The power of place

A tweet from Chris Craft just caught my eye this morning and triggered all sorts of thoughts.

crafty184 “I really would like to figure out something I’d need to ask a reference librarian because Google can’t provide the answer.”

I jokingly responded a question Google probably can’t answer: “Where is the pencil sharpener?”

But there’s a point to my joke. Maybe a library is more than just questions we ask a reference librarian?

In any case, I think for our profession, there is both a shift, and not a shift, needed.

What do our patrons want from us as librarians? It’s different for public libraries than school libraries, obviously.

For one thing, in a school, the library serves as a sort of social hub for learning, no matter what that learning looks like. It has areas where large groups of students can gather, lots of computers and other equipment, books for leisure reading or research, etc. And it’s a place to just hang out, which most school buildings don’t have enough of. So maybe one thing they want is an inviting and friendly place with books and tables and chairs and a staff that is fine with them gathering there.

I think the offline dimension to library use is important.

So what else is our role? Does it also become an increasingly online one? Perhaps. As we encounter students on Facebook, our blogs, email, websites, etc.–we do find additional ways to reach out and interact with students.

Chris also tweeted — wondering if librarians just Google the answers and give them to patrons. Yes, sometimes we do because perhaps we know how to find something more effectively, or how to use the advanced search, which not every customer does 😉

There is also somewhat of a presumption in the techno-literate world that students or teachers (or just the general public) knows how to find everything online.

They don’t. Many people do–but many don’t. And I’m not just saying this in defense of librarians.

Sometimes we know to use other tools–like we also know to go to a database for a back-dated magazine article, or we know what book has an incredible day by day timeline of the 1960’s, or we know that to upload a music file to Photostory it has to be an mp3.

It’s one of those things where you start out with a certain expertise, but because it’s what you do all day long, you build this knowledge bank of your own–a skillset of “how-tos’ and a mindset of how to find things the most efficient way.

At a school, our role is also that of educator. We don’t just need to find the information for the patron(student or teacher), but our goal is to help model for them how we found it, and how we think about finding it, so that they can become more independent researchers with more skills of their own.

One example I have is that recently we have been working on our Vietnam Wall project, where sometimes students are trying to piece together information about a soldier’s life with not too much data to go on, since they lived “pre-Internet.” So it’s my job to help them develop detective skills–like using their powers of deduction to figure out where the soldier went to high school, and then trying to locate yearbooks there so someone can scan a picture for the student’s memorial. Or using their powers of deduction to locate a county Veteran’s museum which might have information that could be sent to them.

Because most students just haven’t been through this sort of real research process, they don’t necessarily have the insights into ways to locate the information. So my role is to coach and encourage them to get creative in their research rather than “just” relying on googling the soldier’s name.

When we as librarians help students think, that is a true measure of our success.

Now, does this really answer Chris’s tweet above? Maybe not. But I like to think of reference librarians as the tweet-osphere for non-Tweeters. Throw out a question and you will get an answer from the great library collaborative. Questions that you need help with may be few and far between, but when you need to know, just like Twitter, the “great collaborative” of reference librarians is there, whether in person or virtually.

I take his point though. The world of information is changing very rapidly, allowing more do-it-yourself research. And we do need to be clear on who we are in that world, what our value-added is, and how to tell our story effectively.

Photo Credit:

Gates Western History Room, Denver Public Library. IMG_6073

Second Life, Librarians Meeting

4 thoughts on “The power of place

  1. We also serve our fellow educators to help them jazz up assignments so they aren’t boring or same old, same old. We offer insights or different approaches, for both activities with students that include the library or for student activities that involve us as a consultant only, a peripheral that is used as needed if at all. We do these with pride in knowing we have contributed in some way, be it great or small.

  2. Carolyn,

    I also find students aren’t good at expanding or narrowing their searches, using keywords effectively or selecting appropriate reference sources.

    When it comes to literature, the librarian knows the collection and can suggest appropriate titles based on information gleaned from conversation with the student or staff member.

    We know our resources, we know our population!

  3. Well said! I’m the “media specialist” at my high school, but I really consider myself a “Jill of All Trades” because our job means we have to know something about everything – or at least fake it until we can get the answer from someone else in our PLN!

  4. I would like the librarian to:
    *teach us the tools needed to find the answer
    * teach advanced search and key words
    *suggest ways to enhance my lesson
    *offer other resources I had not thought of
    * suggest “next steps” after this lesson.

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