I want to discuss a program about "borrowing librarians," but just for fun let’s first look at a way in which Republican congressmen and twopointopians/ oneohonions are the same.
Republicans in Congress are taking to social media like twopointopians at an unconference, according to this NPR story. They’re making YouTube videos and Facebook pages and tweeting up a storm. The Republicans and the twopointopians seem to have something else in common.
"Republican strategist Mindy Finn, who helped Virginia Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell find his voice online, tells NPR’s
‘Members who don’t have a lot of say or don’t have much of a voice in Congress can use social media to talk directly to their constituents, to voters and to activists,’ says Finn, a partner and blogger at the political consulting firm Engage."
That quote from a Republican "strategist" sounds niftier if you don’t analyze it. But edit out the verbiage and we get, "Members who don’t have a lot to say…can use social media to talk directly to [people]."
Substitute librarians for members and you have the twopointopian movement in a nutshell: Librarians who don’t have much to say can use social media. The twopointopians use social media to tell us about…social media! Yay!
But I’m more interested in this story from Colorado about a public library system letting patrons "borrow librarians." The article begins oddly:
"You can borrow books from a library. You can borrow movies. But, did you know in the Arapahoe Library District, you can borrow librarians?
‘We’re their personal search engines,’ said Pamela Bagby, librarian."
I said "oddly," but I really meant annoyingly. I hate that phrase "personal search engine." And the phrase "borrow librarians" isn’t at all accurate, and only leads to sexually suggestive comments. The program is called "Book a Librarian," where "patrons can schedule one-on-one time with a librarian who can aide in researching virtually any topic from travel to health to homework."
Many librarians would just call this a research consultation, and hardly newsworthy. Most academic libraries offer them. Are they such a rarities in public libraries? Based on my three minutes of Google searching, they would seem to be.
That would certainly explain things like the 55% rule. If you’re not familiar with it, the 55% rule is based on a study years ago that claimed reference librarians give correct answers to queries about 55% of the time. What can you expect if the warm body who happens to be staffing the reference desk at any given time is expected to answer all questions that might come up.
For a lot of questions, you can’t help people if you don’t know anything about the topic, and you can’t know much about a topic without some preliminary research or education in that subject. No wonder I’ve read studies where the patron wants information about cancer and the librarian points to the 616s and grunts.
So are there other public libraries that offer research consultations? And if not, shouldn’t there be? Assuming that people come to reference librarians only after Google and Wikipedia have failed them, wouldn’t it make sense to offer people more in-depth research help rather than to maintain the fiction that whoever happens to be staffing the reference desk is an expert on finding information on any topic?
This library system is hardly a trailblazer when it comes to research consultations, but if it’s a public library trailblazer it’s finally doing something that all libraries should be doing.
Some librarians seem to have professional inferiority complexes. They want to make themselves seem "relevant." Those with little to say use social media to proclaim that social media makes them relevant, but tweeting or making YouTube videos aren’t things librarians do any better than other people, whereas helping people with research is. Maybe public libraries should spend less time writing blogs and sending tweets no one reads and more time promoting the research services that actually distinguish librarians from other professions.
The twopointopians want to brand librarians as techie geeks and early adopters who immerse themselves in every new tech trend regardless of how stupid it is. Librarians as professionals would be better off showcasing their research skills and building personal connections with patrons around areas of librarian expertise rather than areas any 12-year-old can master.
Research consultations are a much better way of doing this than any social media. Emphasizing and promoting the research skills of librarians and proving the worth of those skills to individuals in consulations make librarians more professionally valuable than proving they can watch Hulu videos. If librarians want to be "relevant," they need to estabilish professional relationships with people based on areas of expertise.
Sometimes librarians compare themselves to other professionals, like lawyers. That’s a joke, but it doesn’t have to be. You never see lawyers, even public attorneys, sitting around wating for questions about any aspect of law with an expectation they will be answered. You don’t go to your public defender with questions about securities law.
Lawyers specialize. The twopointopians and the oneohonions and others emphasize no special skills or knowledge that any ordinary person can’t easily acquire. If librarians want to be taken seriously as professionals, they have to show other people their worth as specialists in areas people value. The academic and public librarians who do that now are taken seriously by serious people. The twopointopians and oneohonions are taken seriously by no one but themselves.