Monday, September 24, 2012

Readers' Advisory at the CC

My work at the two-year college has never involved much readers' advisory, and last week I started pondering the reasons for this. Here's what I came up with:

First, ever since I started my current job, my understanding has been that I should focus on communicating techniques of doing research and how to successfully use the library. We should be assisting students as they learn to work independently, but we should actively be avoiding doing their research and reading for them.

Second, academic fields are broad, and it would be impossible for one person to know about all relevant sources. Besides the director, there are four full-time librarians on the campus where I work, and even if all four were inclined to be subject specialists it would be difficult to cover all subjects comprehensively. We do have a liaison program, but my area is Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, which is very broad.

Lastly and most painfully, however, I should acknowledge my own ignorance, an awareness of which has been compounded by the following examples:
(1) Faced with two translations of a minor historical work, I did not know how to determine which to recommend purchasing for the collection. (Aside from requesting both of them on interlibrary loan and comparing the myself -- not an unwelcome answer, but different from most of the librarian shortcuts I'm aware of.)
(2) Viewing the many scholarly books written about a particular person in history, I struggled to determine which were the most interesting and readable, which the best-researched, and which focused on a particular aspect of the person. (And no, there were no current bibliographies or even literature reviews that I could find.)
(3) Where should I have turned for extensive histories of particular books or periodicals -- The Romance of the Rose or The Paris Review, for instance? I could find no single source for informed commentary.

Before readers here fault my library school education, I should say that I am aware of encyclopedias, and bibliographies, and periodicals whose sole aim is to review books and serials. Maybe I really need to do more of the very thing librarians are forever stereotyped as doing all day: Reading. Academic librarians do have some obligation to educate ourselves about the basic sources and standard texts in the fields that our institutions cover. But to know them all is a behemoth, downright quixotic task. It could take a lifetime to become competent enough to speak about the sources in one field, and even the authority gained from a lifetime would be subject to obsolescence. With so much else going on in modern librarianship, is this foolish to even attempt?

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