Print Collections and Reference Service at North American Libraries

The following are answers to the question: has studying the print reference collection helped you to answer reference queries? Reference librarians at North American public and academic libraries were asked to answer this question as part of a study of librarian reading habits.


When I first started working at the library, I did some shelf study on the arrangement and use of contemporary authors. Shortly thereafter, a patron asked me if we had any short biographical information on Patricia Cornwell. I led the patron to the book.

Yes, it does help. For instance, the History in Dispute work by Gale was handy recently when a student had to find something on Saco and Vanzetti. I just happened to have noticed that the set included a section on that incident.

A patron was looking for a particular law in Illinois. We found it in our revised statutes books. If the shelf study weren't done, we wouldn't know where to find this answer.

A lady wanted the address of a life insurance company to notify them of her husband's death. Theirs was a second marriage and his brother actually had the policy, etc. We found the company in an insurance ratings book that I had stumbled across just the week before.

And it really helps to know the structure of the resource and what types of queries will be best answered by consulting it.

I have worked at several libraries of varying sizes. By familiarizing myself with reference sources at the larger libraries, I am able to refer patrons to sources we do not have here.

I have answered many questions based on information that I became aware of through shelf-study. We recently answered a question using the Herbal PDR.

Browsing through a number of sources on animals alerted me to the presence of Latin names. Several school classes need this type of information and I was able to refer them to the most useful source for their class work.

Here are some examples of subjects I can find immediately: amortization schedules, how to build a bat box, bankruptcy, customs, immigration service, math formulas, measurements, and superstitions.

By reviewing the Decades books we have in reference, I was able to help students needing information on a particular decade better.

Yes, numerous questions regarding material found in the Canadian Almanac for various organization addresses.

In a large reference collection, it is impossible to know all sources when hired. To be even moderately competent, one has to shelf-study constantly.

Recently for a school project for children of junior high school level. They had to identify medals awarded to Second World War veterans. Having self-studied our collection on Canadian medals and awards this question was quickly researched and answered.

Yes, found information for people looking up family history information. They always need the county seat of the area they are looking up and I found that Webster's Geographical Dictionary gave the counties and county seats.

I had been weeding the juvenile non-fiction recently. A patron came in and was looking for information on President James Madison for him to prepare a speech for the Veterans Day program. Upon looking in our electronic catalog, we found nothing. I knew I had seen something when I was weeding. I, therefore, went over to the shelf and started looking in the area I thought I had seen it. Sure enough I found an entire book just on James Madison. The patron was very grateful and so was I. If I had not just done that, we would have either had to order from another library and dig through numerous other books on presidents to find the information he had wanted.

Vital records offices of all states in the State Yellow book.

By shelf-studying I learned about specific encyclopedias that we had in the collection and was able to help students find detailed information when needed.

It has been helpful, especially the almanacs.

I can't give any specific examples but I can say that just making ourselves aware of what is in our reference materials is extremely helpful in answering questions. Reference staff should know what materials are on the shelf, how to use them, and have some idea of what is in the materials.

General knowledge of where to find answers. Most recent example was searching out topics for an English composition class and finding a good brief author bio in Children's Books and their Authors.

I discovered that Chappele's Piloting and Seamanship had illustrations of nautical flags and was able to find a specific one for a patron.

I recently found myself reading about the pets of past presidents. I recalled the book when needing to share with a patron the pet choice of Truman.

No, I suspect that over half of the reference queries that I get are answered with online resources.

I have been asked many reference questions on different medical conditions. Also, the World Almanac has helped many times on different subjects most often with current information on countries or cities that students will do reports on. I try to look over these and I use them often.

Yes, I have had many cases, especially in the medical section. I had a woman who needed information about Raynaud's Syndrome. I was able to help her to find the spelling, symptoms, and treatments by using several medical reference books that I had shelf-studied.

I was able to assist in locating non-technical information on various medical conditions.

I recently ran across a listing of notable state woman in a previous year's state almanac and then directed a junior high school student to it who had to choose a notable state woman on which to write a report.

A local man who writes a lot of religious poetry came in looking for something to help him rhyme a word. I found the rhyming dictionary for him to use.

I had a question to find a fact not a date involving the number 62. Shelf study led to awareness of information about countries in the World Almanac. Area of Liechtenstein is 62 square miles.

A gentleman was in yesterday from the highway department looking for old maps of the local area for a thruway study. Knowing the local history reference area helped me to quickly direct him to what he needed.

