Librarians don’t know everything. But sometimes, we are so good at finding things, we get confused and believe ourselves to be the all-knowing wizards of the world. Not to worry, even the best librarians falter because most of us are working within subject areas we have no background in, or are working within a multidisciplinary library.
For example, I currently work at a law library and the bulk of my days are spent helping people find legal information. This confuses a lot of people because I do this without having a background in law. There was definitely a learning curve, but I’m able to do it because librarians are trained to know which resources are the best for which kinds of information and we do inadvertently learn about the subjects we’re immersed in every day.
How this works:
A lawyer comes in and says: I’m looking for a precedent of a Pierringer Release.
I start typing and calmly say with a smile: I’m just going to take a look in our online catalogue and see what I come up with.
If he were to actually look at my face, for a split second, he would see this:
But within that second, I have used Google and found the Wikipedia on Pierringer Releases and I realize all it is, is a settlement agreement, and I know the best method of finding this is to do a quick search of our catalogue to find a book that contains precedents (example forms) of settlement agreements, and I take him to that book in the stacks, and voila, we have found a precedent for a Pierringer Release.
Before I even get a chance to put in my order for a pointed hat with stars and moons, I have a situation like this one, in which I was helping a student research for their paper at my other job, where I am a virtual reference librarian for post-secondary schools.
Student: Hello, I’m having some trouble with my research on Staples Economy.
Me: Oh okay! So you’re trying to research Staples as in the store?
I quickly Google “Staples Economy” only to discover that it is a theory of Canadian economic development.
It is not so bad, though. These instances often put people at ease and lead into a bonding moment about the general difficulties involved in research, especially because many people feel uncertain or hesitant about asking for a librarian’s help. Sometimes this doesn’t happen, and the patron calls you a dumdum but that is just life.
Depending on the situation, you can score extra humble points by asking the patron to tell you a bit more about the subject they’re researching. Most are happy to do this and you generally have to ask your patron a bunch of questions anyways as part of your reference interview.
Librarians don’t know everything. We just know where everything is. And might have to Google before we can get from A to B.