August 14, 2015 at 6:11 pm #997
I had initially planned to choose to do a service review as my task as I thought it would be the most suitable for this week’s topic of reference but then I read Anthony Verdesca’s article and everything changed.
His masterful prose in “What’s in a word: Coming to terms with Reference” drove me, nay it irrevocably compelled me with its sheer passion and verbosity to consume his follow up article before forcing my hand to quickly open a new tab and google image search so that I might lay eyes upon the countenance of the man whose choice of words could inspire with such ease. I was not disappointed by the man I found.
If you followed my link you too would have seen a man who would not abase himself to the opinions of the multitude, the throng of pessimistic, tech worshiping librarians headed by the Eli Neiburger of yore and his ilk who clawed at the citadel walls of this once great and reverential service with their cries of “Reference is Dead!” “Long live Information Literacy!” or as Eli so pleasantly put it “The Library is Screwed!”. It was here atop the fortified reference desk that Verdesca made his stand with all the vehemence of a slighted Inigo Montoya facing at last the six fingered man. I turned my thoughts from this heroic scene to the results that Google had returned for me and at the top lay a link to yet another tribute to the man’s near boundless passion for the cause: “Librarian inspires love of learning”
This reference parable tells the story of a student with an issue that cannot be solved by google alone or even by her clear aptitude for scholarly endeavors. Enter our hero Verdesca, who gallantly plays the role he was born to as reference librarian by allaying her fears and qualms with his learned assistance. The tale ends with the triumphant passage:
“Elizabeth told me that she was looking forward to next semester
With students like Elizabeth, so am I”
It is this human element of reference services that so distinctly separates it from the realm of Information Literacy that is so regularly touted as the educational imperative, the cure for what ails your studious intentions. As an alternative to one on one interaction with a fervent and vigorous professional the results gained from this individual research or study can pale in comparison. We would be a race much more inclined to a solitary lifestyle if we excelled through personal study and individual efforts alone. This is why we as humans instead strive to learn in groups that are motivated by an accomplished tutor in schools and universities, why we form committees and management hierarchies in business and why we hold debates and conferences with peers and experts. If left to our own devices we can stagnate in cyclical mindsets and viewpoints. The practice of Information Literacy and the idea of assisting lifelong learning through brief instruction is in this respect like outlining to a man what a fishing rod is capable of and then placing him beside an ocean teeming with life but not explaining the intricacies of the act of fishing itself and then expecting him to be able to catch all necessary fish during his lifetime now as a qualified fisherman.
In part two of his opus on reference Verdesca touches on this idea of cyclical perspective through the work of Samuel Thurber who in his text “Précis writing for American schools” extolls the virtues of thoughtful comprehension that is increasingly difficult in the modern age where we are overwhelmingly surrounded by information and have become ‘skimmers of the printed page’ or in this case the digital. This has developed in modern readers and learners the recurrent habit of seeing, reading and consequently thinking superficially. Here Verdesca assures my unwavering allegiance to his conclusions by referencing a quote that is attributed to my favorite dramatist Seneca: “A large library is apt to distract rather than to instruct the learner. It is much better to be confined to a few authors than to wander at random over many.”
The great philosophers so thoroughly explored the human condition that they are still quoted today and are fonts of universal knowledge and conclusions. Could not a parallel be drawn here between modern writers referencing the work of great scholars to assist in the formation of their current ideas with the role reference staff play in assisting modern scholars to formulate their own work with authoritative attributions?
Many who condemned reference service were surely also among those who declared the end of vinyl records and just as they have seen a resurgence in recent times aided by modern production methods and clever marketing so too will reference persist and return as a valued service.
We as humans value interaction and collaboration, developing and thriving from it in a way that cannot be replaced by answers provided by an interface rather than a real face, no matter how skilled we might become in framing the question.
The final image and more wonderful images just like it can be found via the instagram page of the New York Public Library – here
The opinions found above are mine alone and are offered in the spirit of satire and good-natured melodrama.
Thanks go to Anthony “The Man” Verdesca and my homeboy Seneca
August 15, 2015 at 8:53 pm #1013Shannon FranzwayParticipant
Cracking post, Will! I enjoyed it. I had exactly the same reaction to Anthony “The Man” Verdesca – I was also irrevocably drawn to part 2 of the article 🙂
August 16, 2015 at 12:55 pm #1045
Glad you enjoyed it Shannon! Thanks for letting me know! His article was one of the most engaging required readings I’ve had to read in ages.
August 28, 2015 at 11:41 am #1419Robynne Kilborne BlakeParticipant
What a great read Will! I love your emphasis on human beings thriving and developing on interaction and collaboration – couldn’t agree more.
I’m still in favour of teaching people to fish from the reference desk however and don’t see that as killing off reference but rather expanding it. Effective interaction and collaboration can surely occur at that level also, don’t you think?
Anyway, Inigo Montoya is, and always will be, an inspiration to us all!
September 19, 2015 at 9:48 am #2059Clare ThorpeKeymaster
A great post with flare although woe betide the man who makes an error with his “Princess Bride” reference. It’s a six fingered man, Will. 🙂
September 21, 2015 at 5:42 pm #2197
It is inconceivable that I could have made such a foolish error Claire and yet there it is before me. I’ve hurriedly fixed it but the damage is done. I guess I had better go back to where they found me. Unemployed….In Greenland.
Glad you liked it!
October 3, 2015 at 6:06 pm #2302Chris SonneveldParticipant
Thanks for a really interesting post. I had to go back to the readings to get a refresh but I’m glad I did. The last sentence definitely says it all. I agree that face-to-face reference services are not dead, we just have to wait till people realise that they don’t have to do everything on there own.
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