26 January 2009

Asking questions and when to say when

Wow..OK I started this post back in October with every intention of getting up, yet somehow things got away. So trying again.

Back in October 2008 I had the opportunity to speak with a recent MLIS graduate who just landed her first professional job. She had interned at our library over the summer and somehow she came away with the impression that I knew what I was talking about (not quite sure why...) and I of course was honored that she wanted to talk to me. So we sat and talked for over 2 hours on what type of things I did as a reference and instruction librarian. I shared various bits of advice that I had picked up and learned along the way.

I tried to make sure she knew other people did things differently than I did (which is a good thing we need diversity!) and I explained how I handled certain situations, such as giving instruction at the desk. Since I'm ILL/Circulation I sometimes take a different view of things and highlight different areas. For example, I try to make sure that folks know how ILL works and that generally they won't get their items the next day and that it probably won't help them for that paper that's due in 2 hours. As such, I tend (or at least try) to show resources that we have locally or that can be found online that might still have what they need. I also talked about how I conducted a reference interview, how I interacted with faculty, how I explained the library, conducted classes, etc. It was a good wide ranging discussion on all types of experiences, questions, and thoughts on the future of the library.

I shared two things that I wanted to pass on that I think are important for any librarian starting out.

The first was ask your colleagues questions. Get to know them, find out what their skills are and learn from them. Don't be afraid to ask them questions, because they want to help you succeed (or should!). They know the resources, they know whose who on campus, and are your best bet for navigating those first few months. And more importantly it will help you find out who to go to when you have something that you need a specific skill set to answer, such as using a certain science database. While it would be nice to be an expert in everything, it's just not possible to do so. So learn about the people around you, so you can go to them when you have a question or when you have a patron that has a question.

And the 2nd, was knowing when to say when when helping someone, whether patron or co-worker. We all want to do everything humanly possible to help our patrons. We'll go to the ends of the earth to find the information that they want or need. However, it sometimes seems like we don't know when to step back and say I've helped you all that I can and we need to try a different approach or you need to someone else for assistance. For example, when to let the person know that your chatting with on IM that their multi part research question can really be answered best in person or a phone call when you're not on the desk so that you can give them the help that they need. Or when to walk away from the patron that just won't stop talking about his new conspiracy on the government controlling the aliens from Mars. Librarians love helping their patrons. It's why we're here. But you can't always do everything they want and we need to know when to say when.

So what words of wisdom would you offer to those just starting out in library science?

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