On Being a Librarian

Trends, Achievements, and Perspectives

Business Reference 101

I have begun another course offered through the American Library Association, Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), Business Reference 101, with Celia Ross.  I am interested in learning more about working with users who have information needs in the context of research in Business.

The first lesson in the course was a bit of a surprise.  I was prepared to dive right into exploring business-specific databases and research tools available for discovery.  This was not the case.  Ross spent some time reviewing best practices for reference interactions.  I wondered how she was going to bridge reference practices and business reference until she brought the discussion back to a librarian’s reflective practice – the potential for immediate reflection. Reflection isn’t reserved for a time after an event or situation but can effectively guide an exchange while that exchange is occurring. I was reminded of the times I have quietly questioned myself about a tool I had chosen or resource with which I was working, not audibly but to myself. Ross suggests asking yourself these questions aloud, indicating to the user that there are aspects of the search process you might question. By sharing these questions with the user, I am positioning myself as a partner in his or her information-seeking process. I am gaining agreement from the user that we can work together, collaborate, to meet his or her information need.

Ross pointed out that partnering with the users is invaluable.  What does that really mean?  It means that we must be open to collaborating with the user allowing both of us to guide the research process, partnering in the reference exchange process.  The research interaction should be a mutually rewarding experience of discovery.  In the role of reference librarian, I engage the user in the process to ensure I am guiding him or her toward the best possible resources in the right format.  The user partners with me, sharing what he or she already know about the topic and the research experience to this point.  The user becomes confident in my ability to help him or her.

Returning to Reference and User Services Association’s (RUSA) Guidelines, Standards, & Definitions helps me provide better service each time I am at the desk.  I review the guidelines, reflect upon recent exchanges and note where I could improve.

Specifically, I review RUSA’s Professional Competencies for Reference and User Services Librarians  identifying where my competency, skill, or knowledge could improve. What did I find today?  Under the section “Collaboration” I find the first goal, “[T]he librarian treats the user as a collaborator and partner in the information seeking process” directly aligned with the first part of Ross’s course. Ross correctly reminds her class about the importance of partnering with users.

During reference interactions, I empathize with users, asking for his or her opinion of the experience as I move through a particular database or source.  I might frame the question like this: “What is it about this database that you find easiest to use?” or “When you are using the features of this database, what are you finding most useful?”  In my experience, checking in with the user at intervals throughout the reference interaction cues me to where I might review the search process, when to change search strategies, how the user is accommodating the new search process we are discovering and features a particular search tool or resource.

Every Friday, the reference team where I work meets to discuss new technologies, problem solve issues, learn about new database interfaces, and share reference desk experiences.  This week, I am facilitating the meeting and will be opening the floor to discuss RUSA’s guidelines for reference staff.

How very timely it is that my course opens this week broaching on the very same topic.

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