UoL Library Blog

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When is it better to talk to a knowledgeable human?

Posted by knockels on 2 October, 2008

Two experiences from outside the working world, which make me wonder about the role of librarians.

First, we wanted to order a particular thing for number one son’s birthday.  We could have ordered it off the website of the well known ornithological charity, but wanted to match what was available to our requirements.  So we phoned one of the reserves run by the same charity, and got advice.   They were able to supply the item more quickly, so we phoned back, and ordered and paid for it, and while we were on the phone, they checked exactly how much postage we would need to pay. 

That was the first experience – it was easier to check what we needed by asking someone, not by trying to work it out from a list of products on a website.

Then, we wanted to book places to stay for single nights on our way to our holiday (I know, holiday in October, whatever next – but, in my defence, I would say, we did not go away in the summer!).  We could have done this on the web too, but had rather specific requirements.  So I phoned the accommodation booking services of the Cumbria and Glasgow tourist offices, and they used their knowledge to search their databases and find me something that I would never have found myself, without dredging through a lot of information on the web and perhaps ending up with something that was less than ideal.   

Our users can search the literature for themselves, easily, using well known search engines and, in the biomedical case, PubMed.   And that might be quite enough, as ordering things on the web, or booking a room in a hotel chain might.   But sometimes, their requirements might be more specific, and it might be more efficient and effective to call on someone with some more detailed knowledge.   When do users know when that moment has come?    Does this distinction help us to pitch our services?

I must go to do another induction, so must stop this ramble now.

2 Responses to “When is it better to talk to a knowledgeable human?”

  1. gazjjohnson said

    It’s an interesting point Keith. I first got the idea of working in the LIS world when I was a researcher at Glaxo. Their corporate information unit was just so clued up and helpful, and able to find papers I wouldn’t have been able to. And this is, I stress, after I had a whole 1st year uni module taught by the library on information skills (if only all Unis were as enlightened as Hallam!).

    I do know the few students we get to sit with face to face for consultations go away with better crafted searches/results than those that don’t. Don’t quite know how we’d cope if they all came for help though!

    But yes, I’m all for the “value added” by us librariany types -we could certainly market it, but do we have the resource to deal with an increase of customers? IMHO, no, not without a serious revision of either our remit or major upskilling of the help zone staff.

  2. sarahw9 said

    Isn’t what you are describing the power of the social web?

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