Monday, August 02, 2010

Take reference first

I've lifted this from my GSLIS blog because I really like it and I don't want to lose it. It's about the required reference class that so many people dread, or hate, or both. I loved it. Take reference first, or as soon as you can. Do not be afraid of this class, it’s really great. But it is a lot of work, so pace yourself. Here’s some advice I got going in, along with a few suggestions of my own:
  • Take reference first. That’s LIS-407 reference/information services to you; I call it the organic chem of library school. You will use everything you learn in all the rest of your classes, and you will make some of your closest friends in this class. Bite the bullet and take it first or very early in your library school tenure.
  • Do not fall behind. The course is front-loaded, which means that most of the homework comes in the first nine or so weeks. If you do the assignments on time, you’ll have the last couple of weeks to cram for the final exam, and you will want that time to make sure you really know the 250 print and databases.
  • When you do fall behind, as of course you will, catch up as soon as you have time. There are a couple of breathers in there, including the mid-semester break. If you neglect your studies you’ll just pay for it later. You can sleep when you’re dead.
  • Get your source system down early in the semester. Will it be in Word? Excel? Zotero? BentoBox? Delicious? Choose your poison and keep it current. Mine was in Word, and I studied by making shorter and shorter lists. Finally I had just a sentence or two about each and that’s what I took into the exam with me. It felt old-fashioned but it worked for me.
  • Write down everything the teacher says about a source and make sure you have it in your source notes.
  • Ditto about the text book. Make sure you read it; it’s very chockfull of source information.
  • Get together a study team, however loose, and study the sources together. Ours kind of fell apart but I had two guys I could always check with and vent to, and they with me.
  • Get to know your classmates. Someone said to me, you’ll be close forever because you went through reference together. Not necessarily true, of course, but I am certainly close to a couple of my reference classmates, and we will always share this bond. Don’t fight it.
  • Less is not more in the reference queries. Our class had six query assignments, 10 questions each, asking things like, “A breathless Simmons student bursts into your library asking for a copy of Hamlet, the one that has John Gielgud in it. What do you do?” I found I got better marks when I fully answered the question, playing out the scenario — “well, Gielgud was in two, does she want the Olivier or the Branagh? Does she want a DVD or a videocassette? We have this one on the shelf now, or we can get that one via inter-library loan if she has a couple of days,” etc. (Was Gielgud even in Hamlet?)
  • Ask questions as much as you need to, in class and out, of the teacher, your classmates, other teachers, other students. Ask, ask, ask. Everyone who has taken reference will be happy to share their experience.
  • The exam goes really fast. You think you have loads of time but in fact you do not. Don’t dawdle. Oh, and you might bring earplugs. I lost valuable moments closing the door of a nearby classroom.
  • Not every library school teaches reference in such a hands-on way, but our teacher told us that after about a decade in the academic library business, she could verify that Simmons grads know their reference sources better than other library school grads. I found that comforting during the ordeal.
  • Stay Zen about this class. Breathe; relax; keep it in the day; take it one step at a time. This too shall pass, little grasshopper.
  • Know that even if you hate reference and never want to see another query again, at the end of this class you will possess and be able to use crucial research skills that will help you get through all the rest of your GSLIS classes.
  • And if you do like it, there’s always the higher-level reference classes, such as LIS-413, LIS-430, and LIS-454, which my teacher referred to as reference on steroids. I’ll see you there.

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