The Changing Role of Reference Librarian

An original idea? That can’t be too hard. The library must be full of them. – Stephen Fry

In the Twitter Chat session this week #IFN614refchat, I suggested flippantly, that reference librarians might be labelled as iKnowitall. In researching information on current understanding of the term ‘reference’, the meaning is described by Valerie Gross as

  • An opinion of another in relation to character or ability
  • A note in a published work referring to the source of information
  • A mention of an occurrence or event
  • An act of referring

By way of contrast ‘research’ is described to mean

  • An inquiry
  • An investigation for facts
  • A systematic search for knowledge and information

So, the question is whether the term ‘reference’ is sending the right message. Shakespeare’s observation: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose – by any other name would smell as sweet” comes to mind. The term ‘reference’ is often misconstrued by library users who believe that it is only about traditional reference materials such as dictionaries, encyclopeadias, atlases, almanacs – not about finding the right book for each reader as is so succinctly described in Ranganthan’s five laws.

In the dynamic evolving environment of information organisation, management, access and retrieval it is really important for information professionals to review the position of ‘reference’ with a 360° perspective.   To do this, the generic view of a reference librarian and the associations commonly attributed to librarianship should be considered and compared to the reference librarians perspective of their role and contribution to community and the public perception of library services.

I agree with Gross, 2013, that the issue begins with language and can be addressed using the Three Pillar Philosophy, based on that which has been implemented at the Howard County Library with sensational outcomes of two and three times the foot traffic, circulation and engagement with the community. The three pillars of self-directed education, research assistance and instruction, and instructive and enlightening experiences combine to deliver education to the community.

The Howard County Library has introduced role descriptions for library staff referring to librarians as ‘Information Specialists’ and ‘Instruction & Research Specialists,’ encouraging staff to refer to ‘working in information’ rather than ‘working in reference’. After all, it’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.

The public perspective is that library services are out-dated and that information can be sourced online – so why have a library? From the patron’s perspective – what can the library give me that I cannot access online? From the funding perspective – is the library providing a return on investment?

Commercial and corporate environments create strategic marketing plans to survive and thrive – so why not use the same drivers for not for profit community organisations such as library services?

In an address to the American Library Association way back in 1999, Susan Palmer talked about the changing role of librarian.   Palmer’s observation of the reference librarian more as an instructor, information manager, mentor, administrator echo the sentiments of Gross that librarianship is an ever-changing role, gathering a diverse range of skills and responsibilities as the role evolves to meet the demands of internal and external stakeholders.

Community of Inquiry

if you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day; if you teach him how to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime

This is so within  a community of learning, for if we simply read and absorb the information presented by another, then that answers just that one query at that one time; but if we read the answer, then de-construct and analyse that information, investigate it further and add another facet then the answer creates a broader perspective and deeper understanding.

The concept of community of inquiry opens discussion, inviting analysis and investigation to improve understanding and increase knowledge.  Creating a culture of critical analysis offers opportunity to experiment and to think laterally to really make a difference.

We’re continually exposed to these opportunities through informal forums like think tanks and brain storming, and formal processes like investigation and research and analysis.   When I am in a Community of Inquity, I tend to try to fly under the radar, only venturing a strong opinion when I’m sure of supporting evidence.

This aligns with my ‘ideal’ personal profile of contributing to the online discussion with factual information that is in context with the discussion.  This doesn’t always work of course, but it is my ‘ideal’ profile.  I like to think that I am responsible and responsive to queries and genuinely seek information to share either online or offline.  I am respectful and courteous, non-discriminatory and compassionate with a commitment to practically and proactively supporting those within the community.

Having completed my first week of fieldwork placement at Helensvale Library this week my perspective of the services provided by public libraries was informed by the diverse programs and products run by the library.  The team of librarians, library technicians, library assistants, IT specialists and community organisations work together at Helensvale to provide the public with the information and services they need.  Community programs provided young families with an introduction to rhyme and literature through regular morning meetings with singing, dancing and a bubble machine.  School-age children were invited to undertake STEM experiments working individually and in teams to discover simple scientific and engineering concepts through craft-type play activities.  Older children were encouraged to experiment with Minecraft, Scratch and Digiworks programs run by librarians and other tech-savvy team members.  Adolescent and adult patrons were offered assistance in access to the internet, use of computers, operation of the printer/copier/scanner and basic access to resources including DVDs, music scores, CDs, audio books, books and magazines.

The library team was cohesive and collaborative in its delivery of information and literacy services, respecting the diverse levels of ability of its patrons and taking care to understand their needs and respond to their queries.  This kind of collaborative culture has been developed through an environment where experimentation and exploration is encouraged throughout the team.  It has evolved from observation and survey of users to asssess their needs and to meet their expecations.

Technology has changed the nature of library ‘business’.  Self check-out and check-in is accepted by an estimated 96% of the branch patrons, with patrons encouraged to manage their individual accounts online using their library membership card to access the catalogue, information about loans, holds and upcoming events at the library.

Access to computers, printing, copying and scanning services, together with free wi-fi access has brought a different vibe to the library with many arriving at the library at 9am with their laptops, phones and briefcases as if the library is their office.  Visitors to the area use library services to access free wifi to check emails.  New residents join the library so that they can use the products and services and become involved in programs of learning.   It’s a vibrant community of people who work together to engage in self-education, self-improvement, recreational learning and reading and discovery of new and not so new technology.