Outstanding example is examining the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) of the United States. Until examination, I had no idea of the detail contained there like burial guidelines and requirement for Arlington National Cemetery; the official list of US endangered species; and lists of land owned by the federal government, national parks; a treasure trove of information that I have used in reference over the years.

I have had patrons need information about what happened on a particular day in history, and because I had shelf-studied that area I knew that we had chronologies that had that information.

Our business librarian highlighted a book Market Share Reporter, with which I was then able to help someone who was looking for that type of information.

A patron needed to know statistical information on the amount of railways and roadways in existence in Australia. Though I knew I could find this online at the CIA's World Factbook, I answered the question using the Statesman's Yearbook which I had just recently been reading and knew to contain the information requested.

It is always Murphy's Law with this. When I pick up a book in the morning, later that day or week, someone has a question that can be answered from that source. Shelf studying allows you to remember what is available to you. I was looking through a bird encyclopedia and a woman wanted to know what a particular bird looked like. Medical questions, prescriptions and side effects.

My job would be impossible if I didn't know what was in my collection. Patrons would soon mark me as a fool if I didn't know Civil War or Revolutionary history, or who were the founding fathers of our country. A concrete example: a young man just interrupted me as I was typing this to ask who was a North Carolina general in the Revolution that he could write about. I happened to have skimmed the biography of William Davidson and he is now photocopying pertinent pages. I also know that Davidson was wounded in the only Revolutionary War battle to take place in our country, and told him about that locally famous occurrence. Another patron just asked me how he could find information on his Civil War ancestors from this county. I pointed him to our self-published county rosters, explained how they tie in with the Confederate roster, NC Troops, Moore's, and Clark's series of Civil War books, and he is now researching for himself and getting more out of it than my just doing it all for him.

We have a NY Directory and a clerk went right to it yesterday when a patron was looking for a place to write for a copy of a birth certificate. Encouraging!

Happens all the time. If I didn't know what was in the books, I wouldn't be able to help the patrons find the information they are looking for.

A patron needed a speech by Abraham Lincoln for an assignment. One book that I was surveying recently was A Treasury of Great American Speeches and it contained a speech by Lincoln. Since I had recently paged through it, I was able to direct the patron to this resource.

We recently purchased a book called Genreflecting. This book lists authors and titles of books that are of a similar genre. We often have patrons who say they have read everything by author X and would like to read more like those. We have moved this book from the reference shelves to the ready reference collection at the circulation desk so that staff can answer such questions quickly. It is used often.

I had a map question the other night and knew from my earlier looks that we had a specific map that the patron could use.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law has sidebars debating the pros and cons of certain controversial issues such as abortion. The articles are written in understandable language so that a high school student shouldn't have much trouble using it. When I saw this feature as I looked through the books, I made a mental note that this would be a good source for high school and college student papers. I have made good use of it since then.

A patron wanted a perpetual calendar. By seeing one in a certain reference book and remembering where, we were able to answer her question.

Again, it is difficult to give specific examples since we answer several thousand reference queries in a month. I can't remember a particular time when shelf study helped me answer a question. I do know that learning the collection is an essential part of developing skill as a reference librarian and we devote a large amount of training time for new staff to learning the collection.

Very hard to remember. Everything gets assimilated into your knowledge and it is difficult to trace the path of your deductive reasoning that led to a successful reference answer.

There have been many times when I have been able to direct the patron to the exact book that held the information that was needed.

Patron needed to know what year the old high school in the area was built. Since I had studied the local history area, I was able to find the answer in no time.

We have had questions concerning Montana State law which were answered because in looking over the Montana Code Annotated when we received it, I knew its organization and how to find answers to specific legal questions.

I recently spent time with a four volume history of dance that enabled me to respond intelligently to a query about Caribbean costume that was only worn during a dance festival.

We have a local social service directory called the Community Resources Directory that is unique to this county. I had a patron ask about a youth job training program and we were able to sort through the employment/job training lists to find an organization nearby for her to try.

Yes, a patron wanted to find an old song, and I recollected that I'd glanced through a volume of Old American Songs. Patrons want atlases, which we keep in a certain area, only not all of them and from browsing the shelves I could point them to the right ones.

In studying the 300's, I stumbled across a book on latitude and longitude. The web offers some accurate sites that answer many questions on this subject, but not a question like one that I had about time zones in Alaska in 1932. The old latitude/longitude book that I randomly ran across in the 300's answered the question for the patron.

