Thursday, February 28, 2008

Referring to Reference

What’s in a name? Librarians strive for precision when they assign subject headings to books or enter search terms in a browser. But sometimes it is difficult to find the right term to convey the full meaning of a concept. One that has prompted much philosophical debate in the profession is the term “reference.” For many years, the librarian who served as gatekeeper to those huge multi-volume encyclopedias and card files of Frequently Asked Questions was known universally as a reference librarian. Over the past 20 years, with the advent of computers, many institutions adopted the label “information” librarian instead (including the Ridgefield Library). This was intended to convey that the profession and its practitioners were up-to-date and technology savvy and that the duties of these individuals had expanded well beyond the traditional scope. But as many writers have pointed out, “information” is only a step on the path that leads through knowledge to understanding and ultimately to wisdom. So, here at the Ridgefield Library, we are returning to the time-honored tradition of calling our staff reference librarians and their workplace the reference desk.

What does a reference librarian do? She is not here simply to supply answers but rather to REFER inquirers to the best source of information which can lead them down that path to wisdom. She knows which sources are most authoritative on particular topics. She can evaluate the reliability of raw data found on the Web. She demonstrates how to use the library catalog to discover and follow whole lists of “references” to a title, author or subject. She can introduce the many electronic databases and other resources that have replaced the familiar “reference books.” So visit, call or e-mail the Library soon, and ask to speak to a reference librarian. You’ll be wiser for the effort!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Re-thinking Dewey

You may have heard about the library in Arizona that has abandoned the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system altogether and now groups its books by subject headings similar to a bookstore. Here at the Ridgefield Library, we still believe there is merit in the time-tested Dewey system, which, in actuality, is based on grouping materials together by topic. However, even our professional librarians would admit that some fine points of the classification system can be a little hard to grasp. In Children’s Services, we have decided to bend the rules a little to facilitate a more intuitive arrangement for some sections of the non-fiction collection.

Looking for versions of the fairy tale Cinderella? Strict DDC regulation would put all folk and fairy tale books together with a call number of 398.2, followed by the author’s last name. So, for example, re-tellings of Cinderella by different authors are often widely scattered on the shelves. To make it easier, we have added a line before the author’s name on the label, giving the name of the story. So all the versions of Cinderella are now grouped together, as are the books about Jack and the Beanstalk, the Sleeping Beauty stories, and so on.

A similar arrangement has been instituted in the art history section (in the 700s), with the result that all the books about Monet are together, followed by those about Picasso, those about Rembrandt, those about Renoir, etc.

The latest change affects the books about individual Native American tribes which are so sought after for homework assignments. Frustrated by searching through hundreds of titles all labeled 970.3 to find books on your selected group? These are now grouped by tribe, with an additional line on the label indicating Abenaki, Cheyenne, Iroquois, and the like.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

New Books and Breakfast Program

Want to hear the buzz about new and upcoming fiction or find out what everyone else is currently reading? Join us on Monday, February 25th from 10:30 to 11:30 for the first of our informal Books and Breakfast chats. We’ll take over the beautiful Quiet Study Room on the second floor to make noise about our favorite books. Members of our staff will share some of their favorite recent fiction titles and let you know about all of our readers advisory services. We’ll also do a demonstration of how to use NoveList, an online readers advisory tool that you can access from home or in the library. Then we hope you’ll share your memorable reads. Beverages and snacks will be provided. This is a great opportunity for those whose schedules or reading preferences make our structured book discussion programs a less than perfect fit. We hope to see you there! Please sign up at the Circulation Desk, or e-mail Adult Services Librarian Dorothy Pawlowski at

Presidents Day Holiday @ the Library

Not leaving town for the long Presidents Day holiday? Join us at the Ridgefield Library, where we will be open our normal hours all weekend (Friday and Monday 10 AM to 6 PM, Saturday 9 AM to 5 PM and Sunday 1 to 5 PM), with ongoing and special programs to keep you busy and happy. Friday Flicks will screen at 11 AM and 2 PM, for ages 2 and up. Youngsters aged 3 and up can enjoy drop-in storytime on Saturday and Monday at 10:30 AM. Older kids (aged 5 and over) can laugh it up Monday at 11:30 when mime Robert Rivest entertains with a performance called “Laughter Is the Best Medicine.” For adults, the monthly poetry discussion group will consider the work of Elizabeth Bishop on Friday at 1 PM.