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

Reference Question of the Week – 4/19/09

   April 25th, 2009

dewey shelvesSince I was traveling this week, I don't have a reference question today. But a fun post over on Closed Stacks can help hone reference skills.

It lists some online quizzes for brushing up on your Dewey and LC knowledge (I got 100% on both Dewey tests, so yay for my masters degree). Really, one of my favorite parts of the job is when someone comes to the desk and says,

Do you have any books on ____________?

and I'm able to immediately say, "yes, I'll show you where those are," and take them right to that subject in the stacks.

Afterwards, I explain why I could find them and how they can use the catalog to find books too, but the initial shock and surprise patrons show when you can seemingly pull a useful book out of thin air is too good to pass up.

Some patrons think I have every book in the library memorized. I try to convince them it's not magic, just organization, but many people still think locating information is beyond them. Maybe it means we need better signage.

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3 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 4/19/09”

  1. Aaron Says:

    Taking your comment about signs directing people to the right resources to the extreme, I’ve often wondered if a library’s design, layout, and wayfinding could be so well done that a library member would never have to use an OPAC to find the items they’re after.

    I don’t know if the answer is yes, but it is an idea I’d like to explore further.

  2. Auntie Nanuuq Says:

    “Some patrons think I have every book in the library memorized.” But you do don’t you? Come on & admit it, we all do!

  3. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Aaron: I love the idea, and wonder the same thing myself. I think bookstores might be a bit closer to this than libraries. The problem I keep coming back to is that we just don’t have enough floor space to spread the collection out to make things easier to find, so I think the solution has more to do with library layout than anything else.

    I’d also like to experiment with this by just turning off all the opacs in the library. That would let us test how patrons respond to other wayfinding prompts, specially-designed handouts at the opac stations, if they come to a desk or just leave empty-handed.

    @Auntie: I’ll have to invoke my favorite librarian saying: I don’t know all the answers, I just know where to find them.