I recently aided a minister's wife in finding Christmas material for her church. I was able to direct her even to uncataloged books because I was familiar with item. Knowing what we have on each shelf, I consistently am able to guide patrons to areas of interest without constantly consulting the card catalog.

I don't remember the question, but I knew the answer was in The Water Book, and it was.

Usually helps me after the fact, when I discover the perfect source for a previous question.

Recently I shelf studied The Illustrated Book of World Rankings by Kurian, just out of curiosity. I used it a few days later to answer a grade school level question about energy resources.

Recently a patron needed an SIC number in order to access information about a particular company and I recalled having seen an extensive listing of SIC codes in one of the volumes in our business reference section.

An example: the first time I picked up a copy of the US Statistical Abstract, I learned that index references were to table numbers rather than to page numbers. Patrons who don't read the intro to the US Statistical Abstract are often puzzled by this, so I point idiosyncrasy out to them when giving them the book.

Often we see answers in books and remember them later. Like the tallest building in the world. Guinness Book of World Records.

It helps to freshen my memory about the reference collection. I rediscovered that Star Guide was a list of addresses of famous people and this came in handy recently.

A patron needed information on current Canadian universities and courses that were offered. We had various print resources, but because I had just recently looked through them, I could direct the patron to the one that was the most appropriate for their needs.

I often find myself saying to a patron that I have seen something in print on their topic and can serendipitously come up with the item by roaming the shelves. One example is the Juristat title put out by Stats Canada on legal issues and criminal justice statistics.

A patron was looking for a publisher and I had seen a listing for it in the Literary Marketplace.

A few weeks after I shelf-studied CQ's Fact Finder, I used it to answer a telephone reference question about how poor a certain state is compared to other states.

Yes, in answering questions on the gestation period of specific animals, statistical data, and demographic data.

I have books that I remembered the topics from orders or past use.

I found some photographs of politicians in a photography book while browsing through the 770's, a section which would not normally be my first choice for information on politicians.

I have found that when I learn something new someone will ask me a question about that subject within about three days or so. As I have said before, you can't have too much knowledge. Intellectual curiosity is very useful to a reference librarian. Besides, it is easier to remember something than it is to have to keep looking it up.

We received a book on natural disasters that I referred to a patron who had a question regarding the Black Plague. I had recently browsed through this book, so I remembered to show it to the patron.

Midland's sixth through twelfth grade students must turn in a science project. One of the reference questions was how to test for iron ions in solution. We have a science series entitled ChemLab and I remembered that one of the volumes covered laboratory tests.

A nursing student needed specific information on a number of prescription drugs. We were able to find some of this by using our drug columns in the reference section.

Definitely! I have had several questions on subjects (gardening, sports, presidents, wars, medical issues, etc.) and shelf-study has helped me tremendously. I know right where to go to find answers and information. I just need to find more time to do shelf-study.

I do almost all of the shelving and I pick up books as I go to refresh myself on the content of books that I have not looked at recently. This helps me a lot because I can usually walk straight to the area where the book is found and also know that it contains information that may be helpful if it not apparent by the title or the subject. This becomes very helpful when a whole class has the same assignment and the first students have taken all of the apparent references on the subject. Unfortunately, most of the time the teachers do not allow time for the students to allow me to get the information from other libraries. As you know, some wait to the last minute to start.

Shelf study has been helpful on a fairly regular basis. For example, someone needed a consulate address, and I had recently browsed a reference directory that included them, so I went straight to the answer.

With our readers' advisory titles, it has helped knowing which titles provide what kind of assistance. Someone had a question that I was able to answer because I was aware of a new title we had purchased on state statistics.

Yes, I had a question on the Washington State achievement tests and the results by school district. I had checked this section and knew just where to go.

Reviewing the use of Value Line has helped on several occasions when patron are unsure about how to find information. Reviewing Gale's Multicultural Encyclopedia helped me find information on stereotypes of gypsies. Although you might not be sure exactly where you saw something, shelf study helps you remember that it is somewhere in the collection. It makes me take that one more step to locate the information.

Very specific questions about religion have been assisted by my study of handbooks and dictionaries.

After becoming familiar with our various reference books on Broadway musicals I was able quickly to locate the contact information for a publisher in response to a telephone reference query.

Examples include knowing that forestry figures are in the Dept. of Agriculture report, and email addresses are sometimes found in genealogy directories.

