Friday, December 7, 2007

Impress Your Professor: Virtual Reference as Lesson

In the December/January Bulletin, Joseph Janes discusses the history of digital/virtual/electronic reference. While the majority of the article simply recaps the growth of technology and how it has affected the reference interaction, Janes does raise some rather interesting questions.

Early in the article, he states how many libraries and their librarians have jumped at the chance to try out new technological resources in their library. But he also adds a cautionary statement: "With scarce time and resources, however, it is not prudent, not to mention maddening and counterproductive, to be forever chasing new technologies." An interesting perspective to say the least, but how does one determine the good and useful technologies from the bad? While it is certainly not prudent to chase all technologies, I would argue that we librarians can't wait around forever. That Golden Idol of Reference Technology Greatness is not going to arrive with our morning cup of coffee. We have to go out and find it ourselves.

Librarianship, in all it's forms, is about looking - looking for the answer, looking for a book, and looking for that new technology or resource that helps our patrons find the information they need. The art of reference has undergone numerous changes and will certainly undergo more in the future. Who knew that one day the ideal of the ancient library of Alexandria might become a digital reality? Technological change is not something to be afraid - it should be embraced whole heartedly.

I'm reminded of an interview I conducted earlier this year for class paper. My interviewee was a reference librarian at a local public library. She had many things to say and I learned more than I had anticipated, but one statement has stood out in my mind more than any other: "Do you learn or are you trained?"

If nothing else, librarians are life long learners. They take a new experience (or technology) and learn from it - then they teach others.

On that note, this will be the last Impress Your Professor for the year. Good luck to everyone with the end of the semester and Happy Holidays.

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