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

Support the Stack Exchange Library Forum

   January 10th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Unshelved by Gene Ambaum and Bill BarnesThe beginning of the year is apparently my favorite time for good causes - although this is one I've mentioned before.

Last year, Unshelved Answers, a Q&A site for librarians, went offline. A replacement was proposed on Stack Exchange, but to move forward it needs 894 people to support the idea.

I used Unshelved Answers a lot, to both ask questions and share knowledge (sometimes that I had to find out the hard way). If you're interested in a professional open forum (essentially, a reference desk for librarians) to communicate with each other and share tips and tricks and best practices, take a look at the proposal and consider clicking the Commit! button. Thanks.

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Reference Question of the Week – 6/26/11

   July 2nd, 2011 Brian Herzog

Unshelved comic stripInstead of a reference question I've answered this week, I wanted to bring attention to a resource for librarians to ask questions.

In April, the very useful Unshelved Answers went off-line - it was a forum that let librarians ask professional questions of other librarians. I used it frequently, both asking and answering, and was sad when this resource went away.

But recent tweets from @codinghorror and @jessamyn reminded me of an effort to start up a replacement Libraries forum - I say "effort," because it'll take your help to make it happen.

The new home will be at stackexchange.com, which requires a critical mass of people to "commit" to a new forum before it is activated. As I write this, we've got 316 of the 894 needed committers, so we still need more librarians to get involved. But don't let the word "commit" scare you - you're not dedicating your life to anything, just showing that you support the idea of the forum and will use it (at your own level of involvement).

The idea behind this Libraries forum, and Unshelved Answers before it, is to create a "reference desk for librarians" - but the official proposal description reads:

Proposed Q&A site for librarians and library professionals where they can share their expertise about libraries and everything in them.

In other words, this will be a place where we can ask questions about working in a library, seek help on reference questions, find out how other libraries are handling a particular issue, and, yes, whether or not we need more signs in the library (no).

And who better to ask than other librarians?

So please, take a minute, visit the new Librarians forum proposal page and click the green Commit! button - together we can make this happen, and together we can help each other make libraries better. Thanks.

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Reference Question of the Week – 8/24/08

   August 23rd, 2008 Brian Herzog

Georgia invasion question on Yahoo AnswersA few months ago, I listed online services that provide answers to peoples' questions.

In the library world, the big concern is usually the quality of the answers - do these services provide the same level of quality in the answers that someone would get from a librarian?

As I read on studio twentysix2, perhaps we should be more concerned with the quality of the question.

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Reference Question of the Week – 6/22/08

   June 28th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Magic 8 Ball: Ask Again LaterThis isn't a reference question, but instead is a list of a few other places where reference questions (and answers) are being archived:

Help Build a Library Q&A Custom Search
A post on the Library 2.0 Ning group mentioned a project to create a Google custom search engine of just reference questions from libraries. If your library does this, be sure to add it to the list - the more data it can search, the more useful it will be.

"The Oracle Collective"
An article in this week's New York Times Magazine talks about asking questions on the internet, and a few services that provide answers (Yahoo Answers, Ask.com, etc). It's an interesting article, and the recommendations at the end are worth reading. Via LISNews.

I Get By With A Little Help From MeFi
No roundup of ask-a-question resources is complete with mentioning Ask MetaFilter. MetaFilter, a.k.a. MeFi, is a community blog to which interesting websites are posted (essentially "filtering" the internet for the rest of us). In Ask MeFi, volunteers from the community provide answers to questions asked by site visitors.

Internet Public Library Reference Desk
Staffed by librarians and library students, the Internet Public Library is always a reliable source for answers. Their list of frequently asked questions isn't as fancy as some, but it still gets the job done. (And in the interest full disclosure, I volunteered with the IPL when I was in library school.)

Surely There Is A Wiki...
Very similar to Yahoo Answers and Ask MeFi in principle is WikiAnswers. As a wiki, anyone can ask or answer a questions, and also edit existing answers. The format of a single answer can be easier that reading lots of individual replies from different people, but here you can also view the discussion of the answer. Part of Answers.com.

I know lots of individual libraries are doing this too, and some are twittering their reference questions. If you know of other good sources to ask questions online and search through answers, please share.

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