ALA update – Reference Repertoire: You know more than you know

This important session at the ALA conference was about how reference librarians build an internal repertoire of things they end up using on the job. Random information and bits of knowledge that helps their patrons. One of the three speakers referred to an Allen Smith quote: “Librarianship is the field where ANYTHING you know will only help you – Anything.” Librarians tend to store factoids in their mental repositories. They then use them at later dates when asked a question to which they know the answer. Reference librarians have a vast scope of knowledge they rely on to help others.

The audience was asked about their different educational backgrounds; the majority had a liberal arts background.

One of the speakers talked about how librarianship includes more design elements than scientific elements. Some of the aspects of design are:

  • Creation of solutions
    • Librarians tend to create a solution to a problem when needed. Creative problem solving is a regular part of the job.
  • Generate knowledge by asking questions
    • When they can’t figure something out, they collaborate and ask each other for suggestions. Approaching the question as a group can be more empowering and productive overall.
  • Abductive reasoning
    • This type of reasoning produces regular decision-making that works best with the information at hand, even when that information is incomplete.
  • Evaluation methods
    • It’s common for librarians to use various evaluation methods in their work without even thinking about it.

The presenters conducted a study asking librarians to track their reference activities for a month. It was well-received, and the librarians noticed reflecting on the collected data helped them see what kind of questions they had been getting.

They noted the importance of curiosity, or going down the rabbit hole, as some call it. Set aside time during your week to dig a little deeper into any topic. One of the speakers said going down the rabbit holes could be done at work since it was for work-related reasons.

Being collaborative or institutional was also crucial as librarians used each other as sounding boards for ideas. There’s also the great importance of learning from previous interactions. For most librarians, this is a natural habit.

The audience was encouraged to find the fun at work, learn from each other, and reflect on their interactions. I enjoyed this session and was honored to participate virtually. My graduate work focused on reference librarianship, so this topic was highly relatable.

By Gretchen Hendrick Gardella, MLIS

Gretchen Hendrick Gardella is a Librarian with administrative, research, and vast technical skills. Ms. Gardella brings over 16 years of experience working in academic and public libraries to the discussion.