Is the Reference Librarian Dead?

Is the Reference Librarian Dead?

31 October 2003

Review by Sarah Morphett

So what do ‘Reference Enquiry, Banshee’ and ‘SALIN Xmas Dinner’ all have in common. NO – it is not a portrayal of a Banshee librarian eating those who dare to ask a reference question. They are of course all pictionary clues that were drawn with various degrees of success at SALIN’s Halloween forum: Is the Reference Librarian Dead?

October 31st in the Ira Raymond Room at the Barr Smith Library, and

The night was dark and stormy
The lightening lit the sky
The witch got out her broomstick
And cackling off did fly!!!

Bec Van Diemen and Michelle Cox
Bec Van Diemen and Michelle Cox

This was indeed the scene as members of the executive committee dressed as witches to welcome those joining the coven for a lively debate on whether the reference librarian has passed over.

Jennifer Osborn (Reference Librarian) argued that the reference librarian is dead (making her one of the living dead!). She suggested that this was due to three main causes:

  1. Seduction
  2. Stagnation
  3. Senility

Very helpfully, Jennifer also suggested potential jobs for soon to be redundant librarians. A crowd favourite was writing popular fiction, since we too want to be the proud author of a title such as ‘Nympho Librarian’. Unfortunately , ‘net nanny’ parameters restrict the cover being shown at this time! Sorry *grin*!

Steve Cramond (Electronic Information Resources Librarian) took the opposite side confirming that there is hope for the reference librarian. Steve argued that while the day to day role and perhaps even the physical location of the reference librarian may change due to the impact of the Internet and technology, it is thus that is reinventing and rejuvenating the librarian. Indeed it is the mass of information (perceived and/or real) now available that makes the reference librarian more important than ever.

After the formal debate had concluded, participants broke into a number of groups for a brief ‘meet and greet’ and to discuss the following.

  1. The internet is effectively challenging the reference desk in two related, but distinct ways:
    1. As a source of easy-to-find, ready information (accuracy et. al. notwithstanding)
    2. As the means by which commercial reference providers can operate and be easily accessible.

Do you agree? Do you think they are a challenge or threat to the traditional reference desk service? What can be done in the face of these?

  1. “If the truth be known, as a place to get help in finding information, the reference desk was never a good idea” – discuss…

The groups talked about their own experiences – how they have observed that some people find the reference desk as slightly intimidating, and strategies that are implemented to encourage users to approach the desk!! There was discussion about the amount of information that is not on the internet – refereed and scholarly journals, etc. Also a lot of discussion that many users do not want user education; they want it done for them – they do not want to learn complex search strategies, they just want stuff fast.

The final section of the evening was taken up with a very contentious, but exciting and boisterous game of pictionary. Apparently in hindsight we ignored some rules, and the topic coordinator seemed a little biased (note – not for the winning group either) but that didn’t seem to matter at the time. Topics were either of a library nature (e.g. reference enquiry), about Halloween (e.g. Banshee – arguably the hardest to draw and/or guess) or a combination of both (e.g. SALIN Christmas Dinner – and a very good night that was on the 15th at Ottomans as well). Actually I think this was a library topic – but it was still hard to draw! Bags of Halloween lollies went to the winners -well those brave enough to eat eyeballs and Dracula teeth! Oh and if you haven’t eaten the teeth yet – my advice is DON’T!

Thanks go to the two speakers Jennifer Osborn and Steve Cramond (both of the Barr Smith Library, Adelaide University), all the willing participants, and finally to the executive committee of SALIN for providing an evening of both Trick and Treats!

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