or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


An Evening of Radical Reference

   November 23rd, 2010 Brian Herzog

Radical Reference logoI'm often embarrassingly late to hear about things, and I think this is another example. Last Friday I went to a presentation by Boston Radical Reference Collective librarians held at sprout & co in Somerville, MA, sponsored by Artists in Context.

I had no idea what to expect. I thought I had heard of Radical Reference before, but I wasn't sure.

Turns out, this event was great. The Radical Reference librarians explained that, among other things, they are a group of librarians trying to do real grassroots community outreach. Instead of holding a program in a library and hoping people come, they contact different organizations in the community and visit them with a specifically-tailored presentation to suit their needs.

But best of all, this isn't affiliated with any particular library - it's just volunteer activist librarians who feel outreach and information literacy is important.

Friday night the presentation covered online research tools available for the artist community. The Radical Reference librarians had created and showed off a subject guide, but most of the evening was back-and-forth discussion. There were about forty people there total, and many in the audience were random librarians like me. Artists would ask questions or state a particular need, and after the presenters provided information, the rest of us would chime in with additional resources from our experiences.

After the presentation, there was time for mingling and trying to match those of us with research interests and skills with the artists who needed some insight. It was really great, I think, for everyone - artists, the groups involved, and even I had a good time (which is rare for me in a room full of strangers). I'm definitely going to look into Radical Reference to see how else I can get involved - their website has both a volunteer interest form and a list of local collectives.

Also, for what it's worth: I'm heading to Ohio for Thanksgiving with my family, and so won't be posting again until next week. Happy holidays.



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Superstar Librarian

   February 13th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Last week, as I was quietly minding my own business at the reference desk, two middle school girls came down the steps. Since the steps are right in front of the desk, I tend to look up when I hear people, which is what I did in this case. When they saw me, one turned to the other and whispered, "it's him, it's him!"

I have to say that his kind of freaked me out. I had no idea what they were talking about, but it was pretty obvious they were referring to me. And when I say obvious, I mean obvious to every single patron on the floor at the time, because she "whispered" in one of those not-at-all-a-whisper whispers that middle school girls are so good at.

Anyway, they passed by me and went into the teen room, and sat working at a table for maybe an hour or so. Then, they came up to the desk and asked if I was the guy that came into their classroom to talk about how to use databases for research. Whew.

About a month ago, I and two fellow librarians visited the local middle school. Apparently these girls remembered me from that, and so were coming to ask me to help them with their project.

Which is great - in addition to introducing resources to the kids, our goal was to introduce ourselves to them, so they would feel comfortable approaching us and asking for help.

And our outreach program continues - today we visited the middle school again to talk to the second wave of students (about 250) who are just now starting this project. In another month's time, we'll go back again to speak to the rest.

Now for me, speaking to a group this large means I have no chance of remembering any of their names or faces. But this makes me feel that if kids know me as "that library guy," I need to be on my best behavior when I out grocery shopping or whatever - who knows who's watching, and may or may not approach me in the library as a result.

Having groupies is a big responsibility.
instruction, libraries, library, middle school, outreach, public libraries, public library



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Instruction… @ THEIR Library

   January 11th, 2007 Brian Herzog

I don't know if this is true for other communities, but at the Chelmsford Schools, every 6th grader takes part in the I-Search research project. Their general topic is Ancient Civilizations, and each student picks something specific (gladiators, daily life in ancient China, etc.) to research and write about (along the Big6 guidelines).

In past years, every 6th grade class would take a field trip to the public library. They would sign up for a library card, get a tour, meet the librarians, and start researching their topic. This year, though, the school had remodeled and expanded its own library, and wanted to highlight how it and its collection could help with I-Search.

So, the Children's Librarian, the Teen Librarian and myself (as Reference/databases) went to the school library to deliver a little presentation on what the public library offers. The morning we went, we spoke to four classes of 6th graders, which was about was about 100 kids. We're going back in February to speak to a second group of 100 kids.

We had three handouts prepared for them. One was a general brochure [pdf] on library services, with a section devoted to the call numbers of the different civilizations. Second was a bookmark [pdf] on how to access and search EBSCOhost's History Reference Center database, along with a few search tips. We also gave them a map of the public library, so they could find where the J books were, where the DVDs were, etc. In addition, we created a web page with this information and more.

I've never presented anything to kids that age, and wasn't sure what to expect. Overall, they were very good for having to sit and listen about how to search a database. And the school librarian and teachers liked our presentation, too. Best of all, though, in the two days since the talk, I've already helped four kids with I-Search - and all of them were interested in using the databases from home. The assignment isn't due until March, and these kids are already on top of it. Amazing.

, ancient civilizations, i-search, instruction, libraries, library, outreach, school libraries, students



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