In a world where information is everywhere, is a reference librarian really needed? Indeed, the very abundance of information means you may sometimes need help finding the right information without retrieving a bunch of irrelevant information in the process. Reference librarians are ready and able to help you. They will begin by asking some questions to help them determine just what you need; then will use their in-depth knowledge of the library’s collection to get you the right resources.
More than a Librarian at a Desk
Changes in reference services in the twentieth century included the progression with technology from face-to-face communication to increasing use of telephone, fax, e-mail, and instant messaging. Face-to-face interaction at the reference desk is still best for complicated research needs; however, electronic reference services are becoming more popular with modern users. E-mail questions may be sent at any time of day and requests can be handled by a reference librarian without interrupting a face-to-face interaction with another client. E-mail avoids “telephone tag” and long waits on hold or at a busy information desk. It saves the time of the user and the librarian. Some large academic libraries even have 24-hour reference services available via instant messaging.
Information and Referral Services
As society becomes more complex and institutions become more specialized, people often don’t know where to turn for information and help. The reference librarian at a public library can be of tremendous help in connecting people to the right services. Without some central source of information about information, a user could waste hours talking to the wrong people or looking in the wrong places.
The Power of Databases
The reference librarian can take you far beyond a Google search. Through a library’s electronic databases, you can access the “deep web” of information available only by subscription. Depending upon the terms of the library’s subscription to a particular database, you may be able to access the full text of a journal article without paying any fees. Most databases have citation tools that will format your reference list in any of several styles, e.g. APA or MLA. Librarians can also help you structure an advanced database search so that you retrieve only the best, most relevant results.
There is no need to be shy about asking for help from the reference librarian. With intimate knowledge of the library’s resources, the reference librarian can save you hours of searching in stacks and sifting through thousands of irrelevant or duplicate search results. Take advantage of their expertise.