Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A couple of articles about reference librarians

Information Sources and Services class discussion

Murphy, Sarah Anne. “The Reference Narrative.” Reference and User Services Quarterly 44.3 (2005): 247-252.

Murphy argues that like medical diagnoses, the reference interview needs to follow the same basic steps: literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical or mystical. In the same way doctors diagnose patients, librarians need prior knowledge of their subject matter but be able to encourage the patron’s personal narrative in assisting them with their needs.

I think Murphy has a valid point. She cites the Daniel model of medical interpretations as well as previous articles about hermeneutics. She emphasizes the use of interpretation based on the relationship between the librarian and the patron. She stresses that the personal, eye-to-eye contact and interpretation of facial and hand jesters will help assess what the patron needs. Murphy references Taylor by stating, “the interpretive nature of the reference interview, requiring the patron and the librarian to collaborate and find ways to rephrase or restructure a query for a library system.”

The personal connection in proper interpretation of a patron’s query is the key to this article. She mentions that the email or chat query can be very limiting and the need for “experience of the whole person within her particular environment” is something that must be done on the librarian and patron’s part. Murphy mentions that librarians have to understand the patron’s culture, circumstances or help them word the question in library terms so that they can get better results.


Smith, Sally Decker. Roberta Johnson. “Reference Desk Realities.” Public Libraries 46.1) (Ja/F 2007): 69-73.

Smith and Johnson give a very personal and positively informative article about what is essential to a reference librarian. They emphasize that this is a public service job and even if there are crabby patrons or strange queries, we have to represent our library the best we can. There are plenty of positive tips for librarians and soon-to-be librarians.

I agree with the tips they are giving us. Many of this is common sense (don’t talk bad about the boss, the policies, the library, the town, etc. to a patron) and some of it are things new reference librarians need to know (like what the Patriot Act says and when we should call 9-1-1 for a patron who made need assistance.) I found this article very pleasant and beneficial to read. It encouraged me to become a reference librarian even more. Smith and Johnson discuss that there is stress, like any job, but that as long as we are confident in our job, like to always learn, keep direct eye contact, act friendly, etc. we will be in the right job field. The article discusses that a lot of times the librarian works alone but in the public library there is more room for working with others. Smith and Johnson also discuss how often you should or should not be asking for help. It’s a great article for reference librarians to be or those who are new to their job. Again, some of it is common sense but a lot of it really gives you a candid and empathetic read about what it is really like to be a reference librarian.

I like that they point out at the end that it’s not polite to focus on telling people about patrons’ “stupid questions.” I’ve worked in public service as a teen so I know how bizarre people can be. I’m glad Smith and Johnson address this and give us the sense that they understand why would do it, but still make sure we understand how wrong it is to react in such a way to our patrons.


For the record

I’m so confused in this class sometimes but I really do like it.  I’m eager to become a reference librarian.  The Smith article talked about how you learn all the time – I’d love that!

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