I can’t count how many times I have been told that “reference is dead.” I suppose in a sense this statement has a kernel of truth. I think that the services that a reference librarian provides is changing very rapidly. Some of the same skills are required but in today’s world, the reference librarian has to be able to navigate virtual services and be to communicate with patrons effectively. The new face of reference services also includes knowing about the technological trends and being able to teach customers how to navigate them. In today’s public libraries, reference staff must be adept at troubleshooting technology, providing help with many computer applications and be able to teach research skills in an online environment.
Due to the changing economic climate, reference librarians are often asked to provide job search training, provide help with resumes and cover letters and with filling out online job applications. In the past few years, many of the nation’s jobless are switching careers or finding themselves unexpectedly looking for work. Libraries and librarians have been instrumental in helping people get back to work. We point them to sites and resources to help find a new job or seek out training for a new career. Libraries also can provide classes to educate those who are lacking in computer skills. For instance, someone may have the ability and inclination to go back to school but if they can’t operate a computer or send e-mail, then their likelihood of success in greatly diminished.
All over the county, libraries have to do more with less money and fewer staff. Reference librarians must be familiar with extracting information from the somewhat chunky research databases that contain information that a patron needs. In a perfect world, these subscription databases that contain a wealth of great information would be user-friendly to the point of the results popping up in a Google search. But, we aren’t quite there yet. There will always be people who cannot afford the technology that links them to the information they need and/or want. Libraries and librarians will hopefully be there to guide them in their information-seeking needs.