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.