Visiting ILA

I gave a lunchtime talk at the annual meetings of the Illinois Library Association today. It was more of a skit than a talk, actually. Ed Valauskas – known in IT-research circles mostly for editing First Monday – and I were invited to participate on a session with the following title: If Google is God Who are Reference Librarians? (not our title, theirs). Given that we were lunchtime speakers, we decided to take a lighter-than-usual approach and we prepared a skit for the occasion. I was the venture capitalist approaching Reference Librarians, Inc. for a potentially lucrative arrangement about tweaking their referral services. Then I played a first-year college student asking all sorts of questions from Ed, the reference librarian, about obtaining information regarding various issues that come up in the life of a student newly arrived on campus. In response to my questions, he just “happened to” recommend the various products suggested by the venture capitalist. In the end Reference Librarians, Inc. decided to return some of the funds to the funders, because the goup’s members felt that they were not ready to compromise their service in that way.

After the skit, we spent a few minutes discussing the ways in which reference librarians do offer added value when compared to search engines. We wrapped up on the point that one of the biggest challenges reference librarians seem to face is more a question of PR. They need to help people understand that they do offer much more than running simple queries on a search engine may yield, especially for the average user.

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