Reviewing the index of The American Indian and the United States led to my being able to answer a question about the cession of treaty powers.

Yes and all librarians should be aware of the material in the reference collection. I usually can locate what I need on the shelf without looking it up in the catalog.

When students have to do term papers and need additional or primary sources.

A high school class was writing reports on the settling of the west. A question was asked concerning Belle Starr. We had no resource on this woman, but I was able to recall finding information on her in another book.

Patron was looking for a certain poem title and I had just been looking through that section of books and found exactly what the patron needed.

A question about a hair shirt was answered in the Catholic Encyclopedia that I had reviewed earlier.

I found some useful history on lava lamps for a patron in a couple of books I was reshelving the week before. Also found the addresses for offshore banks in the Orkney Islands for a patron in a directory of banks in our collection that I was looking at for US banks and found it had a foreign bank component.

I try to study the non-humanities works when I can. I can think of a time recently when I decided to examine all of the reference books on weather. So then when I had a question about the kind of weather in a certain part of the world, I was able to recommend some sources over others, ones that explained about the region's weather rather than ones with just tables of information.

Greater familiarity with the collection is always helpful and immediately.

Recently, I found an encyclopedia of voting which helped students to find out about old political issues and candidates.

A patron was seeking information on a local business before going to that business for a job interview. Usually we would not have such information available on a local business. However, when the patron mentioned the name of the business, I knew there was a good chance the patron would find useful information in Hoover's Handbook of American Business.

Not too long ago I discovered that we own a book listing foundations in Milwaukee. Last week a patron asked for information about foundations and their charitable giving in the Milwaukee area and I was able to hand her this book without any lengthy searches.

Weeding the collection has made me aware of sources that I didn't realize we had. Lists of Nobel Prize winners, for example, what various flowers symbolize, and books which list in order sequels and trilogies, etc.

I can't think of anything offhand. Usually a general awareness of what is in the collection gets me started, but I can't think of any questions that I knew for sure would be answered in a reference book, only because I had browsed it previously.

It hasn't helped yet.

I noticed that one of our thesauri had lists and the next time such a question came up, I used it. Studying the Encyclopedia of Social History gave me a good feel for its content, and I have used it for religious history questions. A study of a new book on entrepreneurship showed that for each business, there was quite a bit of information on qualifications and education for occupations. I used it yesterday for a girl who wanted to know about becoming a medical transcriptionist.

I can't think of a recent example. When I was first in reference I discovered The Places Rated Almanac and browsed it to see what was available in it. Later when someone wanted to know weather information about cities not in one of the world almanacs, I knew where to find the information.

A student today asked for information about 4th Amendment to the US Constitution, particularly as it bore on drug testing in schools. Having seen that we had copy of a book called the Constitutional Rights Sourcebook, I brought it to the student and showed her that it gave summaries of cases, including one regarding drug testing.

I have studied Thomas Register, which is a very handy source.

If you don't know what is covered in the reference book, you don't where to look for the information. Just looking under the subject in the catalog is not sufficient. For instance, if I didn't know that the Wildlife Encyclopedia includes scientific classification and illustrations birds, lizards, and insects as well as mammals, I wouldn't be able to assist school children in home work assignments on obscure creatures for which no books are owned.

Through shelf study I found an index to science fair projects which has been an enormous help in answering questions.

I've had innumerable examples. Questions on arrowheads, authors, symbols, folklore, meanings of words/phrases, etc.

Yes, the director of community services was assigned covered parking and he wanted to determine which space would provide the maximum amount of shade during the hours he would be at work. During the summer months this is valuable information. I remembered a reference book that gave the angles of the sun throughout the day and covered particular months throughout the year. The boss was quite pleased with our work that day.

I get a lot of medical questions, and by studying the materials as they come in, I get a better feel for which is the best source and able to give more complete information.

There are too many to be specific but you must know your reference collection if you are to answer questions effectively.

I cannot recall a specific example, but I generally think that the more that one is familiar with the reference sources, the more it helps staff in answering queries. Reviewing sources is an ongoing process.

Quite often being aware of a new item before it hits the shelves means you can provide that item to answer the question.

I often see a new reference book that would have been helpful with a previous question.

A student needed to know which political party each Canadian premier belonged to. I retrieved this easily with the 2006 Canadian Almanac I had recently browsed through. Patron needed some short quotations for a newsletter she was publishing but was unsure of copyright law. I was quickly able to retrieve information from a non-fiction section that I had recently been shelf reading.

