Monday, November 21, 2005

We spent time last week talking about the reference interview. What a fascinating subject! Here are a couple of the quotes I've pulled out of the reading:
"The famous dictum, 'Speech was given to man to conceal thought,' is often forcibly brought into mind by the ingenuity with which visitors of the reference-room succeed in hiding their desires behind their questions" (Woodruff, 1897).

The most salient features of the reference interview are "mind-reading and cross examination" (Wyer, 1930).

"You see they will choke to death and die with the secret in them rather than tell you what they want" (Wyer).
Surely this can't be so! When a person goes to a library, don't they want help? Don't they want information? Why are people so difficult?

The problem comes down to 'how one person tries to find out what another person wants to know, when the latter cannot describe his need precisely" (Taylor, 1968). I guess you can think about it like a word. You know when you are trying to think of a word? You practically end up playing charades with people, trying to describe the thought or idea behind this word, trying to define it, but you don't really know or can't remember. And it's hard to describe a vague thought or feeling, and sometimes the descriptions you come up with have nothing to do with what the word really is.

So that's point one: people want information about something they can't even begin to describe.

But there is more than that.

Often, people will have looked everywhere themselves before they come to the librarian. When they come to the librarian to ask for help, they are admitting they failed, they couldn't find the information, they aren't good enough. (A bit exaggerated it would seem, but some people feel this way.) A lot of people hate to ask for help!

People often don't realize that finding information is a librarian's job. So they feel like they can't ask because they'd be bothering the librarian, or asking a dumb question, or it's not worthwhile, etc. (Unfortunately there are some librarians who make you feel this way - they're bad!)

Some people are shy. They are embarrassed about whatever they need to know and they'd rather muddle through on their own than ask someone.

Sometimes people direct their question to the librarian based on what sources of information they think are available. Say a person really wants to find out where Lincoln was born. They figure the answer will be in a book (undoubtedly) so they'll just ask for a book on presidents, or maybe even a book on Lincoln. Then they'll have to skim through the book till they find the answer. There are MUCH BETTER ways to find information that librarians know all about.

So just get over it and tell the librarian what you really want!! Geesh! =)


Anna Dunford said...

Three of us just sat over a meal this evening discussing (amongst other things I hasten to add...) how the online Yellow Pages just doesn't come up with what you are looking for when you run a search - eg putting Florist, Wellington into it will apparently give you zero entries when a quick plick through the hard copy will tell you that is blatently not the case. Another classic example of needing to know what question to ask (altho' quite what you do need to put into a search engine to find a florist in Wellington other than 'florist' and 'Wellington' is beyond me - 'flower deliveries' perhaps?).

The conversation was not just a random winge about the Yellow Pages but about how websites work (or not as the case may be) and the fact that poor old Peter's next project is sorting out the Yellow Pages website... apparently the search function is outsourced, presumably to someone who doesn't think very laterally and hasn't a clue what words real people will come up with when they want to find something as opposed to someone who knows the directory intimately and can reel off the keywords that make the searches work perfectly (but then do these people actually have a life that might involve them needing a florists...?) But it is interesting to see what words people do come up with - I was looking to find out where the op shops (charity shops) are in Wellington in the Yellow Pages the other day and couldn't find any, yet I know they exist - is it me with my British English just failing abysmally to translate into the local lingo or are they just not listed, which seems an odd concept to me considering how many pages of them there are in the Edinburgh Yellow Pages. Oh and who in their infinite wisdom decided that they should be yellow? Are they yellow in all countries or just the three I've lived in? Answers on a postcard please....

Aimee said...

Hey Anna, you've hit on an excellent point. Some of these search engines are set up based on the key words humans pick. It's hard to imagine one human can think of all the keywords people will search on. And they don't! Things like this are not standardized either, so you might use one search term for one place and something different for another.
As to why you can't find a florist in the yellow pages - that is weird. I guess it is time for them to update their search!