10B: Reflection on Readings

I read a blog post called If Reference is Dead, We Need an ID on the Body  that was authored my Marlene Harris. Her blog is called Reading Reality. In essence, that is exactly what this particular post does. Harris takes a very nuanced look at the sentence Reference is dead in the context of today’s community, technological, and library related realities. Where other articles focus on determining if reference is dead, if reference has simply evolved, or if reference existed in the first place, this blog post harkens back to the meaning of reference. Only once establishing what she believes reference to have been and to be, does Harris begin to examine its death.

The first thing Harris does is point out that librarians are not the sole guardian of information and have never been. Instead of being the calm question answering point in an information storm, she suggests that reference is about service rather than the questions asked to reference. In this way, reference cannot be dead as long as libraries continue to provide services to their community. To Harris, this means that the fact that users begin by searching on Google or Wikipedia rather than library websites has no bearing on the longevity of reference. This is despite the fact that it is regularly cited to support the idea that Reference is dead. Patrons may not ask reference questions anymore, but they do still want reference service.

Harris thinks of service as whatever the individual patron believes it to be. Good service means the patron is happy and bad service means the patron walks out unsatisfied. To ensure more satisfied patrons, Harris proposes evolving beyond the traditional imposing reference model of a librarian behind a large desk and moving among the patrons in a variety of areas from the computer terminals, to those using wireless, to the stacks. A reference librarian, to remain relevant, must find a way to provide services to patrons.

Tying into the idea that the definition of service is dependent on the individual patron is the proposition that one size does not fit all. Reference will never be the same in every library. To remain useful to the community, a library will have to evolve on its own unique track. Harris proposes that it does not matter what we call reference be it “information service or just plain, ‘get help here'”. By adjusting what reference as a service means on an individual level, libraries will continue to be helpful and relevant places. In the end, the Reference is dead idea is a one size fits all statement that will not advance libraries forward.


Marlene, Harris. “If Reference Is Dead, We Need an ID on the Body.” Blog post. Reading Reality. 3 May 2011. Web. 20 Nov. 2016.


2 thoughts on “10B: Reflection on Readings

  1. The article you read sounds fabulous. I too wondered if reference was really dead because libraries and library professions are still providing service. I like what you say about it not really mattering what it’s called so long as service is being provided. I also appreciate you pointing out the fact that again, as with most things in library land, one size does not fit all. Every library looks different and therefore every reference service is going to look different. I think we as library professionals forget this sometimes and get whipped into a frenzy when something changes. I like to think we as a profession are adaptable and ever changing but I think we are such a passionate bunch that when things begin to shift we react in a big way whether positively or negatively. Maybe if we begin to recognize this about ourselves we will allow ourselves to be more flexible?


  2. “The first thing Harris does is point out that librarians are not the sole guardian of information and have never been.” This is such an important zoom-out, thanks for including it in your post. Laser focus can seem–and be–productive in the context of a Master’s degree program, but we do ourselves and others a disservice if we allow our blinders to become to comfortable. There is more than a whiff of martyrdom to some of the debate around the ‘reference is dead’ idea, and your point is a much needed qualifier.


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