Recently, after looking at a reference book on emerging markets. I recalled that a sector appeared in it that the customer was thrilled with. He wanted to start a business in that field, and there was little information.

A Canadian almanac, containing government addresses was recently purchased and I noticed it when I was putting new books on the shelf. A question re an embassy address was answered using it.

I was asked about probating a will and found the exact item the customer wanted as I had previously done a shelf study to reacquaint myself with items on the reference shelf. As I work between three libraries, the reference collections vary in size, depth, breath, and scope depending on whether I am working at a small, medium, or large library. The types of questions vary as well.

I was able to locate a comprehensive biography of Ralph Nadar for a high school student within five minutes of studying a new licensed database acquired by the library and picking the best tool for the answer.

A current assignment is a profile of one president a week, which includes some quirk, unique fact about each president. While shelf studying the collective biographies I discovered a book called Peculiarities of the Presidents, which has been an excellent source.

Someone wanted the elevation of a small town in Colorado. We used the Commercial Atlas because it gives the elevation of each city, town, and village listed in the book. And it is quite comprehensive. If we had not looked at the book, none of us would have known where to go in a print source for the answer.

I had questions about two different Native American tribes from school-age children doing reports, and I knew we had a site linked to our reference page because of my self-study.

Yes, many. When I first started working as a paraprofessional, I used shelf study to teach myself the collection. I learned where a lot of high demand material is kept, such as Value Line, Morningstar, Standard and Poors materials, tax forms, Codified Ordinances of Cleveland Heights, among many other things. As for actually learning how to use a reference tool, I would have to say that I have benefited many times from shelf studying. I learned how to read the NADA and the Blue Book car prices that helped in numerous references both in person and on the phone when patrons needed to know what the terms meant.

A new set of reference books on endangered animals helped with a regular school assignment. When we acquired Culturegrams it provided an additional resource for a regular school assignment on foreign countries.

I came across two sets of reference tools. One was the Masterpieces of Children's Literature and the other was Best Insurance Companies. A woman came in looking for the best insurance company in Ohio because she wanted to switch companies. I remembered seeing the Best series and pointed them out to her and she was able to find the information she needed.

I knew that we had a Spanish language Larousse Encyclopedia so when I was asked for the periodic table of elements in Spanish I went to it and found it.

Yes. For example, I had a question of suicide this week. I was able to provide a wide range of materials from several sources to assist this patron.

For me, shelf study is critical. There are loads of instances when patrons ask for images that are not cataloged, so I have to be familiar enough with the books we have available to locate a certain image being requested by making a good guess. I know the exact book that would be the best for them because I have seen the actual book. The card catalog may let me know that a certain book has illustrations, but it isn't the same as being familiar with the material. Also, someone may ask for a book on Aryuvedic medicine discussing chakras. I can refer them to a good source, not because the computer helps with the appropriate referrals, but because I have shelf studied and know where the material is.

Most of my shelf study in genealogy is put to use on a daily basis. I've been making it a habit to look at some of the old books and have found things like the genealogy of past American presidents, a passenger list for the Mayflower, and several entries in the Compendium of American Genealogy.

Yes, I compared the differences between the State Yellow Book and Carroll's State Directory. I compared the format of the International Vital Records Handbook versus the Where to Write for Vital Records, which has helped answer questions.

Yes. The reference question was regarding the Monroe Doctrine. We did not have a replicated in the general historical works. I remembered that we had a book in reference with the major documents in U.S. History. By the way, I also shelf-study certain non-fiction works. They are also a significant portion of our reference resources.

Recent question on mounting a butterfly in a collection. I knew the general kind of books where I saw it. It happens a lot for craft and science project type questions.

Serendipity is real. I have been able to return to something I saw or read when browsing for something quite different.

I can't think of a specific example right now, but I know it has been helpful on several occasions.

Sorry, no.

I found a literary critique on a title after reviewing a new reference book on Canadian literature.

Information for school projects can often be found when I am aware that the information needed is in a certain section of shelving.

A patron recently was looking for information on the history of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. Not long before this, we had received a detailed study of the Mohawks historical use of this area for hunting, that was done in relation to a court case, so I was able to give this information to the patron.

Whenever I hear a question I try to think of a source where I might have seen the answer or kind of answer being sought. I can then go to that source immediately. Otherwise, I have to go through our catalogue or a search engine searching for a likely resolution.

