4B: Reflections on Readings

Week 4 Readings:

  • What is Reference for? – Joseph Janes
  • Question-Negotiation and Information Seeking in Libraries – Robert S. Taylor
  • The Information Search Process – Kuhlthau

I love how these readings, and readings from past weeks, simultaneously build upon one another and turn each other on their heads. The past weeks have been all about putting yourselves in the patron’s shoes, feeling their emotion and seeing how the librarian’s react to your inquiries. Those experiences were mirrored by the Kulhthau reading, especially when she examines the importance of being cognizant of where people are emotionally when they come to the library desk. The idea of invitational versus indicative moods were especially interesting to me. If someone approached you in an invitational mood and you attempted to help them accomplish a task, the interaction would be frustrating on both sides of the desk. While if a patron came to the librarian in an indicative mood and the librarian drew them into a long discussion of what to explore and the many avenues they could take, the patron who is looking for a quick closure would experience similar feelings of frustration.

This reading really created a sense of closure and gave me a broad understanding regarding our Observation Assignment. I was able to see the issue from both sides. First, as the patron, I experienced the frustration of being treated like I wanted closure when I wanted a wide variety of information. I was unsure of how to deal with it when I took up the mantle of librarian. The reading allowed me to separate patrons into different categories. Categories that I can determine by asking the user questions. If I ask these questions, I would be able to better serve my future community. Each reading adds a bit of color to the picture of a librarian I have painted in my head and slowly it is becoming more complete.

The Taylor reading builds upon the idea of where the patron is coming from emotionally, in a slightly less emotional manner. Instead of emotion he examines need and determines four distinct levels: visceral, conscious, formalized, and compromised. Both authors are concerned with the communication aspect of libraries. That is how libraries as a unit, and then there librarians, as individuals, communicate with their community. To communicate effectively, they much understand where their community is coming from (that is what state they are in when the come to a library for help) in order to help them and meet their needs. The interconnectivity of the community, library, librarian, and patron (along with other variables that I have not yet discovered) are fascinating, especially as there is no one patron or one community.

The library and librarian have to recognize that some standard system will never meet the needs of all patrons or every community. The most important thing is to determine where someone is coming from both in terms of emotions and needs. Our job is to serve them, to help them, and to empower them. If to do that we have to also understand them, then it is simply another necessary step. It may turn out that certain questions will reveal where a patron is coming from or you may need to constantly adjust tactics. It will be interesting to see how this understanding is integrated into reference service and librarianship in general.


2 thoughts on “4B: Reflections on Readings

  1. The distinction between invitational and indicative user moods is fascinating. It’s pretty intuitive once described, but I would have struggled to characterize it before reading the Taylor article. An astute sense of body language seems crucial to distinguishing between the two in practice, and the ability to quickly pick up on where the patron falls on the patience/impatience scale. Of course, it’s possible to be patient and still in an indicative mood, but it seems unlikely that an impatient person would be pursuing an invitational line of inquiry.


  2. So, I know I’m a bit (i.e very) late to the game but I find it interesting that I should stumble across this post right after out class has discussed various methods of library instruction, particularly UDL. Your call for library professionals to recognize that a standardized reference interview will not fit all patrons matches nicely with your call that various methods of library instruction may be useful as well. I mean it seems to be a no brainer that no two patrons are alike and are looking for different things out of reference and instruction but having it written down validates this information and for that U am grateful. I’m sure there must be people out there who have not had this explicitly explained to them and are wondering why a patron isn’t fitting the “rules” of the reference interview. I kind of imagine a round peg trying to fit into a square hole (you can thank Kate Winslet’s character in the movie The Holiday for that analogy). There is no size fits all, although there are techniques that may be applicable to multiple situations and I find a lot of what we read says here are the tools figure out what combination works for each situation. This open-endedness is at once thrilling and scary. It’s thrilling because as library professionals we have the opportunity to be creative in our help to the patrons but scary because there is no instruction manual. Thanks for posting, B!


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