Thursday, February 18, 2010

Asking for help, aka librarian anxiety disorder

I am learning that most people have no idea what they are looking for, when they go to a library, and they have no idea how to talk to a librarian--and often, that they even can ask. Apparently there really is a condition called librarian anxiety disorder, and I have totally had it, in the past. When I see the kinds of questions people ask a librarian, real and imagined, I think--who knew you could ask a librarian all this kind of stuff!

Did you know you can go to a reference desk and say, I really enjoyed Harry Potter, or Amanda Cross, or A Tale of Two Cities, or Maus, what else is there out there? And they will say, oh, I'm glad you asked! Let me tell you, show you, show you this long list, take you to the stacks and have at it. It's called a reader's advisory and it can be as simple as that list or as complicated as, "I'm doing research on how the U.S. Constitution is an outdated antique that should be thrown out entirely; most countries in the world have revised their constitutions since the end of World War II, and of all the 150+ new ones since then, all have parliamentary systems, none have our reactionary 250-year-old system, originally devised as a response to the 18th century British system." I sure want to write that article, but is any of that true? A reference librarian sure can tell me.

I am volunteering at my local library and yesterday the woman who is supervising me gave me a list of real questions patrons had asked her and her colleagues. The first one was someone wanting information about the guy who known for using a certain drug that has three letters and was particularly popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s until it became illegal, and the question that was posed was, who was the guy who invented DNA?

It's like the patron thought they had to figure out the answer before they asked the question, something I've suffered from my whole life, in a different context. And what happens is the librarian has to dig and dig to get at the real question. This is a part of the human condition, one of the librarians tells me. He's been in the biz for 30 years and he says that when he's on the other side of the encounter he still poses questions that way, much as he knows he's not supposed to.

That is, if people even know they can ask. Librarians, and reference librarians in particular, are amazing, and we should all bow down and give praise for their existence. I'm reading "This Book Is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All" by a former colleague from LIFE, Marilyn Johnson, and it's a very exciting field right now. I'll comment more on that book when I've finished it.

By the way, I am blogging for the Simmons admissions office and my first post is up. I'll be posting every Thursday. And if you click on my name or photo it takes you to my bio. Tell me what you think.

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