Friday, 20 April 2012

The modern reference shelf

Today at work I began the super-dusty task of weeding our Reference collection.  In total our Reference takes up two bays and on a quick whip-around the staff today, none of us have used it to answer a library user's question more than about five times in the past two years.

In terms of providing a version of the library's non-fiction resources in miniature our Reference Collection does very well.  In terms of being user-focused, well-maintained, practical and/or an effective use of resources -- not so much.

My supervisors (both current and previous) and I have for some time now been planning to downsize Reference quite considerably.  Everything from 700 on can be assessed for being shifted to the regular collection, and there are other items that need to be discarded: for instance the 1999 "Computer and Internet Dictionary" that did not have a definition of "social media" and which noted that "use of Broadband-ISDN is not popular". 

We're also considering shifting the majority of any other reference material that we decide to retain as "not for loan" into the regular collection but prominantly marked as not for loan (in particular the large collection of car manuals, which I would really love to have with all the other car books).  After all, our patrons don't generally understand what the little R means on the spine label, if they even see it.  And it will also be a good reason to shift all the law books to 362 to live together, instead of having them in three different places. 

In my first library job I was very definitely trained in the concept of making cataloguing and layout decisions with the users in mind.  We knew that the high school students we were working with wouldn't be willing to go to two different shelves in order to find whatever information they were looking for.  In general we tend to assume that public library users aren't quite as impatient as teenagers, but I was struck by something I read in an article today while I was doing some research/literature review* for my upcoming Marketing assignment.  I can't (unfortunately) give a reference for this, but while I thought I'd saved a couple of articles to my Evernote it doesn't seem to have gone through.  Anyway, the concept was that library users - in particular public library users - really just want their answers and want them now: they don't want to learn how to use the catalogue (or other methods) to find the answers.

Which on the one hand is unfortunate and on the other, annoying.  It's unfortunate because I have a tendency to assume that users want to know *how* to find the answer more than the answer itself.  I started in information literacy and I'll continue in information literacy mentally for a while longer yet, I guess.  It's annoying because we'd be able to help so many more people, more quickly, if some people would learn to do their own reference work.

Anyway.  This post started off being about weeding the Reference collection.  It's veered rather off that topic, but I'll get back to where I started eventually.  Perhaps in another post?

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