Bad Reference Interview

I was at a library today with a young girl. She wanted to find books about animals so I directed her to the reference desk. The two librarians were loud and enthusiastic. The girl is young and went right up to the desk and asked where their books on animals were.

The librarians stopped talking, listened to the request and then answered like this, “Do you want books about real animals or storybooks? Because the stories are mixed in with the rest of the collection and are organized by author.” The girl gave a blank look, and the librarian repeated it again.

Now, I am not in training to be a children’s librarian and I did not know the girl well. But even I knew that she did not understand, so I broke in and said, “Do you want books where the animals speak and have adventures or do you want books about facts of real animals?” She answered that she wanted books about real animals. So the librarian directed us to the 590s.

After several minutes of looking, the girl told me that she wanted books about dogs. We could not find any in the 590s. So I went back to the librarians and asked where the books on dogs were. The answer, 636.

We went to 636 and found books on farm animals and pets. Finally, after several more minutes of looking through books about chickens, cattle and horses, we found 1 book about dogs.

Now, there are several things that bother me about this. The first is that the girl had to interrupt to ask a question. The librarians were not conversing quietly or having a short exchange, they were having a long, spirited discussion.

The next thing was that the librarian did not realize that the girl did not understand her, or if she did, she did not bother to rephrase. I had to interpret.

Even after that, she did not ask further questions to be sure that she knew what the girl wanted. I would have expected her next question to be, “Any animal in particular?” But she did not ask that. And she directed us to the wrong section.

Finally, when I requested dogs specifically, she did not look up a few dog books, she gave me a general number and I had to look through a whole section to find the one book on dogs.

Thankfully this was at a library that I consider to have extremely poor service and I do not go there often. But this could almost be used as a teaching tool for all of the mistakes that the librarians made.


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