Some of the reference books that I have made a point of looking through thoroughly are: Canadian Global Almanac, World Almanac, Associations Canada, Canadian Almanac and Directory. Recently, I was asked for concise information about the U.S. Electoral College, and knew that I would likely find it in the World Almanac - which I did. Also recently, I was asked for information about a specific breed of cattle, and one thing I was able to provide was the address of a breed association from Associations Canada. I have also made a point of looking through at least the table of contents of our alternative medicine books, so that when I've had questions on such things as ayurvedic medicine. Craniosacral therapy, qigong and reiki I have at least recognized the terms.

When a patron needs information about what author to read. Also, information about careers, legal forms, and specific Idaho information.

I can't think of any specific instance but this is usually beneficial.

By browsing through the reference materials you know what is in them and therefore, when you have a question about a specific item such as, dragonflies, you know where to find the answer, which is what we did recently.

Chase's Annual Events - we discovered it contains the phases of the moon for the entire year. This helped a local organization that was planning an outdoor activity at night.

Patron wanted to know what ratluk was. They thought it was a Bosnian dish. I remembered a source: You Eat What You Are from a shelf-study. Was able to find the answer there.

A patron last week wanted the toll free number to call her college. I remembered that I had a current Peterson's guide to 4-year colleges. It had the phone #s.

If I hadn't done any shelf-study, I would not have known that our Academic American Encyclopedia has the pronunciations available for all its entries. We are called frequently to see how something is pronounced.

We recently added Weiss Ratings Guide to Brokerage Firms. Last week I had a patron who wanted the address of a brokerage firm in New York. I was able to pull off the Weiss book from the shelf and easily locate the address. The patron was also interested in the other information available on the company.

We get questions about "patented land." This is a tricky area of law, and one does need to know how to use Federal and State compiled laws, with all the updates and quirks of law materials.

A patron was looking for legal forms. Another wanted some medical information.

I always had problems with CLC, TCLC, and NCLC until I sat down and studied their scope. There was also another set of literary sources that were totally useless to me until I sat down and studied how it was organized. Every time I tried to use them with a patron, I never could find what I was looking for, even though I knew their author was in there somewhere.

At one time I had purchased a directory for mental disorders. Two or three weeks later before it had been shelved (I had browsed through it immediately upon receipt) I sought it out and was able to provide my patron with basic information on depression, a bibliography of suggested resources and a couple of really useful web sites to consult. My patron was very appreciative.

Having a visual memory of the books in reference helps me constantly with reference questions. To be specific, finding the flag of Argentina, the biography of Edgar Allen Poe, the original name of a fast food restaurant in our city, information on a career with computers, information on a medicine, MLA writing guide.

I had a patron wanting information on a person and I remembered seeing that name in a book I had looked at earlier.

One time I was able to find a fable for a patron after I had been browsing a book of moral tales as I got it ready to put on the shelf. On another occasion, I found some information on some rather obscure Alabama personalities while looking through some old books on Alabama history. Though I did not need the information at the time, I had had questions often enough about them, so that I made note of where to find the information for the next time.

Specific subject topics that shelf-study has helped me include medical reference, mythology, and the literature arts.

We have a three volume Violence set. Through browsing I have picked up web sites, organizations and a wide number of topics that youth have used in reports.

Shelf study of our collection of Contemporary Literary Criticism helped me discover the volumes, which have literary themes in them, and I have used these with students.

By having "shelf-studied" the dictionary of American History, I was able to direct the patron to the correct answer.

The People's Chronicle helps with many homework assignments. We realized its worth after it caught a staff member's attention.

Being familiar with your reference collection is very important. Those odd math questions, knowing you have a book in reference that details different questions. What books you have to help with "Who is the CEO of a company" "What is the address of a company."

It's hard to think of a specific example, but I feel it improves overall knowledge of the reference collection.

Kids always are looking for wonders of the world. Now we just got a reference book that gives far more detailed info about a wide range of world wonders with photographs, illustrations, diagrams, etc. That's still on the new reference cart. Also we have the Environmental Reports for the area and knowing what's there is extremely helpful because public service announcements and news articles tell people to come to the library.

Too many to answer. I have a great memory, so I could frequently select a particular resource with a particular fact or bias to "substantiate" a patron's point of view.

A patron had a question about how to build a playhouse and I was able to direct them to a new title.

