Getting Past the “Expert” Paradigm

I’m cleaning out the drafts folder for this blog, and I found this one:

There are a lot of topics about which YOU know more that ME (more than I?  Grammar may be one of them).

Two librarians in the dark.

there are two experts in the reference transaction

It’s like some sort of cryptic librarian riddle.  Maybe a joke:

Two librarians in the dark.  One turns to the other and says…

– “How’d we get inside this dog”?

-“I guess I should have said AND lightbulbs”

-“Isn’t the library supposed to be a *glowing* organism?”

Clifford Maust In Scottdale, Pennsylvania

I’m not exactly sure what I was going to try to get at with that draft, but I think it was probably something about how thinking of librarians as experts is not a good place to try to do reference from.

The truth of the matter is, it’s the ~terrifying unknown~ that librarians often confront in true reference transactions**, rather than a tapping of their professional expertise.  We may understand our collections, we may understand the organization of information and the orders of knowledge, but each patron throws a new curve ball.

Better to approach the reference transaction from a place of learning and collaboration.  The librarian is learning more about the patron’s information need, and collaborating on the construction of the answer.  A “collaborating” model lets the librarian approach the patron with humility, which is helpful both in dealing with patrons who are not very confident and in dealing with patrons who know everything – it removes the source of conflict.

Cornell Varsity, Pokpsie 61711

**other types of transactions at the reference desk include the less terrifying, “where is the bathroom?” and “can I use the computer?”