Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Reference Interviews -- continued 2

When a student asks for reference help how do you determine what is too much information? Sometimes there is nothing wrong with the individual student responses, but taken in context the responses or interaction is almost amusing (
Amusing as in --"What is going on here?")

Recently a student came asking for help. The voice was quiet and the pencil sharpener was so noisy, that I had to ask the student to wait a moment before I could hear the question clearly. No problem here. The student wanted books on "human nature." Almost any book could be on "human nature" from the scholarly to the most entertaining or popular fiction. To prevent saying something curt or foolish, I paused. First mistake. The student began chatting with irrelevant and repetitious chatter. I did not need to know that the class meets on Mondays from 6:30-8:00, that the class was not meeting that night and that instead the student came to the library to get a head start on the paper due April 26. It is not my style to chat while I am thinking about solving a search or reference question.

I did a search for the words "human nature" in the title field. There were 18 hits. I looked through the list to determine the best ones for the student. I was surprised that the list of books covered a wide range of subject headings including social biology, social psychology, testosterone, philosophy of nature, and human ecology. I asked the student what the subject of the class was English or psychology. The student said, sociology and proceeded to chatter about the fact the paper was supposed to be only opinion and the book was only needed for ideas. The point was made multiple times. Finally I recommended two books, had the student copy the call numbers and pointed the student to the correct place in the stacks.

The student found the books and returned to the circulation desk. The student so very appreciative of my help and also glad to have found a third book even though only one was needed. I assured the student that reading three books on a topic is okay. The student then had to tell the circulation person (CP) the whole story of why only one book was needed, the fact the class usually meets on Mondays, but that night. CP was not amused to hear the whole story multiple times. The student fumbled when asked for the ID to check out the books. CP told the student that the books would be due in 2 weeks. The student asked for longer because the the paper is due on April 26. "No problem, just renew them on April 13. " The student asked is that after Easter. CP didn't know. I said not to worry since the library is closed on Easter. I don't think the student realized that the library is always closed on Sundays.

The student was very thankful and grateful that we were able to help. CP and I wondered if this student needed more help than available in a library.

At the reference desk the logic needed to answer quiries is much more fuzzy than computer help desk questions, however, I did need to filter the chatter from the student. It is helpful to know the subject area for the paper. The date due is sometimes helpful because it tells me the urgency of the information need. Sometimes knowing the teacher's name is helpful, but usually the time that the class meets is not needed to give a student the right directions to the library resources.

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