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Litchfield MN 55355

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Friday, September 28, 2012

Librarian: The original search engine


by Beth Cronk, Litchfield head librarian

“Google can bring back a hundred thousand answers; a librarian can bring you back the right one.”  This quote has been attributed to author Neil Gaiman and to librarian Diana Tixier Herald, but this librarian must admit the irony of having trouble finding the right source.  Herald, who is known as genrelibrarian on Twitter, was attributed by The Guardian newspaper as the source. She has set the record straight and said that she merely retweeted Gaiman’s tweet.  

Neil Gaiman is known for being very conversational on Twitter (he even answered a question of mine once), so I’ve asked him on Twitter if he would set the record straight, as well, and tell us whether he quoted someone else.  Twitter as a new research tool?  You go where you can find answers.

In the last two weeks I’ve had a string of people apologize to me for taking up my time when they’ve asked if I knew where to find some information they needed.  Let me set the record straight: helping people find information is part of my job.  

It’s not a big part of the job in a library of this size.  We don’t have a reference or information desk where a librarian handles questions all day, like they do at Willmar or St. Cloud or Ridgedale libraries.  But public libraries are always supposed to be places where you can ask for help to find information. 

Some of us at the Litchfield Library have had specialized training on handling reference questions, the librarian term for requests for help finding information.  Jan and I each completed a course on that many years ago.  I took a graduate school class on reference last year.  Others on our staff, like Mary and Linda, have had years of experience digging for answers for people.  We don’t always find the answer, to be honest, but we can help you figure out where to start and find good sources, and sometimes we can put exactly what you need in your hands for you to take home. 

Just try not to ask your question of the person shelving books, even though that may be the least intimidating way to go.  Reference questions aren’t part of that job, although she can tell you where to find a specific book.

I might look busy (it’s a busy library!), but I really do hope you’ll ask me if you need some information or some books on a subject.  A library staff member said to me lately, “You like the challenge, don’t you?” I do.  Rather than it being a bother, it is an interesting challenge to find something you’re seeking.  And it gives me a sense of purpose when people go away with some books and printouts on a medical condition they’re dealing with, or some contact information for a difficult insurance issue, or some resources for a college paper they’re writing.  I’ve had people shake my hand in surprised gratitude after finding what they didn’t think they could find.  It makes my day. 

We can’t give medical or legal or tax advice.  We’re not experts in these things.  But we can help with finding print and reliable internet resources on whatever subject you need, and then you can read it and interpret it for yourself.  Always consult an expert, your doctor, lawyer, or tax specialist, when it really matters that you understand things correctly and have the right answer on these kinds of issues.

 The next time you need some information help, think of the library.  You don’t have to go it alone and just Google it if that leaves you buried in a pile of possible answers.  We often use Google, too, but we might have some good ideas you wouldn’t have thought of to help you find just what you need.