Reflections on Reference Services – and Leadership

16 Jul

Reference Librarians are the key to reminding users of the necessity of libraries – no matter how many new technologies emerge, no matter how much more accessible information becomes, no matter how limited budgets may be.  Because of reference Librarians, libraries will always be relevant – there is no machine, application or recording that can fill the shoes of a helpful human working with you personally to meet your specific and sometimes complex information needs.  Because of this, reference librarians are one of the most important things about libraries.

What I learned from Tyckoson’s essay is how much leadership a person must possess and activate to be a good reference librarian.  A reference librarian needs to be the Miss Congeniality of the library.  They need to appear to be friendly and approachable, and they need to actually be motivated to track down the information requested by the user every time a question is asked – whether they are in a bad mood, they are tired, or this request is incredibly difficult.  That takes leadership.  It is their job to be the one person who will take an interest and search until the information is found.  Google will just shoot back anything that might approximate the search term if the real answer isn’t too easy to find on the web.  A friend or co-worker might be too busy to help, or too uninterested.  The Reference librarian has to always care and always connect the user to the information they are seeking.

A reference librarian also needs to constantly educate themselves about available resources over a vast array of subject matters, and build a personal collection of tools they can consult so that they can quickly respond to a request and make the information available at their fingertips.  The self-motivation required to stay abreast of new resources takes leadership.

A reference librarian needs to help market and promote the library within the community.  This serves to keep budget dollars flowing in during tough times, but it also increases the likelihood that everyone in the community will benefit from the library, because they are aware of all of the things the library can do for them.  To an extent, Samuel Green is correct that a good interaction with a reference librarian is powerful marketing.  However, this is not enough on its own.  People who never step foot in the library to ask a reference question a first time still need to be made aware of the usefulness of the library.  The persistence, creativity and positive attitude required to not only provide the best service to the community but also to effectively communicate it requires leadership, as well.

(Written in response to: “Chapter 12 – Reference Service: The Personal Side of Librarianship” by David A. Tyckoson in The Portable MLIS: Insights from the Experts[2008].)

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