One small example. There is one book on American Indian tribes that covers the types of questions the local 4th grade school children ask on tools of different tribes.

Browsing Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History (Jack Salzman, ed.) helped with several questions about famous African-American women (Dunnigan, Alice Allison, for example.)

One question was on the early railroads of Arkansas. I had browsed that area a few days earlier and a man came in wanting information on what lines had run through Arkansas in the 1880's. Another instance: Some of the junior class students were doing a project on the Civil War in Arkansas. They were condensing it and simplifying it to a 2nd and 3rd grade level and present it to them. By having browsed the material ahead of time I was able to point them in the direction of the books that pertained to this region of the country and the battles fought locally. Another example was the birth date of Ronald Reagan. Someone asked for that and I could find it because I was familiar with the books on the shelf.

A new herbal remedy book arrived. I briefly looked over the contents. Three days later a lady looking for alternative medicine for hot flashes came in. I immediately referred her to that book.

This helps us every day. It is not possible to give a specific example.

I can't think of a specific example but shelf-study has certainly increased my knowledge of our collection.

We recently bought a set of books about the American colonies just in time for school report season.

Last month someone had a question about regulation measurements of a basketball court. I would have had to cruise the whole sports section if I hadn't accidentally seen that sort of information in a general reference book.

It seems to help serendipitously in finding answers. A patron was looking for videos of Rod Cameron, not a major star. Recently, having looked over the movie ref section, I was able to find a volume that contains more obscure actors.

We have a great book on Author-a-Day. Two days after shelf studying it, I was asked a question that was answered by that book.

No concrete examples. I just know that I use print materials first for most reference questions because they are easier to access and use and the information is verifiable. Then, I go to the Internet.

Yes, this has been very helpful when someone asks a question and I recall a new book that has the information in it. For example, a person looking for drunk driving accident statistics and I knew where the new issue of Accident Facts was.

It does help greatly, because you are able to pinpoint where you saw the information and able to retrieve it immediately.

Remembering who is in what books regarding Black History particularly in February, Black History Month.

Yesterday I had a student looking for some info on the 10th amendment and I remembered looking in one of the reference books on the Supreme Court that had discussions on each amendment.

Can't be specific but know how important for staff to know what's available on the shelf and where to look for an answer to a reference query.

Browsing a state law commentary series, I ran across an appendix of legal forms acceptable in this state. The appendix later proved a useful source of a form that none of our reproducible form books could furnish.

Regular review of biographical resources has been of particular help in an ongoing school study of inventors.

When locating addresses for organizations, a quote, college requirements, an event, consumer info, and health/disease/wellness information.

In the past, 10 years ago, it provided direct contact with sources that I would need for reference work.

A student needed information on a country, which was very extensive. I used a reference book called: CIA Factbook, which was very helpful.

Shortly after we received a new set of books dealing with endangered species, we were hit with the yearly assignment in the local schools that has each child preparing a report on a specific endangered animal. The new set gave us better information on endangered animals and knowing that it was there enabled us to direct the children to that particular set.

I recently went through our art resources, including World Painting Index. I was able to find a source for a patron to use to illustrate a Greek myth.

By shelf reading the reference area, I am always on the lookout for titles that may help with questions. I remember one title that I found while shelf reading that has proved invaluable for a high school project on business tycoons. The title is Tycoons and Entrepreneurs by Macmillan company. Many of the student's subjects could be found and was greatly appreciated.

This happens all the time. Knowing the collection is crucial to successful reference work. Example: We get a lot of questions asking about vehicles and laws in PA. We have the PA law books in our reference collection, but that means that unless the patron has a direct citation from that set of books, research must be done in the index to find an applicable volume and section number. Patrons get very confused about how to use this very large set of complex books. I know that we have a book in reference that contains only the PA Motor Vehicle Code - one book, all the vehicle information needed - and so the patron does not need to struggle through what he/she will not find relevant. In addition, it has its own index which alleviates the search in the general index for the multi-volume law book set that would give the patron almost too much information.

A patron came in looking for current information about Kuwait and the surrounding region. After having participated in a reference source review of online geographical/historical resources, a reference staff person was able to lead the patron to the CIA World Factbook.

Knowing the collection helps me answer questions all the time. I can't think of any concrete examples, sorry, it's a very intrinsic part of being a reference librarian.

It allows staff to be able to go directly to a source.

