Getting Friendly in the Reference Section

by Shayna Monnens, Head Editor, INALJ South Dakota

Getting Friendly in the Reference Section

Shayna.Monnens.SDUnless one is a librarian, a student in the past 15 years, or an avid library user, you probably don’t know much about electronic resources. What are they? What can they do for the library? What can they do for the library patrons? We all know that there is this tab on the library website for resources, but what do this mean? What does it do?

Really, the question should be: what CAN’T these resources do?

Early this year, I had the chance to participate in a state-wide librarian “reference challenge”. Over the 10 weeks that the lessons lasted, I learned so much about the resources that our own library offers! How did I not know what wonderful resources we had! Databases that were more familiar, such as ProQuest and Ancestry, to more obscure, subject specific resources such as CAMIO, were all covered during this period.

Don’t get me wrong, I was not a completely terrible librarian. I was familiar with some of them, but for the most part they were the more popular, well-used resources, such as EBSCOHost and World Book. But, I didn’t use them frequently. It’s just far too easy to answer a patron’s on-the-fly reference question by doing a quick Google search. What do you get though? You might get a credible site, with a pedigree of respectability behind it, or you might end up with a user contribution and commented site such as Answers.Yahoo or Wikipedia. Where is the credibility? The sourcing?

Sadly, most websites lack that. This is why becoming more familiar and comfortable with library electronic resources is so critical to the work we do and the information we share. What is an extra 2 minutes to access the resource, get the answer and know that it is the CORRECT one?

The best part of this challenge was to play around with some of our new databases. The South Dakota State Library just acquired usage to Mango Languages (by far the COOLEST language learning program out there, EVER!) and Chilton Online, the space saving, no-more-copying-and-oil-spill nightmare that was these massive automobile maintenance and repair manuals. The limited shelf space that we have has already been invaded by the Chilton’s, and courtesy of Chilton Online, it is unlikely our library will purchase any further editions. Why? It’s all there, online! I love when I get to show people the new databases. The vast majority of users of our repair and maintenance manuals are men who are looking for one page in a 1000 page book. Instead of having to find it in the manual, make a copy of a page that may or may not have a questionable stain, I can show them database (sometimes right there on their phone too) and how they can access exactly what they want, right there. Print out the page. They walk out happy, and we don’t have to worry what might happen to this $100 resource. I LOVE IT!

I don’t get much of an opportunity to share the databases with others, mainly due to the quickness factor of a quick Google search, but I really feel that this needs to be changed. I think libraries (and maybe I am blind to the fact that thousands of libraries elsewhere probably already do this) need to be proactively reaching out to their patrons and showing what they got! Not just the books on the shelves, but the online materials. It’s one thing to show them the lendable e-books, but what about the full text books in Gale? We hosted a reference learning session in March in our library that was open to the public to learn about the ContentDM resources that the state library offers and a really fun and education run-through of both popular and more obscure electronic resources.

We had 5 people in attendance. Five. Each and every one was a librarian.

Why did the public not attend?

Lack of interest; lack of knowledge; and that needs to change.

We need to get people pumped about this stuff! We need to curb (I cannot say completely cut out) our quick Google searches. We need to be going out to the schools and showing the students about World Book online and Sirs Discoverer. We need to show them the high-school students and college students about all the free test prep materials in Learning Express! They don’t know about these things, and it is our responsibility to tell them! These materials are here for the public to use. Let them use it! Inform them, teach them, and watch them become better library users.

Our library doesn’t have nearly the amount of electronic resources that larger institutions have. We have limited funds and state access for these databases, but I really feel that I should continue to do my part as a librarian to further educate myself on what we offer the patrons. It’s no longer a matter of just what libraries offer from their shelves, but the things that go beyond the walls. Print publications get more expensive every year, not just in cost, but in the usage and space-eating aspects of them. Updating print publications is incredibly expensive, and this is just one more reason why electronic resources are so vital to a library’s services.

So, the next time you have a few minutes to kill, whip out your library card and go play around with the electronic resources. You will be amazed at what you will find. Not in the profession yet? Imagine being able to blow away an interviewer by your knowledge of what their library offers!

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