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

Reference Question of the Week – 5/20/12

   May 26th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Kindness of Strangers signIt's been a very slow week in the library (school winding down + beautiful weather), so this week's question isn't an actual reference question - but it is something I recently learned.

Did you know Wikipedia has a reference desk?

The Wikipedia reference desk works like a library reference desk. Users leave questions on the reference desk and Wikipedia volunteers work to help you find the information you need.

Questions/answers are broken up into categories, and are both interesting and sophisticated. I also like the format of crowdsourcing answers - even when someone had given what I thought was a great answer, subsequent responders added new information or aspects that were useful.

Actually, it reminded me of any other online forum, which I use all the time for answering questions (especially for coding problems or frustrating technology issues). No one response provides a complete answer, but putting all the bits and pieces together often solves the problem.

Not that using the internet as a big Help archive is anything new - I was just happy to find another source to search when I get a real stumper. But if nothing else, the Wikipedia Reference Desk Guidelines does make for interesting reading.

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Reference Question of the Week – 8/21/11

   August 27th, 2011 Brian Herzog

This isn't a real reference question, but it's kind of related and I thought people would be interested.

When I was reading The Atlantic article about people not knowing about Ctrl+F, the last paragraph mentioned Google's AGoogleADay.com campaign. I had never heard of this, but it's basically a Google game - here's how they describe it:

A Google A Day directions

The couple questions I've done have been fairly simple, and taken only minutes to answer (although one I had the right answer but Google kept telling me it was incorrect - it might be picky about the format you use to type in the answer).

I enjoy games and challenges like this (librarian!), but it's not like we need to go out of our way to find them. But something I liked about AGoogleADay was that, when it gives you the answer, it also tells you what Google thinks is the right way to find the answer. It's never matched my search strategy, but like they say, "there's no right way to solve it."

To prevent players finding the answer after someone else has posted the question, the game is powered by Deja Google - it's a "wormhole inspired time machine [that] searches the Internet as it existed before the game began ... Because nobody wants someone's recent blog post about finding an answer spoiling their fun." Good thinking.

Something else interesting was the link to Google Inside Search. I'd heard that Google retired Google Labs, and Inside Search seems to be, not exactly a replacement, but a new method for Google to introduce their new tools. My favorite part was the timeline at the bottom, that shows you exactly when different tools launched.

So if it's a slow day at the library, or you're a library student looking to hone your reference skills, give it a try.

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