In 501 (Contextual Inquiry and Consulting Foundations) recently have been looking at interviews, which have amazing diversity and include the reference interview, which itself possesses astounding subtly and complexity. Where the 501 class has focused on the diversity between interview types, ours has specifically considered the many iterations of the reference interview. An news interview differs from a consulting interview in many ways. One aims to collect information for a story of some kind, while the other can consists of silently observing a subject go about their work. One can be more coercive by using manipulative methods, while the other is much more up front with the purpose. And I could go on, and on, and on. A reference interview is not something we have looked at in 501, yet the theme of diversity carries over; the variance we see between types of interviews also occurs within a single type.
Where the difference in purpose between a news interview and a consulting one prompt the interviewer to employ different methods, the context of the reference interview determines the librarians approach. I was particularly enthralled with the special context of “Interviewing Adults with Special Language-related Needs” and how even within that context there exists at least three additional special circumstances. Even within those special circumstances, no one person is the same as another. For instance, there are innumerable types of disabilities from speech disorders to mental illnesses. A reference librarian will have to adapt to each persons special needs to preform a successful interview. Writing down notes as you explain out loud could help a patron that has difficulty hearing, while talking slower and using simple sentences can help someone with developmental disorders. A reference librarian must become a sort of spy – an expert in observation who is cognizant of the patrons specific situation.
It is unclear to me if as virtual reference environments become more and more commonplace, if they will augment or diminish the quality of a reference interview. In a virtual reference setting, a person with a developmental disorder may not accurately identify themselves to the librarian who is unable to pick up on in person observations to aid in creating a solid context for the interview. However, for someone with a speech disorder, virtual reference could be a much more comfortable platform. Without the pressure of making themselves understood out loud, they may be more likely to ask questions to a librarian and be able to better explain what they want. One case would diminish accuracy, while the other would boost it. Right now, the main goal of virtual reference is to improve accuracy overall. It will be interesting to see if accuracy can be achieved in situations were observation is necessary to establish context. Or alternatively, to see once general accuracy is achieved, how virtual reference expand to better accommodated special contexts.
The nuanced nature of quality reference seems to be reflected by librarian themselves. Much like the difference between one references interview and another is subtly connected (yet entirely unique), the librarians journey from one type of librarianship to another is fascinating. Take Karen Reiman-Sendi (a librarian I am very much looking forward to meeting!). Her list of pervious positions is as long as your average Proustian sentence. From automation to reference librarianship to providing information for social work graduate students, each step she has taken has provided additional contexts. Her studies in social work information most likely provided context for conducting reference interview in specific contexts, such as minorities. While her work in automation could have been informed by what she discovered was needed by reference librarians. Librarianship seems to provide a unique opportunity to delve into innumerable contexts. Qhether it be changing your interview style within a single day or using past experience to better evolve in a new position, there is a special dynamism. It makes me very excited about my future.