I Heart Poultry, or: The Importance of the Reference Interview

Sharing a post I enjoyed – a funny anecdote about the importance of open-ended questions in the reference interview.

Mr. Library Dude

With Valentine’s Day coming up, this reference interaction popped into my head.

Now I normally don’t blog about specific patron encounters, but this one was years ago… circa 2003 when I was a newbie librarian.

A man approached the reference desk and asked a simple question:

Do you have any books on poultry?

With my newly minted MLS, I thought I better do a good reference interview:

Well, are you looking for books on any specific type of poultry: like chickens or turkeys? About farming, urban chickens, or feral? We have a fairly large agriculture collection. 

Wow, how self-important I sounded! It resulted in a quizzical look from the man. He said:

No! No! I’m looking for romance stuff.

At this point I’m confused. Chickens? Romance?

Then it dawned on me. He wasn’t looking for books about poultry. He was looking for books about POETRY. He wanted romantic poems…

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Now and Then

I’m very tempted to write up another blog post starting with “Another busy week of LIS!” But let’s be honest, every week is busy and that will get repetitive. So instead, let’s make a deal. If you agree to take that as a given, I’ll agree not to start every post the same way. Deal?

Highlights of my week so far:

I was lucky enough to see a thought provoking talk by Dr. John Buschman during his visit to FIMS. There were a few points that stood out to me that I will probably be thinking about for awhile, so expect to see some references back to this in subsequent posts.

I also interviewed for an internship with the askON virtual reference service and am very excited to be starting next month.

What else is happening in the FIMS MLIS world? Well, my fellow classmates and I have been having a bit of fun watching an old vocational training video. Check it out:

Oh boy. It’s kind of fun, right? Far enough off from our experience to be amusing, close enough to be endearing.

And before I proceed, I should point out that we should be cautious before deciding to take it too seriously: it seems to be produced by a Your Life Work Vocational Guidance Films Inc, rather than librarians themselves, so I don’t know that we can assume that it very accurately reflects library work even at the time.

It’s definitely accurate about gender roles, with women working front lines and men in managerial roles. The interaction between the effortlessly knowledgeable doctor and the hospital librarian at the 8:15 mark made me cringe a little.

It’s definitely accurate with regards to ethnic and racial diversity. (What diversity?)

And some themes in the video are not too far off of librarianship today.

Librarians really do need good interpersonal skills, for interacting with both coworkers and users, though I’m not sure that I would go so far as to say that “love of people” is one of only two qualifications. I’m not even sure that a love of people is very closely related to interpersonal skills. LIS is notoriously introvert-heavy, but introverts often develop great people skills, while I’m sure we all have friends or acquaintances who are very extroverted and not at all good with people.

Staying up to date with new technologies is something that remains important. I like the part where he explains that “Specially trained librarians are always developing new resources and educational uses of microfilm, motion picture film, and other visual materials…” Here he’s describing visual resources rather than technologies, but it’s hard not to notice his emphasis on technologies which may seem a bit rudimentary to us now, but were pretty cutting edge at the time. What new technologies the future will bring is anyone’s guess, but we can be sure that whatever comes, librarians will be there, thinking about how it can (or can’t, or shouldn’t) be of use to the library.

And then we have the old “love of books” as qualification for librarianship line. I know it can be considered kind of gauche to say one is drawn to librarianship because of a love of books now, and I wonder if that was always the case? Did librarians watching this video cringe, or did they smile and nod? Thinking it through, probably most tasks at the time really did make heavy use of books, certainly more than other media, which just weren’t as practical for regular use at the time. Of course for work involving reader’s advisory and shelving, books will probably always remain prominent. But for things like reference, books are now but one medium among many, while they would probably have been librarians’ only sources at the time.

If a young person, say of 16, watched this video when it was produced in 1947, they would now be 83. It’s probably fair to say that the vast majority of those who went into the field after watching this video are now retired. But the libraries we work in (and use!) today were shaped by these women’s and men’s careers. I can only imagine that in my career I will watch much change occur over the decades as well, and I hope that over the course of my career I will be involved in helping to shape these changes positively into something of value socially.