Friday, October 20, 2006

The information gathering practices of librarians

In LIBR 534 we often consider the information gathering practices of various groups of medical professionals. However, I’d like to reflect on the information gathering practices of librarians. This is a theme I’ve considered before, but it was brought to mind again this week by a posting on a listserve to which I subscribe asking for information on lighting recommendations for a library under renovation. I was online at the time and in about 30 seconds found a site that gave recommended lux/footcandle levels for various tasks. In less time than it took this librarian to compose the listserve posting I had an answer, leading me to question why this person didn’t just Google the question.

Last summer when I was working at SFU, I had a call from a librarian at another Vancouver area institution asking if we had a certain book in our collection. As I was looking up the information, I was thinking, “In less time than it took her to call me, she could have had the answer by doing exactly what I’m doing.”

I also had a library tech student come to the reference desk and ask a question (which is perfectly legitimate). The striking thing about this was while I was searching for the information, he paid absolutely no attention to what I was doing as I searched. He stared off into the distance showing no interest, leaving me to wonder if he knew how to search, why ask me; whereas, if he didn't he might consider paying attention and learning something.

Of course, I’m not completely innocent in this regard. Earlier this term Charlotte sent out an e-mail to the life sciences list telling us about a 3rd year Human Kinetic assignment involving database searching for literature on body composition in various disease conditions. My first response was to e-mail Charlotte to ask which databases she recommended. She was very gracious and recommended PubMed and SportDiscus – something I would have known had I taken a couple of minutes to think about it.


Blogger Dean Giustini said...


Motivation is an interesting issue. Some students are motivated, and some are not. I try to get them motivated, sometimes to little or no avail.

I think we made a mistake in LIBR534 in assuming that everyone would be motivated to read about the topics presented in class. Do you think we should have made certain readings mandatory?


11:40 a.m.  
Blogger Valeria said...

There are various explanations I can think of for the question of why librarians would phone a colleague for information, instead of searching for it themselves. 1) Sometimes it is nice to talk to another human being. 2) Sometimes it faster than navigating OPACS. 3) Librarian can get a feeling on how good /reliable customer service is at other libraries. This is useful since many times we are referring people to other libraries, 4) networking.

6:31 p.m.  
Blogger Rabbit Girl said...

As a library student, I (me, personally) wouldn't think to judge what someone does while I'm looking up whatever they asked...Mostly because I would feel that, if the roles were reversed, me watching another librarian work might be percieved as not trusting that they knew what they were doing. Though this would be totally situational, as every time Dean does something I'm sticking my nose into the process -at least when I'm invited to.

I guess you just can't win.

11:59 p.m.  
Blogger PubMed Junkie said...


I don’t think motivation and searching out readings are exactly the same thing. Students generally do what is required to pass a course (more if it’s an area they’re interested in or if the teachers are engaging), trusting their teachers to direct them in the most profitable direction. Doing something that isn’t required may take time from activities that the course teacher has deemed more important or from other course work.

I haven’t looked for readings each week, but found articles, when browsing the Journal of the Medical Library Association (looking for information on my Wiki topic), that would have been interesting to read in conjunction with various topics we are covering this semester.

Having a couple of recommended readings a week with a mandatory blog on one of them might be a profitable way of combining traditional and new approaches to teaching.

Readings need to be chosen carefully, though. During the core I was required to buy and read a course package of readings, one of which was a 1997 article on the Internet. I was not impressed.

8:02 p.m.  
Blogger Dean Giustini said...

Good point. I hope the wiki entries have been useful in directing some of the reading for LIBR534. In any case, the blogging has definitely been a bonus for all of you, and you have been engaging lots of interesting discussion which in some ways is equally beneficial in grad school. I encourage lots of exploration this week for the systematic review class, incidentally. I updated the wiki entry on the SR just for this purpose.

9:05 p.m.  
Blogger PubMed Junkie said...

Valeria, I agree that networking, human contact, and service are important, but finding a book on the OPAC is the most basic of skills, so I'm not sure that that type of question helps to develop collegial feelings.

7:49 p.m.  
Blogger PubMed Junkie said...

Rabbit girl, when I'm on the desk I see myself as partly an educator (perhaps not always a good one, but that's one of my roles).

I'm not simply supplying information that leaves the person no more able to search than the first time they came to the desk. I want them to develop searching skills so they can do their own research.

This is why I usually refuse to do a whole set of searches for a student. I'll do one, review what I've done and then send them off to try on their own. Of course I tell them that if they get stuck I'll be happy to come and help.

7:53 p.m.  
Blogger Dean Giustini said...

Or...I get them to teach me what they have learned (as reinforcement). I always find that interesting, and can be loads of fun too


11:30 p.m.  
Blogger PubMed Junkie said...

I hadn't thought of that one, Dean. I'll have to give it a try.

7:33 p.m.  

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