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!

No comments: