The Facts Fast

The Facts Fast

Posted on Monday November 07, 2011 at 09:12AM

Get Facts Fast: Ready Reference.

Just when it looks like providing reference is going the way of the dodo due to lack of use, I see an sudden influx of questions coming through Ask A Question, the online reference service sponsored by The Alberta Library (TAL). Before the time of online reference services, there was the humble librarian: eager and willing to answer all your inscrutable questions (or perhaps not so eager and willing, hence the prune-faced stereotype). That’s all been changed over the past thirteen years or so by a teeny tiny little company named Google.

So if the vast majority of information seekers are currently “Googling” for their answers, what place do reference resources and a reference librarian have these days? While academic libraries are still seeing significant use of their reference services, this is mostly due to the nature of academic libraries and their clientele. College and university students generally do research which involves looking for what other researchers have said on a particular topic. Finding these resources is not always easy, so the reference librarian needs to know the collection and the databases and how to perform extensive searches using Boolean operators. The general public tends to use their local libraries for “infotainment.” Their research is usually less time sensitive and more curiosity or practicality motivated.

When does the general population need reference assistance? By 2008, Google was processing 1 trillion unique URLs. With so much information available online, why should someone come to the library? Actually, the fact that there is so much information available is the answer. While libraries used to be seen as the storehouse of information, they should now be considered the place to go for locating quality information. Library staff used to have to know all the answers, now they should be able to wade through vast stores of information to find the one nugget for the requesting patron. To be able to do this, library staff must be familiar with the information resources at hand (databases, library catalogue, books in house) and know how to use them. Staff should be able to perform simple Boolean searches (and, or, not).

While it has not been my experience that community planning committees choose Get Facts Fast: Ready Reference as a library service response or a goal for the library, it is, however seen as one of the traditional functions of the library. This means that library staff should be prepared to assist patrons in this way, however infrequently reference questions may arise. Next blurb we’ll take a look at reference activities, implications for the library in terms of staff training, collections the library can choose to develop in relation reference, technologies and ways of measuring progress.

“Google History,” accessed November 2, 2011.
Nelson, Sandra. Strategic Planning for Results (Chicago: American Library Association, 2008).

Notes and Reminders:
• Library Manager’s Advisory Council is Wednesday, November 23.
• If you haven’t started already, now is a good time to administer your annual satisfaction survey for the Annual Report. Also, if you do not take stats throughout the year for things like in-house count, number of reference questions, number of computer users and computer sessions, you may want to set aside a week or two soon to get an “average” week’s statistics.

Author: Northern Lights Library System


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