Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fun Times at the Reference desk,,,

I have been on the reference desk for 55 minutes. For the record, that's under an hour. In that time, I have had no less than a half dozen sweat-inducing interactions. The reference desk that I work at serves undergraduates generally, and science and engineering students. We had a desk consolidation some years back, and let's just say that it's been pretty painful for those of us lacking, well, science backgrounds. Librarians are trained to know what types of sources to look in even in fields in which they have no particular expertise. It's part of our duties as information specialists :) However, we're not miracle workers. Whenever I sit down at the reference desk, beam at an approaching student, and am greeted with a question that begins "I need to find a spectra..." My eyes glaze over and my mouth goes dry.

This particular reference hour has been filled with some doozies. Allow me to elaborate. The amusing one appears first.

(1) Clueless looking guy asking about the journal collection. "Hi, yeah, I was just upstairs? With the journals? Yeah, it says that they are, um, *non-circulating*, yeah, that's it. Non-circulating. What does that mean? I can't check them out, right? Oh, I can check them out for 2 hours? Great. But where could I then go to photocopy them for free?" The Catholic Librarian can do many things, but she cannot make a free photocopier materialize out of thin air. This was the easy one; it gets better.

(2) Introduction to Chemical Literature students are lurking in the reference collection. I hear them talking, looking over sources that appear to have been composed in a foreign language with no discernible index to making sense of anything. They keep glancing nervously at the reference desk. I'm fearing them. I'm really fearing them.

(3) Female student approaches with a tattered list of citations clutched in her hand. She actually encompasses 3 of the 6 aforementioned panic-causing interactions. She appears to be doing reseach for a faculty member, and the list states at the outset that "some of these citations may be incorrect or incomplete." Oh great, just make my day. One of the citations is for a journal title that is abbreviated, I KID YOU NOT, "J.D.E." What in the name of all that is holy does that stand for? The next citation is for a conference paper from some mathematics conference held in the 70's. Oh yes, all the librarians know where I'm going with this. It was one of those eeeeeevvvvvvviiiilllllll monographic series. And finally, we had the German-language mathematics journal. Oh, and let's not forget the citation to some mysterious sounding title that was "preprint." What? Pre-publication? In-press? A Worldcat and a Google (I was desperate, don't judge me) search turned up a big fat nothing aside from the very printout in the student's hot little hand. This source doesn't even *exist* yet and yet someone is citing it. Great, just great. The only good thing about the end of this interaction was that the chemistry students had left the area. I think it would have broken me to have dealt with them as well.

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