ksimon | Feb 6, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0789029472, Hardcover)

A daily diary of actual interactions between a reference desk librarian and his patrons

Reference Librarianship documents a year in the life of a young librarian working in the “trenches” at a library in the Midwestern United States. This one-of-a-kind book provides a daily diary of every librarian/patron transaction—no matter how mundane or absurd—to demonstrate not only how advances in technology have affected the reference librarian’s job, but how the public’s expectations have changed, as well. The book also includes observations by a now-retired reference librarian on the current state of the field based on these unedited interactions.

Over the past two decades, the job of reference librarian has seen many changes. But in many ways, reference desk work hasn’t changed a bit, with its mix of odd, humorous, routine, and ridiculous requests that capture what it’s like to deal with patrons day after day. Reference Librarianship paints a clear picture of the field for library school students, provides emotional and philosophical support to practitioners, and reminds library administrators of what life was like on the “front lines.”

A sampling of the daily transactions documented in Reference Librarianship:

Monday, May 19, 2003:
network down
I tell people that I can’t sign them up for an Internet terminal because the network is down and they just stand there, staring into space
One of them asks for three days worth of newspapers
microfiche machine explanation
Sorry, Sir, the network is still down (multiply by twenty and insert randomly into the remainder of the day)
magic tricks, but he pretty much knew where they were
One of our large interior plate glass windows shattered. No one was hurt and it made a fascinating noise, like a crystal waterfall landing on soil.
“Books on prostitution, you know—whores?”
Someone from the County called to ask if any criminal activity had occurred on a particular street. Someone else referred her to us. She was dubious—with good reason.
“Math puzzles.” Okay. I show him the books.
“Just math.” Certainly. I show him the books.
“I need them in Spanish.” Grrr ... Reference Librarianship is an enlightening, educational, and entertaining look at the real world of reference desk work. It’s an essential read for reference librarians (both public and academic), library administrators, and library school students, as well as anyone who works with the public.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:51 -0400)

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