In the early 1990s, my then 20-year-old step-son wanted to buy a used car. He found the choices and all of the questions he needed to answer overwhelming. I suggested he could get some good answers at the library, and he asked me to go with him.
We walked into the library and straight back to the reference desk. I asked the librarian what information they had on buying a used car, and she quickly handed me four books. I gave them to my son and showed him to the copier. He looked through them, copied several pages, and gave them back to me to return to the desk.
On the way back to the car, he said, “Thanks, man. I never could have done that by myself.” That was probably his first research project since his last high school paper. He had never visited the public library since he was a small child.
I thought it strange that the son of a school teacher who used the library a lot would not think of the library as a resource and would find the prospect of asking a question at the reference desk intimidating. I have since learned that his reluctance is not at all unusual.
Nowadays, of course, much information is online. Why go to the library when it’s so easy to get answers at home? But it’s not always easy to get answers at home. It’s not even easy to be sure what the question really is.
People need librarians just as much today as ever, and for the same reasons. Sometimes it takes a conversation to clarify just what our question is. Sometimes it takes someone with thorough understanding of a wide array of resources to find the best place to look for answers.
Nowadays, you don’t have to go to the library to talk with a librarian. Not only can you telephone, you can also chat online, or correspond by email or instant messaging.
If you do go to the library, and no one is talking with the librarian at the moment, he or she might be reading or doing some kind of paper work. Librarians do have other work besides answering patrons’ questions, but you are not interrupting if you go up and ask a question. They take work to the desk that can be quickly laid aside. Answering questions is their most important work while they’re at the desk.
So don’t be afraid. Most librarians are very friendly. They like answering questions. And if you’re wondering how to ask a librarian questions, help is just a click away.