Imagine having a job description that includes helping anyone with any question on any topic. For example, just as I was completing the first sentence for this article, a student stopped by to ask if stink bugs did damage to wood. (Good news, the answer is no.) We librarians do our best to answer anything that comes our way from “May I use my laptop on your network while I’m visiting for the day?” to “I’m working on my history honors thesis and need to find correspondence by Philadelphia Quakers giving their views on slavery.”
The discussion and sharing of information, resources, and ideas happen in a variety of settings. Reference interactions are often in person at a library service desk such as the McCabe Research and Information Desk (staffed 58 hours per week). We also see people in our offices by appointment or as they drop by, and we answer queries by phone, email, googletalk, and facebook.
Any librarian you talk with is going to want to help you. It’s just the way we are! If your question or research project is specialized, we’ll find you the most knowledgeable among us to assist you. For that purpose, we have subject specialists for every academic department. We also have liaisons to the writing center, student academic mentors, and other campus groups.
In addition to one-on-one interactions, the subject specialists enjoy meeting with professors and classes to share information on great resources to support their course work. These visits are tailored to the specific needs of the class where we help students discover, evaluate, obtain, organize, and cite materials for their projects. When working with a class, the subject specialist usually creates a course webpage presenting links to the best resources for finding books, documentaries, journal articles, data sets, maps, government reports, images, sound and video recordings, and archival materials relating to the class. These course webpages are just one of a number of ways we try to reach our patrons through the Library’s web presence. We also create tip sheets, how-to videos, and research guides, all available through our subject portal.
Reference service is both reactive and proactive. On the proactive side we make a concerted effort to reach out to students as they arrive on campus, to first-year seminar classes, to thesis writers, to newly declared majors, and to the Library’s own student staff. We also have library orientation for parents, new faculty, and new staff.