The relevance of reference

When thinking about the classic view that many people have of a librarian stacking shelves it is easy to believe the role of the librarian and libraries in referencing has become outdated. On having a closer look at the definition given by the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) the following struck me:

Reference Transactions are information consultations in which library staff recommend, interpret, evaluate, and/or use information resources to help others to meet particular information needs.”

Interpret. Evaluate. One particular topic that stayed with me from Wednesday night’s conversation was the issue of discernment, currency and accuracy of information. I believe this goes to the very heart of answering the question surrounding the relevance of referencing work and services. Can the industry promote a new term, something more punchy than the ambiguous “referencing”? Sure. Should the industry arrive at a new consensus of what that might be? Perhaps. But there is a larger issue at play here: There is a fundamental misunderstanding and lack of knowledge on the part of the general public about what librarians do. The industry needs to build on the good will  and trust created by libraries in communities and become even more relevant as a trusted source of reliable information.

Libraries already play a very large role in advocating information literacy and critical thinking. They have done so for a very long time. But it is my opinion that an even larger effort is required and should be promulgated through library bodies and associations. Given the proliferation of technology nowadays it is a simple assumption to make that in today’s ‘Google society’, with so much online access to information, reference work is irrelevant. But it is the opposite: In a society where the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2016 was post-truth, a library’s mission of advocacy for information and media literacy through referencing is more applicable than ever. This goes much further than just the capacity to be able to spot ‘fake news’.  Within an academic environment students should be learning how to properly research. It is becoming clear that this is a skill set that is going to be extremely useful in the workforce . When viewed through the prism of life skills it becomes apparent that the ability to access accurate information has repercussions on every area of life-health, finances, work prospects-and the librarian is in a perfect position to have a positive impact on that regard.

My opinion is that we are not seeing the demise of referencing work. Referencing is constantly evolving, and it is interesting to observe that librarians have been dealing with changes in the field of information since the 19th century. Referencing and information literacy, as well as the teaching of it, are intrinsically linked. Libraries need to continue adapting to the ever changing information landscape and providing patrons with the services that will make them better informed individuals. Given the times we are living in, it is more relevant than ever that the industry endeavors to self promote and connect to the general public and stakeholders as much as possible.







10 thoughts on “The relevance of reference”

  1. Hello Ramiro,
    Exactly my thought!!! Lol, no plagiarism though. I thought so too, on this ‘reference’ word. Did you read that article by RUSA? They did survey and only 25% of librarians were willing to go for change. Rest are confused or hurt their sentiment for its historical meaning attached to reference.
    Anyways, you did great job on spelling this out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Tashi,

      Thanks very much! Yes, I find it surprising only 25% wanted to go for a change to the term. I think we are new to all this and have different ideas. I think there needs to be a change and a larger understanding on the part of the general public in regard to what librarians do…I replied to another post with the suggestion that perhaps we need to start thinking about different terms instead of referencing…how about ‘Selection services’ or ‘Resource work’?:))


  2. Hi ☺
    Thank you for this post. I completly agree with the viepoint that referencing is not becoming irrelevant but evolving to the needs of the patrons. I also agree that we need to demonstrate to our clients that we are changing and change their perceptions on libraries. But does this make libraries key issue marketing and how they are precieved by the general populace? I think so because libraries have been evolving and fast for years, but it seems like no one is very good at showing this to the public. What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Grace,

      Sorry about the late reply! As I mentioned to Tashi I definitely think the industry needs to find a way to show the public a higher level of relevance for what it does. How to go about it? That’s where it gets interesting…marketing of one way or another should play a role, or maybe a grass-roots approach starting with new graduates?:) What do you think of the term ‘selection services’? just a thought:)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m just trying to do some brainstorming to come up with a different term other than ‘referencing’…putting on my marketing hat. I’ll keep working on it:)


  3. Great sourcing of further relevant information – the infographic re ‘fake news’ and the RUSA quote. Insightful reflection on the Twitter discussion… libraries need help, do you think, advertising what services they offer? We need librarians with marketing expertise. Can you add reference(s) to the week’s readings?


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