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!