There are people out there how are afraid of libraries and librarians. Most of the time librarians do not see them, because they avoid us if they can. But yesterday I think I met one of them.
She was the personal assistant of one of the higher ups in the firm, and had been asked to find a few books for him. She was quite anxious and very grateful to be helped. She confessed that she had been at the Firm for two years, and hadn’t used the library once – and then braced herself for some disapproving word or look from me.
It struck me because this is somebody who works with some very demanding people on a daily basis, yet she seemed scared of the library. How does this happen?
I’ve worked with librarians who were brilliant researchers, but sometimes had an imperious manner. When I saw this, I hoped I would never act in such a way. It seemed so counter-productive to be intimidating our users like that. But another recent incident has helped me understand how this can happen.
Towards the end of yesterday's evening reference shift, I had a very different interaction. When it finished, I remember thinking, I like this sort of reference question. I like it when the person asking the question has a good grasp of legal research, and has made a really good attempt at finding the answer before coming to me. It means that I can assume that the basics have been covered, so I can focus on the more challenging research techniques, which usually causes my skills to improve. My research skills are not improved when I am going over research basics again and again.
Now I wonder if this is where the dark side starts, when we want our reference questions to be interesting and challenging, and we start putting less value at the less challenging ones. Librarians who do that enough might start sneering at the people who aren’t asking worthy questions.
Of course it’s ok for librarians to want interesting and challenging questions. I learned yesterday that dealing with marginalized library users is its own challenge. Turning these people around, so that they might not be so reluctant to use the library in the future is even more satisfying.