Re: A Day Made of Glass

Posting to NGC4LIB

On 15/08/2011 22:26, McDonald, Stephen wrote:

James, you have completely misconstrued Todd’s statement. What he is talking about is not like someone asking a grocery clerk where the canned peanuts are. Todd is saying that if someone asks a grocery clerk “Where are the nails”, he will say, “I’m sorry, we don’t sell that here. Ask down the street at the hardware store.” Or if person asks a clerk in a private warehouse “Where are the canned peanuts”, he will say, “I’m sorry, if you don’t work for this company you are not authorized to get canned peanuts from us.” Not every library is in the business of giving out any and all information to anyone and everyone. Yes, if it is appropriate for a particular library to be supporting access to free information of a particular type for its particular patrons, then they should do so. But it would be ridiculous to say that, for instance, a corporate law librarian is ignoring his patron’s needs if he does not provide access to online Dilbert comics.

This is exactly what I meant. We are entering a new world, as shown in the Corning ad. What are patrons supposed to do if they want the Dilbert comics and cannot find them? Should librarians be able to pick and choose their questions based on how important the librarian thinks they are? If they hear the librarian say, “I cannot/will not/am not authorized to help you” many people will just continue on their own and conclude that librarians are useless for their needs.

Instead of ignoring the patron’s requests and doing nothing, the reference librarian is expected to help the patron, even if this goes outside their own areas of expertise, and if nothing else, they try to point to someone or something that may help, e.g. with a Dilbert question, to an “expert” in comics. This would probably be a librarian in charge of a special collection in comics. Therefore, in a traditional print environment, you would send your patron to a special collection of comics, using the catalogs of these other collections (if they existed and you had them), or if nothing else, a directory of special collections, where you could find a name or phone number or address or something to help the patron. Today, this is easier than ever and you can use the web to find, e.g. or or work a little harder. Users cannot be expected to do these things on their own. But the reference librarian should not just say that I cannot help you–you go far beyond the local catalog or the local collection to help the patron to go to someone else/somewhere else, where they can find the information they
need, or additional help. What I am pointing out is that, while this is much improved from 25 years ago, it can be improved still more by about 1,000 times from what we have today and while a solution would entail a lot of work and “new thinking”, it would help everyone involved.

Would reference librarians want and use a tool like this? Of course they would.

As I wrote in the open letter, there is now an “internet collection” but it is the Google search box that fills the role of the “internet librarian”. Are we supposed to just point our patrons to the main Google page and wish them good luck? That will be the road to oblivion, I think. Also, although I realize it has been happening for budgetary reasons, if we say that we should not help anyone outside of our local collections, is that a sustainable solution for the future (because continuing with this idea, nobody will help anyone outside of their own localities)? It seems that the only way out of the abyss is to genuinely cooperate, so while I understand the pressures to focus on our own patrons, it is probably not a wise path to choose. The only solution that I see is genuine and true collaboration.

Yes, sometimes reference librarians have no choice but to admit that they cannot help but this is only after they have exhausted their very best efforts, even if it goes outside the areas of their traditional responsibilities–and indeed reference librarians do this all the time, every day.

As I have pointed out many times, it is the patrons who pay our wages, and if we ignore their needs, they may wind up ignoring us, especially when they see more and more highly attractive options before them! Many of them for free.