Week 3 | Reference | Point of view

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    • #878
      Paola Beretta

      The bridge: the relevance of reference services

      Story Bridge, Brisbane
      © Paola Beretta

      This week’s discussions prompt me reflect about the relevance of reference services, especially in context of my current work. The term ‘reference’ has until recently been vague to me, but in a recent Twitter chat, some ideas and concepts caught my attention. One of them is the distinction between ‘reference work’ and ‘reference transaction’ as offered by the Reference and User Services Association. Reference transactions are interactions in which a librarian assists a user with a given information need. Reference work includes not only those transactions, but also ‘the creation, management, and assessment of information or research resources, tools, and services’. My work as Library Adviser (LA) focuses mostly on ‘reference transactions’ as I interact with users through online chat, aka ‘Ask a Librarian’ service. I answer questions that range from catalogue use, loans, overdue fees, holds, course reserve to how to understand an essay question, to mention a few of the types of queries that I deal with. I also work at the library’s Help Desk where I provide similar services, but on a face-to-face basis. My workplace fits into ‘a consolidated service point’ model, one of the service models analysed by Laura Saunders in a 2012 study where she refers to librarians as ‘jack-of-all-trades.’

      I think that description is very apt. As an LA I aim to create ‘teachable moments’ by guiding users to find their own answers and hopefully become more confident in their study skills to fulfill academic requirements. But in order to do that I have to be tech-savvy and know how to find, search and use online resources effectively and efficiently. I have to be familiar with university systems, databases and various other online scholarly resources. I have to think quickly on my feet (especially when assisting multiple users at the same time). I have to be resourceful and direct users to other university services as appropriate when their question is beyond the scope of my expertise or knowledge. The work at the virtual desk is fast-paced, challenging and rewarding. It helps to have a good sense of humour, curiosity, ability to do some detective work; patience and a genuine interest in helping others do well in their studies.

      It is clear to me from my experience as LA that there is a constant demand for reference services as described above. Users are often overwhelmed by the quantity of information available in both print and online formats and my job as ‘jack-of-all-trades’ is to assist users to navigate a vast information ocean to reach the shores of useful information. Reference services are increasingly offered synchronously and asynchronously and through a variety of channels (e.g. online chat, email, text, face-to-face, or via phone), but most of all they are relevant to point the way, guide and help users ‘connect the dots’ between an information need and useful information. Saunders ascertains that ‘the core reference service involving direct interaction and mediation among librarian, patron, and information sources is not dead’. Librarians tend to be versatile and adaptable professionals, often very interested in what they do and how they do it. Whatever we call reference services, whichever way it is shaped and delivered; there is a need for our services, as a bridge between user and information.


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    • #908

      Thank you for the insider view Paola. I also looked at this issue but from the student angle.

      Your perspective is really helpful. It sounds as though you are juggling many, many balls at once and all the time! It would be great to talk more about your experiences.


    • #924
      Deborah Fuller

      Hi Paola, I enjoyed reading your post. It was good to get an insight form the perspective of a library advisor. It sounds a challenging and interesting job

    • #927
      Bronwyn Linthwaite

      Hi Paola, it was great to hear an insiders perspective of the challenges of reference work. Having no experience as a librarian, reference is a bit intimidating. I’m not sure if my information literacy skills are up to the task just yet!

      • #948
        Paola Beretta

        Thank you all for your insights and comments!

        Bronwyn, I find that reference work is intimidating, especially when you are still learning about it (I feel I am always ‘in training’!) But having to interact with others and provide the best advice you can is a great way to learn. Happy to discuss further if you are interested in learning more about it for future employment opportunities.

    • #935
      Stacey Larner

      Great post Paola!

    • #1006
      Tracey Allen

      Hey Paola,

      I recently sat down with my cousin (librarian @ academic library) and I was stunned at how many jobs she had on the go.  She was also looking after the librarian chat.  She answered a question so fast that I barely had time to blink.  I am looking forward to becoming a Librarian so I too can prove my multitasking skills just like you both.

    • #1944
      Steven Walker

      Hi Paola,

      This issue is close to my heart and I can see why you wrote about it. What i drew most from your Argument is that your made a distinction they The Information Systems Profession is like a Chamelion and can be adapted. Well Done




    • #2292
      Chris Sonneveld

      Hi Paola

      I really enjoyed reading your post. I agree, there is still a need for reference services as there is a large portion of library patrons who struggle to pick up information literacy skills from all different age groups. Even if we offered more efficient and easier to understand ways of introducing the basic skills I still think that patrons will still want to know more. Whether that is to find what they are looking for more quickly or find a reference that is more relevant. We are here to also give them confidence that what they find is of good quality and to introduce them to resources they may not have known existed.

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