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So, where are we at?
Yesterday and today were one of those Rubicon moments — reminding me once again how librarians repeatedly throw themselves across the chasm that lies between the digital and paper shores; a kind of human bridge to bear the burden of our user’s information needs. Digital tools are great, and add greatly to the strength or span of our bibliographic structures — but in the end, it more often than not comes down to just how much the librarian in the breach knows about both worlds that makes the journey across either a success or abject failure.
Let me be specific. Yesterday morning I finally met a person who was only an exchange of emails to me. He was searching for a digital copy of the Treaty of Vienna. I couldn’t find it, so we agreed to walk into the paper world together and we met at the old fashioned reference desk. Reflecting on the insights of Thomas Mann’s two articles about the essential connections between reference and cataloging — it took me about 15 minutes to find a set of reference books that contained the original text of the treaty. It was really a matter of “generalizing” the LC subject headings and finding the one that referred to a collection of the treaty texts in five easy volumes. I know for us librarians this is a cake walk; but I am surprised how much the use and influence of the web and ubiquitous key word searching has wiped this once common research practice from our user community’s collective experience.
The other public service moment remains virtual as well and involved the grand jury report on the shooting of Fred Hampton. Using the web, he found a link to the report on the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, but he wasn’t sure how to get a copy of the report through this mechanism. After a day or so of sorting through the confusing title information, I finally located the relevant information using the shorter version of the title — REPORT OF THE JANUARY 1970 GRAND JURY — which then leads us to a bibliographic record and then a SuDoc number, and then to the volume on the shelf. I actually found the SuDoc number first through a discards and offer list — irony so noted. The patron will be arriving tomorrow to take a look at the document.
So, these two small examples speak to what we do as civic librarians. We make connections. We think in a pragmatic fashion that sees the gap of knowledge between what the user wants and what he or she knows. We know it is not sequential, linear, or straight forward.
Just because you can ask a question does not mean you can get an answer. As we use to say in reference class back in the day — the best reference interviews never begin with the first question posed or end with the last source consulted.
The tools of civic engagement mentioned and exchanged so far during this blog conversation speak from librarianship’s ad hoc approach to the cross the information bulwarks — something we will need to constantly fashion and refashion in this blended world of many formats. As we speak of education, teaching and outreach — is it our ultimate goal to make our users “mini-librarians?” Much of the discussion of egovernment is freighted with promises of self service and empowerment of the user.
As Thomas Mann points in his articles — the heart and purpose of librarianship aims to sustain an information ecosystem for users he calls the “researcher” and not the “information seeker.” Does the fate of government/civic information librarianship depend the same duality?
See you on day 68