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!

Trends and Opportunities: Library Employment for the New Generation

Trends and Opportunities: Library Employment for the New Generation

22 August 2002

Review by Alice Dodd

Speakers:

  • Tania Paull, Associate Director, PLAIN Central Services
  • Bronwyn Halliday, Director, State Library of South Australia
  • Melissa Osborne, Recruitment Consultant, Scansearch Library Placements

speakers

This event was a resounding success, with an audience of sixty people from all sectors and levels in the field of Library and Information Management. It was great to see a number of LIM students, as well as management from special libraries, public librarians, technicians, as well as those in the academic libraries.

The speakers shared valuable information and knowledge which came not only from their positions in the industry, but also their personal experience and perceptions. Equally valuable was the opportunity to hear the questions and answers raised at the end of the session.

The presentations, and discussions ensuing from these, addressed how to break into the profession, move up in the management structure, sideways within an organisation or into another sector. As each speaker discussed the qualities and skills looked for in an employee, as well as the trends in their sector, common themes and some hot tips emerged. Below are the bare bones.

Tania Paull’s career has included working in the Peterborough, Pt. Lincoln and Salisbury Library Services before her role as Associate Director at PLAIN. PLAIN (Public Libraries Automated Information Network) provides centralised acquisition, cataloguing, processing and distribution to 148 public and community libraries.

Growth areas in this sector include Information Sevices, Marketing and Promotion, and the Public Library’s role within their community as a facilitator and centre for life long learning and education.

The qualities and skills particularly important in working in public libraries are:

  • people skills; being able to interact and enjoy working with a wide variety of people
  • technology skills; especially in using the Web, records management and knowledge of the IT management system
  • innovation, initiative, problem solving skills and a ‘can – do’ team approach
  • being multi skilled and prepared to take on a variety of tasks, from devising IT user education to dressing up as a fish for the local Tunarama festival.

If applying for a position in a public library, one is considered favourably if they are a user of that library and know that particular community. Be prepared to become involved in the community. For example, a country library is more interested in someone who is going to spend their weekends in the community. Look at the automated library system and computing software the library uses. A basic knowledge of the ‘Library Skill Set’; use of the PLAIN, Automated Library and shelving systems is also a good start.

Once in the Library: move ahead by learning from others who do well, finding mentors, looking at the broader picture of the organisation and its strategic directions and being confident enough to share your ideas with those above you. As Paull suggests, “don’t be afraid of your boss.”

In order to move into management in public libraries and serve your community and council well you need to be able to “speak the language” of other managers in the council. Know your council’s strategic vision and have one for the library within that. Work on having an understanding of financial management skills. Be able to talk about what your library can do for the council and community, for example, in terms of life long education.

Postgraduate qualifications in Human Resources or Management are useful.

For those wishing to break into the sector, taking on a casual evening and weekend position is a good idea. Voluntary and work experience positions are another realistic option. Taking a position in a country library is an ideal opportunity to learn the spectrum of skills involved in library work.

Bronwyn Halliday’s talk focused on the trends in the services provided by the State Library and consequently, the types of skills and qualities required in individuals working there. She then described the recruitment process.

The Library’s role in education is increasing exponentially, with numerous school tours and activities planned in the next year. Reference and Information Services is another expanding area. Storage and management of materials is, literally, ever expanding!

As you can imagine, the State Library requires candidates with people, IT and Web skills and an interest in marketing and promotion. However, the preservation of materials is also a major role of the State Library and conservators will also be required. In fact, there is a worldwide shortage of conservators, so if that’s an interest of yours, go for it now!

The Library will be recruiting fifteen graduates from 2002/3. Technicians and Librarians will be required. Watch out for the advertisements put out by the Office for the Commission of Public Employment, in the Advertiser. These will appear possibly as soon as the 7th of September. Unfortunately, a graduate is classified as someone who gained their qualifications in the last two years. This leaves a lot of us out, but it is part of a deal with the State Government. Perhaps an opportunity for some radical campaigning? Once again, going for a position as a Retriever or Shelver at the SLSA whilst studying is a good way of getting your foot in the door.

Melissa Osborne gained her Graduate Diploma in Information Studies in 1999. Prior to becoming the Recruitment Consultant for Scansearch, she worked at State Records, TAFE and in the CPA Library. Her presentation featured “The Seven Deadly Sins” of graduates and those recently entering the profession. She was generously candid in relating examples from her own experience. Perhaps the least obvious but most common one is that of having too high expectations upon graduating. In short, be prepared to take on work you might consider below your theoretical training; by doing your work well and looking for opportunities with a positive attitude, you will advance. Osborne also suggested that one should identify an area they love; Web development, client services or cataloguing, for example; and specialise.

And here’s a hot tip: technicians are in demand and there is a shortage of good cataloguers in Adelaide.

Positions that Scansearch do not fill immediately are advertised on the Web at Mycareer and CareerOne.

The perennial question of whether a LIM course prepared one adequately for a library position was raised at the end of the session and the general consensus was that there is no substitute for on the job training. Get in there and get some practical experience!

Overall, the evening left me with the impression that there are a great number of opportunities in the LIM field and more importantly, that one could capitalise on their own diverse interests within this. The speakers own histories demonstrate that one should, to use a hackneyed phrase, think laterally when considering their qualifications and the trends and opportunities out there. After all, a Masters in Business Administration can lead to managing a library whilst a Graduate Diploma in Information Studies might lead to working in Human Resources!

Thanks to Tania Paull, Bronwyn Halliday, Melissa Osborne and the SALIN Executive Committee for a genuinely informative and stimulating event!

Kate Sergeant speaking to the attendees
Kate Sergeant speaking to the attendees

Attendees
Attendees

Bec Van Diemen and Robyn Ellard
Bec Van Diemen and Robyn Ellard

Brodie Millsteed and Sarah Townsend
Brodie Millsteed and Sarah Townsend