Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

My Mind Unblown

On the last post, someone thought I’d be commenting on LITA National Forum / Rosh Hashanah conflict, which sparked quite a furor on the LITA listserv last week. I guess that could be considered religious discrimination by the ALA, or at least by LITA, although it seems to me like unintentional discrimination by the uninformed. Then again, isn’t that what a lot of unwanted discrimination is?

However, if you want to see some angry librarians virtually beat an apology out of an ALA employee, you can make up your own mind.

All sorts of things have been happening in libraryland. For example, a piece from the Library Journal not even written by me has been making the rounds lately. It’s on revamping reference.

I thought reference was dead. At least that’s what I’ve been hearing for years from various librarians. Perhaps it hasn’t been dead, but just asleep.

It certainly seems dead at the Annoyed Librarian Flea Libary, where I work. I think the paper forms librarians use to track reference transactions are the same ones they’ve had at the desk for years because no one ever needs to make tick marks on them. They’ve yellowed gracefully with age, which is more than I can say for some of the librarians.

My library is one of the many that practices the Scowling Dragon approach to reference, which guarantees no one will approach the desk. It might not be better for the library patron, but it’s sure better for the librarians. There’s nothing worse than having your Tetris game interrupted by a someone asking reference questions.

(Someone sent me a photo of a librarian at a university reference desk playing a videogame, but I didn’t have the heart to post it for everyone to see.)

The column argues for models like roving reference, where reference librarians leave their desks and go bother people instead of sitting at the desk waiting for people to bother them. That’s certainly a novel approach, but why reference librarians would ever want to leave their desks is beyond me. It’s just so much work!

But we could talk about how reference is dead, dying, reviving, or roving for hours. I’m more curious about what excites librarians. The author spoke with librarians using iphones and ipads for reference.

He got a report “that they’re answering different types of questions away from the reference desk and that ‘librarians have mind-blowing reference tran­sactions weekly,’ as when one…librarian was able to engage a patron deeply by putting her in charge of navigating library resources through an iPhone.” Apparently this librarian hasn’t been told that library patrons are all customers now. Good for her.

This is the quote I’ve been seeing around. Weekly mind-blowing reference transactions! There’s something to be said for that. I guess my mind is blown by different things, since I think this transaction consisted of handing the patron the iPhone and letting her poke around the library website with it. Useful, handy, a good service to provide? Okay. Mind-blowing? I’m not so sure.

But what would mind-blowing reference look like? Let’s hope it wouldn’t look like those Russian roulette scenes from The Deer Hunter.

We can be pretty sure it wouldn’t, since that would make librarianship an unattractive profession, except to psychos and sociopaths. We know it’s not an unattractive profession, because despite the grumbling people still want to join it. That they’re all literature majors with no other hope of finding employment is just a coincidence.

It’s probably because, according to a reputable career website I’ve never heard of, Librarian is the 29th best job in the country this year.

Apparently it’s much better to be a librarian than a surgeon or a carpet installer, but not as good as being an accountant or a parole officer. I have complete faith in the list, because I’ve often considered chucking my career as a librarian to chase my dream of becoming a parole officer.

Perhaps I’ll ponder that dream as I sip my martini this evening. Right now, I think I’ll go chat with the reference librarian on duty. I’m sure she’s not busy. Perhaps we can have a mind-blowing gossip transaction.


Please note that new comments for all posts on this blog have been closed.


  1. CleverMoniker says:

    According to The Wikipedias, the Christian feast day for Our Lady of Perpetual Help falls on June 27th, right in the middle of the ALA conference.


  2. As much as I love reference transactions, I woulnd’t call them mind blowing. I’ve had some fun and interesting experiences with patrons and independent clients, but nothing so extreme. I think phrases like that get tossed around to make something sound more interesting. It’s abuse of the language and doesn’t work in making librarianship sound exciting. It just makes librarians look silly when they say things like that.

  3. Hamilton says:

    Hi, some friends told me that there are librarians on here who are pretty smart. The ones at the university library I often use are like, I suppose, the ones playing video games you mention in this article. Can someone tell me if there is anything like ESTC except for eighteenth-century French imprints? My colleagues keep saying just to use the BNF catalog, but I know it’s not exhaustive and I know ESTC pretty much is exhaustive for English-language imprints. (I know ESTC covers imprints in other languages if printed in Britain, but I’m looking for French imprints.) Thanks for any help any of you can give.

  4. Fat Guy says:

    I can’t answer Hamilton’s question, but who says reference is dead?

  5. @ hamilton. I will put your question to the Librarian Twitter army (@libtwitarmy) on twitter and see what I find. For future reference (see what I did there?) you can tweet a ref question with the #refSOS or #libarmy and we can see what we can do for you.

    Also, reference isn’t dead, but I know people working for $8/hour at a bookstore that give better “reference” than some librarians I have known.

