#BlogJune 4 – Let Me Google That For You : reference services in an age of independence

The expectation in my age group is that you should know how to google. There’s a website built entirely for sarcasm purposes called Let Me Google That For You. Say someone reaches out on social media or a forum asking a question that can VERY EASILY be solved through a google search. You reply, but you don’t tell them the information; you send them a link that will tell them what they should have done.

Person 1: “Does anyone know how big the sun is?”

Person 2: “Here’s your answer.

A friend of mine was asking for peer-reviewed research on facebook. “Does anyone have any articles on something-something?” I didn’t think this was an appropriate forum to seek out such information, and I am a jerk, so I decided to punish him. I knew there must be a Let Me Google Scholar That For You somewhere out there. There is, by the way. So I sent him one with keywords relevant to his question. Received a “yeah, I tried that…” in response. Some helpful librarian I am.

But it makes me think we live in a culture that punishes (real or perceived) ignorance. No wonder students don’t flock to the potentially judgy librarian at the reference desk with their “stupid questions”. The reference librarians’ job, sometimes, is literally googling things for people. That’s not a bad thing, but the demand for such services has declined dramatically as information retrieval became less specialised and more expected of everybody.

I detect a sense of shame from students that ask me for help with finding information. One student got jokingly heckled by his mates, as if it was “cheating” to have a librarian help him find journal articles for his assignment. I don’t want students to feel that way. But no matter how approachable, professional, and “here to help” librarians are with our information services, there’s no way we can push back against that expectation in society that you ought to do your own searching.

Of course there are some libraries where traditional “reference” is still in business. Law libraries, Medical libraries, Parliamentary libraries, etc. Their client base is made up of busy people, usually with complex and specific information inquires, and why on earth wouldn’t they take advantage of such a specialised service. But I know academic libraries are rapidly abandoning the “reference desk”, if they haven’t already. “Reference librarian” roles have morphed into more education-focused roles. And I think that’s the way of the future.

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