Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Booknote: Reading and the Reference Librarian

Dilevko, Juris and Lisa Gottlieb. Reading and the Reference Librarian: The Importance to Library Service of Staff Reading Habits. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2004.
ISBN: 0-7864-1652-1.

I have written a few pieces here and there on the need for librarians to keep up and to read. I've had a couple of readers ask me if I had read this book. I thought I had read it, but I could not quite recall. So I went back to my journals (the written ones). Sure enough, I read it back in 2004. According to my journal then, I was two months into my job. Anyways, I did reread the book this time around, mostly reviewing some parts of interest to me and to see if anything new caught my eye. Yes, I did find a couple of things to think about now. Before that, here is what I wrote about the book back then.

From my personal journal (entry for October 22, 2004):

>>In terms of reading, I am rereading One Hundred Years of Solitude, and I am reading Caleb Carr's The Alienist, which is very interesting for its historical setting, but a bit slow at some times. In terms of professional reading, I am managing well since I have access at work to some of the professional journals. As for books, I just finished Reading and the Reference Librarian by Juris Dilevko and Lisa Gottlieb. The main argument of the book is that reference librarians need to return to their roots in extensive reading and intellectual knowledge. The authors argue that there is an overemphasis on technology and using computers. The section discussing faculty views of librarians and their desire for librarians to have more subject knowledge was very good and convincing. Overall, surveys show librarians do read a lot, but they could do better. I am thinking of making a personal reading list of professional and current awareness. Not sure how it will work, but I am resolved to give it a try. We'll see. The book should be required reading in library school, especially in IU-SLIS where they balance so heavily on IS.<<

I went on to make the reading lists, and I posted about them in the blog (here is one of my first reflections on the topic). One thing that has changed is that I have streamlined some of the process by reading anything I can online. Alerts have been wonderful tools as well. But I still read a lot in print, as any good librarian should. As I finished reading the book last night, one thing I wondered about was the issue of modeling. One of the common complaints from faculty, as well as a good share of librarians, is that students today are just not well informed. I am thinking, and it is a half-baked thought, that maybe in some small way I can model ways of reading and staying aware of the world around us for students. I am not totally sure how to go about this. I do post items of interest in the student resource blog, but that is somewhat tailored to what I see in their paper topics, and current awareness is more than that. But if in a small measure some students see that I read some news and magazines to stay informed, maybe, just maybe, it may move one or two of them to give it a try. These days you can get a lot of good newspapers online, so for some of them, that may be the way to go, and that should be ok. I am not sure yet what I am aiming at with this idea, but it was the one idea that was in my mind last night as I finished reading the book again.

Other small notes from the book:

  • On reading magazines and newspapers to make a better librarian: "From the stories that librarians provide about the positive effects that reading newspapers and magazines have on the quality of their reference service, five themes emerge: increasing one's background knowledge; directing patrons to specific newspaper or magazine articles; selecting search terms; assisting students in selecting topics for their assignments; and using newspapers and magazines to identify new or alternate resources" (43). Does this sound a lot like what we do as instruction librarians? I think so. I could tell a story of mine or two, but instead of listening to little ole me, go read the book.
  • "To be sure, librarians can 'evince an interest' in the reference question, and therefore establish a rapport with the patron, simply by recognizing the topic at hand. This rapport can be strengthened, however, through the common bond created by shared reading interests. In the mind of the patron, the focus of the query evolves from a topic of which the librarian is simply aware into a topic that the librarian takes the time to read about, as demonstrated by the fact that her or she just happens to have read a terrific article on that very subject" (51). No, you can't read everything, though you should strive to read everything. However, as much as possible, be in tune with what your students may be working on. Also, keep a broad general knowledge base. This is just being prepared.
  • And hey, skimming and scanning are perfectly fine in our line of work. In fact, we need to do this more as well as reading. "Indeed, a few respondents indicate that their familiarity with some books is not a result of reading them, but rather of skimming them as they come into the collection. These individuals regularly shelf-study both reference and non-reference materials, a practice which Brian [a librarian], for one, thinks has been seriously neglected in librarianship of late. Observing that '[f]amiliarization with reference books as they come into the collection has helped in the past,' he notes that, '[w]e've become so needful of keeping up on the electronic database interfaces that there's been a falling-off of this practice, which has had some unfortunate consequences. Students are not finding some of this information, [which is] not available online, because the reference librarians don't know about it" (92). Amen. I not only scan new books as they come in, I keep a list of items I want to read or get back to at some point, at times with a brief note on what the book is about. I have often recommended books I have seen to students if I see they can be relevant, and I have even gone so far as to hand them something off the new books cart. Our evening reference librarian shelf-studies quite a bit as well. Overall, you have to be familiar with your collection and its contents: pure and simple. And contrary to what certain technogurus say, not everything is online and at your fingertips.
  • At the end, you can't just prep by reading for reference. I mean anticipate any and all questions. You simply do your best. More importantly, and this goes with my thinking, you are building a little stockpile and a certain way of thinking. It's expanding your thinking abilities as well as your basic background knowledge. On this topic: "The importance of reading outside of work extends beyond the information contained in individual books to include the librarian's ability to apply these various pieces of information to develop a 'reader's mind' that can 'connect the dots' across various topics and disciplines, and to help patrons make similar connections" (113). They say it better than I could ever stumble to put it together. There is a big reason why I read a lot.

And by the way, I am a believer that librarians should be reading while at work as well. Not all the time, but they should have a significant amount of time to do so. I am not delving into the argument of whether librarians should be paid to read. The authors look at it nicely in the book. I am saying that reading should be part of what librarians do. In my case, it includes some degree of writing and blogging since it is what gives me a chance to reflect on what I read. It is a matter of balance.

No comments: