Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Help Me Help You: What Librarians Wish Patrons Knew About the Library

Help Me Help You: What Librarian Wish Patrons Knew About the Library

I got the idea for this post after a rather frustrating reference transaction right before closing time one evening. We simply didn't have enough time to find as much information as we could have if this patron had come in, say, half an hour before closing instead of two minutes before closing (and of course they needed the information for the next day). So that got me thinking about other things that I wish patrons knew about the library. Once I started writing, I came up with much more than would fit into one post, so consider this part 1. You might also be interested in the Seattle Books Examiner piece that ran last November: Top 20 Things Librarians in Public Libraries Wish Patrons Knew or Did.

And without further ado, help me help you...

Part 1: Research and Reference

Ask us questions! What do you think we're sitting at the desk for? Because it's more comfortable than our couch at home? Whether you're looking for materials for homework, a suggestion for a good book to read, or just where the bathrooms are, we're at that desk to answer your questions. We might look like we're busy on the computer or doing work, but a good librarian's first priority at the reference desk is to talk to you and answer your questions. We're happy to answer any questions you have, but we're also happy to show you how to find the answers to your questions on your own. Ask us how to search the catalog or how to use the databases and the next time you come, you may not have to ask us anything! (Although you can always come by to say hello. :)

You'll get better results if we have time to research, think, and discuss your needs. I completely understand that sometimes the assignment is due tomorrow (or yesterday) and it's 8:55 and you just need the book!! (It happens more than you would probably guess.) But if you have a reference question or need resources for your paper or are looking for a book for a book report or books to read to your child's class, give yourself and the librarians plenty of time to figure out exactly what you need. Feel free to call ahead or send an email and let us know that you're coming - we may be able to pull some books for you to look at when you get here. If we have plenty of time to think about your request and confer with colleagues, we might be able to explore resources that don't immediately come to mind.

Bring your child in to do the research for his project. Not only will we be able to make sure he's getting what he needs for his report, he will start to learn the process of finding the materials he needs for homework. Librarians are happy to show your child how to use the library catalog, databases, and print resources. This is stuff he's going to need to know (in middle school, high school, college...) and the more practice he has with finding resources and asking librarians for help, the better he'll be!

We might access some information via the internet, but that doesn't necessarily mean it is a website! I get it all the time - a child needs information for a report and the moment I turn to Biography Resource Center or World Book Online, she balks, saying "We're not allowed to use websites!" We access databases through the internet. Contained within these databases are newspaper articles, magazine articles, encyclopedias, and reference material. These items are different than a website on the internet. Plus, websites can be valuable sources of information as well. Ask a librarian which websites are reputable and we'll be happy to help you evaluate internet information.

If your child is doing a project for his class, chances are there are 20 other kids doing the same project. We really appreciate it when you don't take all the books on a certain subject. By all means, take what you need. Also be aware that we can help you find non-book information on the internet or using our databases. But if the entire class is doing a project about the moon and the first person to come in takes every moon book on the shelf (or every moon book on a second-grade level), we have nothing to offer the rest of the kids in the class. Please be courteous when deciding how many books you need to take for a project.

Librarian readers, what would you add to this list? What should our patrons know about doing research in the library?

I'll be continuing this series with Part 2: Storytime and Part 3: Library Logistics, so stay tuned!

ETA (June 11): And do check out Part 4: Teacher Edition and Part 5: Wrapping it Up!


AJ said...

This is related to the point about sometimes accessing information from a database, but I often wish patrons could understand that some specific topics just don't have entire books dedicated to them. Especially when looking for children's books. I don't have a children's biography to hand someone on every single person who ever lived, but Biography Resource Center will do the job nicely. Same goes for the non-high profile endangered animals, or local wildlife, or inventors no one knows enough about for a whole book. It's not that I'm holding out on patrons when they need information, sometimes that information simply doesn't exist, or doesn't exist in book form. We want to give people as much as we can. I know it makes me happier to send someone home with a ton of information as opposed to next to nothing.

Sami said...

I love this! I can't wait to read the next installments.

Stephanie said...

I am an insane library patron -- many of us homeschooling moms are. ;-) I have been known -- on occasion -- to ask to borrow one of those rolling metal carts to wheel my books out the the car. *LOL* Excellent post ... good for us library patrons to know. Do parents really come in to gather their kids' research materials without the kids? Yeesh!

Abby said...

Laughing Stars - oh yes, quite often. I get that sometimes kids are busy with sports or clubs or Mom is coming in on the way home from work. And if it's a specific book they're looking for, it's fine. It's when it gets into "I need a historical fiction book for my seventh-grade son" or "I need a biography for my fourth-grade daughter" and they can't tell us any info about the assignment or their child's preferences that it gets frustrating!

Trisha said...

This is so awesome, and so true.

I also get...more people than I would like coming in late, expecting us to have the book they need for school/homework due tomorrow. A lot of times, even if we don't have it or it's already checked out, there are copies available at other libraries in our system, but those brances are already closed or on the other side of the island, and the only thing we can do is tell the patron to try the UH library or a bookstore.

So, I would add that another reason to plan ahead is that even if we don't have the particular book you're looking for at our library, we may be able to request from another library, though it may take a couple of days (or more) for it to come in.

Can you also do a "What Librarians Wish Teachers Knew About the (Public) Library" post? :)

Amy said...

This is such good info to know. I think I may be guilty of taking too many books on a subject. But I generally only keep them a day or two since we visit the library almost every day! I will be more courtious from now on. Can't wait for the next installment!

Anonymous said...

When it comes to science fair projects...

Please understand that your project may not have a perfect book to go with it. If you're doing hydroelectricity, great, I can probably find you a book or two very quickly, and extra material if you have time.

But I get a LOT of questions at science fair time with a hazy outline of "we're comparing laundry detergents, do you have any books on that?" or "plants listening to music" or "the effect of Coca-cola on car paint". And there just ISN'T a perfect book for that kind of assignment. We're going to need time to help with those assignments. And if you're looking for a book titled "The Difference Between Snuggle and Downey", you're going to be disappointed because publishers don't usually make those kinds of books, and even if they did, it's a longshot we'll own them.

And the same is true with AJ's post... sometimes there just isn't a book to be found about Andean mountain cats or the person who invented the sofa-bed.

MotherReader said...

Yes, yes, yes, yes, and OMG YES! The last gets a big response because my new library is actually new and so we don't have the years of book collecting on certain subjects. So the project on Ancient Egypt hits us with much more force than older branches with more materials. C'mon, your kid's in third grade. One book will do it.

I wish patrons would know that while we have Internet computers, that does not mean that we can sit with you to teach you how to use the Internet or for that matter, the computer.

Jennifer said...

The part about there not being a book on every subject - goes double for the internet. I get so frustrated with people who are trying to find something on the internet and are convinced that I'm either not showing them the right thing or I'm incompetent because they don't understand that information doesn't magically appear online - somebody has to put it there! If nobody has added a complete and flawless database of every bed and breakfast in Europe, it doesn't exist. Really.

GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

I LOVE this post and agree with all the comments. It's very frustrating not only to the patrons, but the librarians when people come in asking for a book and need it that night! Yes, we have a lot of books and a lot of resources, but that doesn't mean we will have everything. Plus, we're in a ten library system, so just because I work at the biggest and main branch means it will be there-we share our books, so it could be out at a smaller branch. Please give us notice and allow for a few days so we can get the materials you need.

I have problems with the website thing too. I also have problems with teachers (this could go in your teacher post maybe) wanting historical newspapers for a history day project. We only have our local paper and NY Times on microfilm-we have others online-but if your students are looking for a historical newspaper article on Anne Frank, they won't find it our local paper! (This actually happens a lot!!) Please check with the library first before assigning things, even if it's been assigned 100 times. If you let us know what your students will be searching for, we can be sure to order the books they will need so we have them in our collection. I think a lot of teachers tell students to go to the library, but they never build a relationship with the library-this could be very helpful on both sides, so teachers seek out your local librarian and let them know what you'll be working on this year and librarians, befriend your teachers!

austentatious said...

To add to Abby's comment about parents doing the research for their kids, I would just like to add that as a librarian working in Adult Services I have had requests from parents of children in college for research. Yes, I said college. I frequently tell the parents that their child's college or university library is better equipped to handle the research as that's what the libraries there are meant for. If you start doing research for your kids when they're young, how long are you going to do it for? If you won't teach them how to do it on their own how will they ever learn? It's definitely something I find frustrating.