Tuesday, 20 November 2012

The last of a dying breed?

I'm a Public Reference Librarian, a dying breed if you look at what Enfield, Havering and the others are doing!
I work in a large Reference Library for a London authority that will remain unnamed and have specialised in Reference and Information work for roughly 18 of the 22 years I've worked in Public Libraries.

Reference work is a specialism and requires years of experience and training, in fact when i first started i had to shadow an experienced Librarian for 6 months before i was let loose on the desk and public! The role of specialist Reference and Information staff is now even more important with an ever growing digital divide and the push towards the 'e-government' agenda.
Reference and Information staff have a deep understanding and knowledge of how to source and retrieve good quality information, they can guide and assist users through the maze whether it be online or hardcopy. At our core is knowledge, information and learning, not forgetting our commitment to social equity and the public sector ethos!

So what do I and my colleagues do on an average day? Here's a snapshot;

contact details for a doctor working in a hospital somewhere in Canada
" have you got a phone book for Napoli"
"how do i find a visa form on the Ghana High commission website"
"I'm looking for an Asian jewellers in Leicester"
leasing commercial property through the council
apprehending a user stealing vouchers from the newspapers
helping a user with mental health issues find local advice and support
"have you a list of free ESOL courses"
asking a group/s of noisy students to be quiet x 100
asking people to silence their mobile phones x 100
"have you got information on local Poor Houses"
"I can't open an attachment can you show me" x 100
"i need to log on to Monster.com but don't know how to use a PC" x 100
asking users not to trail laptop leads on the floor
"have you any information on European Human Rights law"

and on top of working on the desk and answering enquiries there's - updating fact sheets, ordering new leaflets and weeding old ones, managing the periodicals collection, delivering staff training, organising events, stock work, 1-1 IT training sessions with the public, organising tours of the library, outreach, staffing ENQUIRE etc etc

It's very hard to know out of the 2000+ library staff that have lost their jobs how many
where Reference staff, but what we do know is that many authorities have cut, downgraded or integrated their Reference services and in doing so have lost specialist knowledge and collections that no amount of 'online resources' and generic staff training, although important, will ever replace!

And please don't dare suggest that a volunteer would or could do my job!


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