Week 3: Reflection: Reference!

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    • #1071
      Nicole Steer

      I loved that this week included an extension of/revisiting of Ranganathan’s Laws as a reading! I love Ranganathan’s Five Laws and especially love the “Every reader their book” and “Every book its reader” laws, as they epitomise to me what librarianship is meant to be all about. This ties in to how I feel the reference aspect of being a librarian is one of the biggest and most important parts of librarianship, especially so in academic libraries.

      I know I’m not the only one who has heard non-librarians asking why librarians still exist, certainly reference librarians. “After all,” they usually say, “Wikipedia exists, and so does Google. If I want to find something out, I don’t need to go to a library, I just search on Google for it.” I kind of even thought this myself at one point, seeing reference librarians as a dying breed and being all for defining “the librarian of the future”. Of course, then I did my Information Retrieval class last semester under Dr Elham Abdi (who is awesome, by the way!) and discovered that, well, research is actually a bit harder than that. When you’re researching something fairly broad, like “racism in Shakespeare plays” for your under-graduate, it’s not hard to type just that simple search term into Google or Google Scholar or QUT’s Library Search tool, and get plenty of relevant, high quality results.

      It’s when you get into deeper, more complicated searches that it becomes evident why librarians, especially reference librarians, exist. When you’re given a very specific user need (in the case of the assignment we did, the social networking platforms and collaboration tools used by school teachers to communicate with their peers) you realise that figuring out how to get the information you want is a really big process. Formulating the right search string is a lot harder than you think! Real world problems that people want help with are a lot more complicated than just “racism in Shakespeare.” So are questions and topics that make up theses for people doing research masters and PHDs – and guess what you’ll be expected to do a lot of if you ever become a librarian at an academic library!

      I’ve had a chance to speak with public librarians I know and they’ve spoken to me about how you can be surprised by people who don’t know how or where to find information on the internet. There are so many older people who don’t know how to formulate a search string for Google to find out, say, when to plant day lilies, or just straight up don’t know you <i>can </i>do that. There are people who don’t know that Google Search results exist past the first page! There are people who don’t know some of the great tools that even well-known search tools like Google have available, like searching by language, by last date the page was modified, or by image size, colour, or format (in this case they were helping out a middle school student doing art who wanted to make a “mosaic” out of smaller photos, and who was amazed and very thankful to discover that she could easily search for pictures of, say, skulls, and get Google to only show the red ones). And, on the other end of the scale entirely – there are new school kids (early primary) who, when the town has a blackout (not uncommon in rural areas during inclement weather!), don’t know they can use reference books to do their assignment or homework, even though the internet is down.

      I think a lot of what this means is that librarians should be at the forefront of new technology adoption and familiarisation. Technology is always going to keep advancing, and there are always going to be some people who have trouble using it or finding what they want; and there are always going to be people who need to access older forms of information that they didn’t grow up with and need help with too. That’s what librarians in the modern age should be focusing on. As a profession, we’re about connecting people with the information they need – it’s just a matter of realising that the “information” we’re talking about these days doesn’t always come in the shape of books.

      • This topic was modified 8 years, 11 months ago by Nicole Steer.
    • #1072
      Nicole Steer

      Hi, sorry this is a bit late! I was having trouble with logging back into the site as I had to reinstall my copy of Chrome (nasty adware virus, nothing too malicious but very, very annoying). It’s up now, though! I loved reading everyone’s pieces for this week and listening to you on Twitter! 🙂

      • #1360
        Jennifer Cotton

        Hi Nicole

        Your post was well written and easy to read. I can tell you have put a bit of thought into it. I too am frustrated by people saying Google knows all the answers. If you want a quick easy answer for a quick easy question, Google has its merits. However, if you actually want an understanding of the topic then you do need a librarian.

        It’s interesting how you mentioned blackouts in rural areas. Without power they are unable to use the internet so they have to resort to books. Last semester as I was researching for an assignment, I read there are many students who don’t know how to use an encyclopedia. In one extreme case there was a high school student who routinely used his Grandmother’s encyclopedia from 1911, he apparently didn’t see why he shouldn’t be using it. It is a fascinating insight into the divide between the city and country.


    • #1425

      Hi Nicole, I really liked your reflection about the problems of everyday people trying to navigate the work a day world we live in. Even Masters students, who could be expected to be better able to tackle the information overload we all live with now, have issues with effective research methods and tools. I think it’s important that we stop and reflect on this stuff to keep the simplest and most straightforward of our problems clearly in mind. Recently I bought my mum (who is 84) an ipad and she’s turned into a Facebook fiend! Loves the way it has reconnected her with her hometown, old friends and keeps her in tune with her granndchildren. But every now and then I get a call like “Where do I find Google again?” that reminds me how much we take for granted in our technology-dominated world. It’s so important to connect with people about their real issues and I think libraries and librarians can do that really well. Thanks for your thoughts on this.

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