Tips for a new reference librarian
November 10, 2010 2:34 PM   Subscribe

Librarians: tips for a new reference librarian?

I just got hired for two part-time reference librarian positions at two small libraries in New England. I have my MLIS but have not worked at a library--nor as a reference librarian--for many, many years. What tips would you give to a new reference librarian? Which are your favorite or most useful reference books or e-resources? What questions do you get over and over again? (This question especially for folks who work at small branch libraries). I know a bit about reference "theory," but I'm open to suggestions for great reference techniques as well. Thank you!
posted by prior to Work & Money (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Remember to always ask questions and paraphrase back to the patron. I know it sounds basic, but when I was away from the ref desk for about 15 months it took a bit to get back into the swing of the reference interview.

I don't use a lot of paper sources anymore. At my library ready ref is still important (dictionaries, medical info etc).

I spend a lot of my time now showing people how to use electronic resources. Library catalogue, newpaper databases. In my library one of my most popular electronic resources is Ebsco's Auto Repair Reference Centre. It is a great in with people who are not typically big library users.

Good luck, keep a level head and don't show them
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 3:48 PM on November 10, 2010

oops, don't show them any fear.
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 3:48 PM on November 10, 2010

It takes time to learn about all the resources in your library so don't be shy about asking your coworkers questions.

If a patron has a question that you can't answer on the spot, take down his/her phone number/email and tell him/her that you will get back to them within the hour.

During down time at the desk, familiarize yourself with the library's website, online databases, print reference material, etc...

We subscribe to nextreads, but I like using librarything when patrons ask for recommendations (especially when we have different taste in books).

If you aren't fully computer competent, take the time learn the answers to common computer questions that patrons have so that you can best help them.

And, most importantly, even if you are cranky, annoyed, tired, etc., keep a smile on your face. Patrons notice it, and respond positively to your smile which in the end will make your day so much better.

Good luck!
posted by toddst at 4:19 PM on November 10, 2010

My library is a lot like a bookstore. Lots of new, popular titles. If yours is similar, I would recommend beefing up your reader's advisory skills. People ask me what to read after Janet Evanovich just about every week. NoveList is great.
posted by morganannie at 6:58 PM on November 10, 2010

Browse the shelves a lot. Look at the books, you will get to know the collection. Be kind to the patrons, even the assholes. Yes, there will be assholes. Be kind to the rest of the staff, even the assholes. Have fun. It is a great job.
posted by fifilaru at 9:11 PM on November 10, 2010

Definitely listen to the question and then paraphrase it back to them so that you can be sure you understand what they actually need. Try and break things down into component parts and find the essential keywords and relevant synonyms. I work in legal reference so in my case there is often a "term of art" meaning there is a concept that is only ever called one thing, and if you're not using the right term, then you will never find what you're looking for. In public reference it's less likely that you'll have a single relevant term, and more likely you'll want to search on all the different ways something can be said.

Maybe ask your coworkers for what they think of as the 3 or 5 most popular resources? I bet they can name a few things right off the top of their head and if you know what those are and where those are you'll have a head start.
posted by marginaliana at 6:44 AM on November 11, 2010

Treat paraprofessionals well. Respect their opinions and their experience, even if it seems to contradict what you've learned or expect. You may run into some people who are limited in their experience or stuck in old ways of doing things, but there are also paraprofessionals who could do your job (possibly even better than you, at least at first) but don't have the means or opportunity to get an MLS, and are being paid a lot less than you.

The above, only with managers, and this time you may be the person who's overqualified and underpaid relative to them. It can be especially frustrating if they're the kind of person who lectures you about the latest Hot New Trend in libraries based on something that they heard at a conference (which only they got to go to), but can't put together a basic PowerPoint presentation without handholding.

If the above gets too frustrating, you can go here [NSFW name] to blow off steam.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:44 AM on November 11, 2010

Seconding fifilaru. Learn your collection. At my last front line library job, my director had me read the ref. section. This had the double benefit of getting stuff where it belonged and showing me exactly what we did and didn't have.

Don't piss off the non-librarian staff, either. Those of us without MLSes don't think you walk on water or are infallible. We can be really helpful if you don't come on like the gods' gift to librarianship.
posted by QIbHom at 11:26 AM on November 12, 2010

« Older old car won't start -- help!   |   Identify this floor lamp? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.