Corrections at the Reference Desk

by Sarah Porter, former Head Editor, INALJ California
previously published 7/24/13

Corrections at the Reference Desk

sarahporter featuresliderYesterday a patron corrected my grammar at the reference desk. I said “those ones” rather than “those”. She said I would hate her for the correction, but she could not resist. She couldn’t have been more right about hating her. Seriously, I don’t hate her, but I felt annoyed by her correction. Although she is correct, and I should be more mindful of how I speak, I found her comment awfully condescending. I did not know how to respond. I think I said “okay”. How would you respond in that situation?

In my opinion, correcting strangers’ grammar errors is poor etiquette. The point of language is communication. As long as you understand what the other person is trying to convey, corrections are unnecessary. Regardless, excellent communication skills are essential for public service staff members, and it was a reminder that I should sharpen my speaking skills in order to be taken more seriously as an educated professional.

While speaking with poor grammar may push another person’s buttons, the accuracy of the information communicated at the reference desk is far more important than its delivery. By all means, I want to be corrected when the information I’m providing is inaccurate. In turn, I correct others when they provide incorrect information.

When it comes to correcting my colleagues (which I rarely need to do), I try to do so tactfully, so that there are no hard feelings. It really helps to not make it personal. In simplified terms, instead of saying, “you’re wrong”, I will tell them—or even better—show them the correct information.

I am more grateful than bothered when I am corrected after giving out wrong information, after all my principal role at the reference desk is to guide patrons to accurate information.

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