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of a librarian stacking shelves it is easy to believe the role of the librarian and libraries in referencing has become outdated.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.