Monday, February 7, 2011

Anatomy of a Reference Question (Mine)

Snowy campus

At the reference desk last week, I decided to research a question I've had for a while. I've been wondering where to find information about performances and recordings of classical music. Partly this is due to a radio program on Princeton's WPRB called Towe on Thursday, which I listen to on my commute, and partly it's just general curiosity about not only specific pieces of music but the various iterations.

So first, here's what I did: 
-I searched past questions on Ask Metafilter and found a couple of relevant conversations.      
-Then, I browsed some of the sites mentioned (American Record Guide, Fanfare Magazine, and a neat reviewing site from the BBC, among others).
-After realizing that most of the content from Fanfare and American Record Guide was subscription-only, I checked to see if the library where I work had access to those publications. We did, so I was able to sample the content by searching the archives for reviews of a few pieces I was particularly interested in.  
-I compared some of these reviews to reviews on Amazon.
-I bookmarked everything and linked to the most useful sources in our Music Subject LibGuide, to remember for next time.

Upon reflection, a couple of things strike me as interesting about this process. First of all, I wasn't looking for and didn't expect to find any one particular authoritative source, instead relying on the wisdom of the crowd in several instances (metafilter, amazon). Also, the entire process occurred online, and although I took advantage of many people's advice, I did not interact directly with anyone in person. Even though I traveled down several different blind alleyways, I never felt lost or overwhelmed. Actually, the only delay I encountered was when I was looking at the free interfaces of the review sites and wondering if it would be worth subscribing. It took a beat to remember to check our library's holdings. And I'm a librarian. 

When analyzing my own information-seeking behavior, it's hard to judge how much of the process is normal and how much is influenced by being a librarian, but I think there are a couple of lessons to take away here: (1) I seriously appreciated the fact that I could do all this without getting up from my desk, and (2) I was able to figure out a satisfactory answer using a combination of sources instead of consulting a single expert. Or librarian.

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