Reference Librarians Solving Problems

Andrew AlbaneseNo one likes to see you bringing problems to the workplace – unless he or she is a reference librarian.

Once upon a time, reference librarians assisted patrons to find something – usually in a book. In 2016, the job is to work out what the problem is, then find the proper resources to solve it.

Today’s library user wants help doing things, rather than finding things,” notes Andrew Albanese, Publishers Weekly senior writer.

As one librarian told us, reference librarians should not be as passive as those old reference resources that stood on the shelves, waiting to spill their treasures,” he tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally. “Instead, librarians must strive to get to the root of the patron’s problem. Not ‘what are you looking for?’ or even ‘How can I help you?’ but, ‘What problem are you trying to solve?’

Every Friday, CCC’s “Beyond the Book” speaks with the editors and reporters of “Publishers Weekly” for an early look at the news that publishers, editors, authors, agents and librarians will be talking about when they return to work on Monday.

More About:

One Response to “Reference Librarians Solving Problems”

  1. Matthew J Boylan August 31, 2016 at 2:54 pm #

    Andrew Albanese makes valid points as to increased role of reference librarians in assisting patrons in solve their problems. And I strongly agree that the reference librarian should never adopt a “passive” role in any encounter with a patron. However, I believe that he severely underplays both the number of library patrons who 1) Continue to approach reference librarians with respect to assistance in “Finding Things” and 2) The role that traditional reference resources in print; microfilm and other formats not available on the open internet not only can – but must – play in answering these questions.

    For example, this week I was asked to resolve this problem: a woman [who husband was dying of cancer- cue the violins] was seeking to find – the name – of the restaurant located in the Eiffel Tower in which she and her husband had been engaged: in 1967. She had been back to Paris in the early 1980s but by then both the restaurant and its name had changed several times. The reference librarians in the largest library on the West Coast could not assist her using electronic resources. My own Supervisor in New York spent almost an hour attempting to locate this information using a variety of electronic databases. I thought about this matter and then identified a half dozen long out of print guide books in English and French as to “the best” or “my favorite” French restaurants published between 1965 and 1970 and consulted them. Two of these books noted the restaurant, its name – and described its ambiance.

    This resolution took about 15 minutes – including walking to the stacks.

    Lest you think this kind of problem might only vex an older patron or one without technological resources – earlier that same week I was asked by a journalist for the pre-eminent online real estate journal in New York to verify [at the request of a well to do real estate developer] whether his latest condominium project in The Bronx – was or was not – the same building in which a famous family of Italian-American stone carvers had their principal place of business from 1905 to 1945. Although the addresses were close – after a careful tracking of the locations in old telephone directories and the even older “Cross-Directories” for The Bronx – I was able to respond: No – although the buildings were only hundreds of yards apart. Like the travel guides, the city directories [and although this did not come up this week – especially older newspapers] none of these resources had any digital availability.

    These are representative examples of often more than two dozen questions “to find something”: that I answer every week.

    In response to Mr. Albanese’s comment about the seductive “Search Screen” of Google and those “powerful devices in our hands”: unfortunately, neither would get you too far with either of these requests for assistance: in finding things.

Leave a Reply