  6. ok- @Hamilton again-

    Would one of these be what you’re looking for? or #refSOS #if so, you have seen the power of the Librarian Twitter Army!

  7. LaVergne says:

    Try again, Twitterati-

    The request was specifically for 18th century:

    (Brought to you courtesy of a gamer; as I send, I’m also running a script on Foldit. Not all gamers are goof-offs, Hamilton).

  8. Fat Guy says:

    Reference, like books and libraries, are only “dead” when people keep chattering on and on about how dead they are. I’m not going to play a part in fulfilling that self-fulfilling prophecy.

  9. Jean-Pierre says:

    Mon Hamilton,

    Quelques amis m’ont dit qu’il y a des bibliothécaires sur ici qui sont assez futés. Ceux à la bibliothèque d’université que j’emploie souvent suis comme, je suppose, ceux jouants des jeux vidéo vous mentionnez en cet article. Est-ce que quelqu’un peut me dire s’il y a quelque chose comme ESTC excepté les impressions françaises de dix-huitième-siècle ? Mes collègues continuent à dire juste d’employer le catalogue de BNF, mais je sais il n’est pas approfondi et je sais qu’ESTC est assez beaucoup approfondi pour les impressions de langue anglaise. (Je connais des impressions de couvertures d’ESTC dans d’autres langues s’imprimé en Grande-Bretagne, mais je recherche les impressions françaises.) Merci pour en aident n’importe lequel de vous peuvent donner.

  10. LaVergne says:

    “… you have *seen* the *power* of the Librarian Twitter Army!” = toute la puissance d’un pissant au sein d’un troupeau de génisses désespérée

  11. LaVergne,

    First, let me say that I don’t take offense at your slight, but I do take offense at your reference work. While I was off by a span of a hundred years give or take, you gave him (assuming gender, hamilton, sorry) links that:
    OFFER NOTHING he’s looking for (
    Restrict access to subscription users only (


    Tells him that there’s a university that has a series of special collections (

    Hamilton, I hope that’s something you WERE looking for,or have a subscription to, and I hope you have an idea of how to use it, but I call that a REFERENCE FAIL. (equal to mine, as you pointed out.

    However, I will not mock your reference skills as equivilant to pissing desperate cows or somesuch nonsense.

  12. There goes any and all motivation to join a librarian listserv. As someone in the linked thread asked, do you treat each other like this in person at the conference?

  13. PremproPosse says:

    The Army’s second #refSoS attempt disseminated, then retracted, a wrong link. SOS = Stuck on Stupid? Oy vey.

  14. Premproposse,

    and quickly followed with the intended link. It is a collaborative effort. PremproPosse= anonymous jackass? honto ni.

  15. LaVergne says:


    The Bodleian link directs the requester to the Hand Press Books database.

    More than 330 institutions subscribe to the ARTFL database; I would expect the requester to be savvy enough to submit an ILL request. Why you would reference the philogic beta release link while bypassing the preceding SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION tab is questionable.

    Lastly, I referenced – with specificity – McGill’s French collection – distinguished for its 18th century holdings within its Rare Books and Special Collections. Here, again, I would expect the researcher to be savvy enough to take it from there, even if you weren’t.

    Pardon me, now, for not further indulging your ineptitude; I shan’t pursue this with you. I’m off to fold a protein.

    Besides which, I don’t work for free.

  16. The One and Only Anon says:

    AL–the link to the apology isn’t working. Coincidence?

    And what is that exchange about above? Can’t we all play nicely?

  17. Hamilton says:

    Sorry, I must have misdirected the question. I had tried asking this question through the “normal” channels for reference questions, but no one seems to know what ESTC is and what it does except for my colleagues who study book history and bibliography. So I thought I’d try here because I thought this blog was read by some university librarians. I must have misunderstood – sorry for the intrusion!

  18. LaVergne says:


    Because my information is being “moderated”, my comments are not being read “in real time”.

    I directed you to the Oxford doc as a lead-in to the HPB and the ETSC French databases. Beyond that is the ARTFL exploration, accessible via McGill, along with its comprehensive archives of 18th-century publishers and printers. The strength of McGill’s Rare Books and Special Coolections is its 18th-century data. ARTFL is accessible via McGill.

  19. LaVergne says:

    This is my 3rd moderated comment, so it’s not ensured to reach you (for, I suspect.s than honourable purposes, but nevertheless..):

    The Oxford doc also references BM STC French (but only up to 1700), which is why I believe that your sojourn should be continued via McGill, whose staff can well direct you.

  20. LaVergne says:


    This is my 3rd moderated comment, so it’s not ensured to reach you (but nevertheless…):

    The Oxford doc also references BM STC French (but only up to 1700), which is why I believe that your sojourn should be continued via McGill, whose staff can well direct you towards the supplements.

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