This sharing of knowledge and information and making available the tools and facilities needed to support self-education supports many within the community who may not otherwise have access to formal learning.  It also provides an open forum for sharing of knowledge, information and skills.   While Helensvale library does not currently have a formal Makerspace, programs and events provide activities that fit within the regulatory frameworks of health and safety.

As Liz McGettigan stated we need to ensure that the 21st Century library will continue to engage with community in the format and with the content that the users desire.

Twitter – the art of short sharp tweets

My Twitter experience

I have had a twitter account for about five years, but have never been as interactive on Twitter as I am on Facebook.  Maybe that’s because I don’t quite understand the concept fully and I don’t feel as confident using just 144 characters to say what I want to say.

I am a serial re-tweeter and love to browse the twitter feed to catch up on the twitter world – it’s quick, easy, sharp and on point so I can then re-visit sites or articles later and explore the subject of the tweet in more depth.

Twitter is just a little scary

Twitter is a powerful social media tool because it is so quickly shared among many, creating an opportunity for social change, marketing and sharing of information among like-minded people.  So, why do I not feel okay about it?  Maybe because it’s so powerful, and so fast and therefore if I make a mistake there’ll be so many people who will see it.  So? It doesn’t matter really unless that mistake is so silly, so controversial or so rude that it creates chaos.  On the other hand, making great comments succinctly is an art form I’d like to develop.  After all, sometimes a short response is all that is needed.

Twitter chats in IFN614

I aim to use the IFN614 Twitter experience to build my confidence in Twitter feeds and in constructing tweets that invite discussion and share information within the IFN614 community.   It’s about exploring the possibilities and experimenting a new concept in communication and learning.   Let the challenge begin!

 

Who, how, what and why intro

I’m a life-long learner with a belief that education (and information) leads to greater tolerance and understanding across the world.  I confess I’m quirky, coming from a traditional conservative background, I’ve always pushed the boundaries a bit and have tried to follow my dreams and passions whenever I could.   My partner, three girls, two boys and a dog make my family circle complete.  We love to get together whenever we can and we all enjoy the great outdoors, but most especially the beach at Byron Bay.

Making it all work – uni, work, home time, ‘my’ time – takes a little organising but I do try to  have just a bit of equilibrium in my life.  I like to walk, entertain, listen to live music, see live theatre and I love travel, either locally, nationally or overseas.  My travel bug started with long car trips and light aircraft travel in western Queensland and New South Wales.  Years (and thousands of kilometres) later, I still have wanderlust. If I can’t go there, then I enjoy movies about travel, destinations, geography and natural history.  I’m still trying to master photobooks and paperless record keeping for everything, but I just can’t throw away all those original artefacts that my artistic family create.  When I finish my Masters, I keep telling myself.

Where I’m up to…

As a final semester student of Masters in IT – Library and Information Sciences – I am happy that I will finish the course this semester, understanding so much more about information management and emerging technologies.  The road has been a little rocky along the way as I have sometimes been overwhelmed with the deluge of information and technology delivered via the units.  However – I am still here, learning through a collaborative workspace (that totally freaked me out to begin with) and accepting that it’s only through experiment, making mistakes, and more exploring that I continue to build on my knowledge base and pack a few more tools in the toolkit.

Where I’ve been before…

My diverse work experience includes everything from basic admin to executive assistance, to flight attendant, retail manager, legal practice management, parliamentary services and 10+ years in school libraries.   I have used information organisation and information management in all of these positions, from colour coding filing systems to complex customer relationship management systems and implementation and integration of databases.

Where I want to go…

I see myself as an information manager more so than a librarian – but the line is blurred, as I think that  ‘library’ skills are synchronous with ‘information management’ skills.  My fieldwork placement at Helensvale Library proved to be an eye-opener to the diversity of community engagement offered by the library.   From toddler rhyme times to one on one sessions assisting patrons in the use of mobile devices there was a full spectrum of community engagement offered far and beyond literature loans in many formats.  Making a contribution to guiding self-learning and self-education in an informal environment is really appealing to me.  I’d like to work within a team of people who aim to make a difference for people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to learn.

Optimising optimism…

That would have to be either my Pollyanna attitude or my completely ridiculous sense of humour.  Old-fashioned as it may seem, there really always is a bright side. (My thanks go to Monty Python for bringing this perspective more up to date).  I think that the ability to keep looking at an issue from different perspectives and remaining optimistic really add to my cope-ability and dogged determination to keep going to reach my goals.

Superpower on show…

Apparently I am a natural networker, gathering information and delivering it to the right people at the right time.  Does this mean that I also talk a lot?  Perhaps it does – but maybe it also means that people see me as a good listener and communicator.  So I guess if that’s my superpower that shines brightest, then I’m very happy with that.

My ideal superpower…

I agree with Kate – teleportation would be the best – commuting from the Gold Coast is so time-consuming and tiring.  Having the ability to complete mundane tasks like laundry and cleaning at the push of a button so I had more ‘people’ time would be great. So my ideal superpower seems to shape to being able to create more time to be where I want to be, doing the things I love to do.