Reference: Referrals, Ready Reference

2 Nov

From, photo credit C. Voegel

This blog post was originally written as a class assignment for a Reference and User Services class at Syracuse University during the 2010 Fall Semester.

I was surprised, as was the librarian, that the reference desk was quite slow on this September evening. As I headed home afterward, I learned that there were severe storms in the NYC area that likely kept people away. A couple of days later, we actually learned that there were two tornadoes in Brooklyn and Queens! No wonder it was a slow night. Tonight’s observation was primarily centered on referrals and ready reference.

Only 3 patrons approached the desk, and the library was for the most part empty. The questions I saw in full were simple things – in one case the printer was out of paper, and in the other, a link wasn’t working in the database, which turned out to be a user error.

The first question was the most interesting, but I only arrived halfway through it, but the librarian was kind enough to walk me through the question and her process in serving the information need after she was finished. This patron needed to verify facts in journals. She arrived with citations for articles in Psychology journals, and needed help tracking down the article text. Many of the journals she needed were not available in databases the library subscribed to.

The next step was to instruct the user to look up the articles in Worldcat, but the librarian warned of potential inaccuracies in Worldcat: It is comprehensive to usually include all that a library has. However, when books are weeded from collections, that is often NOT reflected in Worldcat, so sometimes a resource will be listed in Worldcat as being findable at a library branch when it actually is no longer available.

However, NYPL offers patrons in this situation “METRO card referrals”. These are basically passes for a patron to access specific materials at participating “METRO” libraries, including NYPL branches and several academic libraries in New York. This librarian uses a Worldcat search as a first step in filling out a METRO Referral form for a patron to use. If Worldcat indicates that the library at NYU has a resource, she will then call that library to make sure they do actually have it availalble, confirm their hours of operation, and inform them that she is sending a METRO card referral their way.

METRO libraries vary in their cooperativeness and process for honoring METRO referrals. For example, NYPL librarians consider sending a patron to Columbia University a last resort, because they don’t facilitate use of the library by non-university patrons as readily as some of the other METRO members do.

The librarian was happy to maximize time between patrons and walk me through the Ready Reference materials behind the reference desk, and make special note of references she used frequently.

This particular librarian calls herself a “digital migrant” who went through undergraduate school without a computer. So, she admits that they may play a role in her dependency on print materials.

The librarian said the three most useful ready reference print materials are the Statistical Abstract of the United States, Atlases, and the NYC Green Book.

The Statistical Abstract also has an online version that is free, but requires PDFs to be downloaded to view the data, so I can see how a current print version may be faster to use at the reference desk.

The NYC Green book is a directory to City, State and federal offices.

2008-2009 Green Book. (2008). . New York: Department of Citywide Administrative Services.

The 2010 Statistical Abstract. (2009). . Retrieved November 2, 2010, from (n.d.). . Retrieved November 2, 2010, from

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