For reference librarians, no question is too big or too small

Many times I have been at the front desk of our library and have had someone ask a detailed question for information that I know is available at the reference desk. When I explain where the reference desk is located, some patrons have looked perplexed. So, I thought I would explain what the library reference desk is and how the librarians there may help you.

Just as employees of a retail store know where everything is shelved in their store, our librarians are experts in the arrangement of items in the library, the information in them and how to find information outside the library. Some ways a reference librarian may help is by answering a specific question you have, even if it's as simple as "Which way to Jarvis Park?" or how to spell a word for a crossword puzzle. The reference librarian can recommend reliable websites and can show you how to search databases for magazine and newspaper articles.

The reference librarian can show you how to use our online catalog and can find out for you if an item is available. Are you writing a research paper, crafting a resume, looking at Morning Star for investment information or investigating which washing machine has the best rating? Check with the reference desk.

Here are a few examples of offbeat reference questions. These make our jobs fun and keep us on our toes. These were taken from a library listserv and were not actually asked in Beaufort County:

  • "Do you have that book by Rushdie: 'Satanic Nurses?' " The book's actual title is "Satanic Verses."
  • "I need to find out Ibid's first name for my bibliography," or "Why don't you have any books by Ibid? He's written a lot of important stuff." Ibid is a Latin term used in footnote citations to indicate the source was cited in the proceeding footnote.
  • "Is the basement upstairs?"
  • "I am looking for a list of laws that I can break that would send me back to prison for a couple of months. Can you find one for me?"

There is no "that's not my job" at the reference desk. Last year we answered more than 46,000 questions. Our reference staff can also help you find a new book to read. If you would like suggestions, go to our Recommended Reading page. Click on the icon that says "My Next Book," tell us your likes and dislikes, and we will suggest titles.

Perhaps the most valuable resource of any library is the people who can assist you. So save yourself time and frustration: Ask a reference librarian.

Mary Jo Berkes is the Branch Manager at the Hilton Head Branch Library.

Original story at the Island Packet