A class was doing a local history project. Their interests ranged from historical treatises to local authors, to industry and links to the larger region, the rest of Mass. and New England. My shelf study provided a wider range of resources than the small collection housed on the local history shelf and varied from teacher resources to student research aids.

A concrete example is a question regarding the second set of six teams in the NHL. The patron asked for a book from the collection that would have the answer. I walked right to an Encyclopedia of Hockey and found the answer in 30 seconds. I had noticed this book the week before when browsing through our reference sport section.

Finding appendices in a science reference book that I remembered later on in the year to answer an endangered species question.

I know that this has been a benefit and that I have answered reference questions as a result of having remembered seeing a book that was just on topic, but I am unable to recall a specific example.

I was able to find a specific x-ray technology program in the Boston area for a patron. This little book was a very big help. New England regional student program. Catalog undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

We were having trouble helping students who were doing reports on African Americans. I found we had a set of biographies in the reference area. I took the volumes down and went through very consciously, with a special look to athletes, musicians and people with notable historical importance. I was able to refer students and staff to material that would have been looked over in a previous exercise, and kids were thrilled to find information on their topics.

I had a question recently about Frank Lloyd Wright, and knew we had a good general architectural source.

Last year we were getting a lot of questions on Iraq. I had seen reference books at my Sunday job that I knew would be helpful in answering the many questions. I ended up buying particular books because of my shelf studying in the other library.

Familiarity with which resources contain which statistics and how far back such statistics go. This is especially useful when using local history resources and in knowing, which to use for different types of questions, as some are about people, some are about places and others are about events.

I explained to my staff the value of the World Almanac and shortly after that, my assistant was able to answer a question about the population of some country. She was amazed at how easy it was to find an answer. You have to realize that we really had no reference section (other than a set of encyclopedias) before that time.

Very helpful to me. I should do it more often. Many times after I've done some shelf-study, I will be asked a ref. question that will be easily answered by something that I noticed on the shelf. This happens in all ranges of reference, from computers to American history, biographies, geography, etc.

I learned in one of the classes that I took that many questions might be answered in Information Please, World Almanac and the Index of the World Book.

Yes, and we encourage new staff members to take time to look through the reference collection to familiarize themselves with the information.

Reading the reference books helps answer reference questions.

We had a question about a movie and someone remembered it from a new book on movies for women.

One of my favorite library classes was reference. Much of that information stayed with me. When I was a high school librarian, I worked with a Language Arts teacher in teaching students how to do a research paper. We had the class evaluate and present the reference books to the class. Then they played the reference game, which they enjoyed. So, by reviewing periodically, you are ready to help with reference questions such as finding a poem, quote, rating, statistics, addresses, etc.

Standard and Poors knew that accountants and banks were listed for some businesses. Was able to direct the patron when the question arose.

I found background material for a minister on a specific saint in five minutes. I knew right where to look, and was able to find checkoutable books for him very quickly.

I can't give a concrete example, however, knowing your collection is important for when the specific reference question comes up.

Actually, I am more apt to have solved someone else's reference problem than my own through what I have tripped over. Most contemporary reference and desk staff tend to be lazy and just head for the Internet, forgetting all the printed gems that already exist at their elbow. Sort of like most 6th graders - the Internet is super cool - the web has all the answers -- the web regrettably is often a bloody waste of time! NO specifics come to mind at present, however, artists and pictures of foreign currency are frequent repeat offenders by other staff. They will not use the paper money or coin green book in the collective section of the reference collection, wasting a great deal of time and patience (of themselves and their patrons) trying for the same thing on the web!

Yes. This happens very, very often. Just one of many instances: a collector looking for silver markes. I remembered a detailed book on these markers marks from having studied the shelves a few weeks earlier.

I have some ability to store "shelf-studied" books in my head so that when the question comes, I just think of them and see where they sit on the shelf. I will start with them, especially books that are not well indexed for their visual information value: i.e. medical and technical illustrations; art materials; etc.

Earlier this year I purchased a new set of juvenile reference books on American history. I am waiting for new shelving to arrive for the JREF (James Randi Educational Foundation) collection so these books are still on the new bookshelf. Yesterday, a patron requested information on becoming president (12 year old) and I remembered this set and was able to give him the volume that pertained to the development of the office of president.

Yes, we got a set of books in called African Ceremonies. I flipped through the book to get an idea of how it might help in the future saw a great section on masks and costumes. Not long after someone was looking for a picture of a mask, as she wanted to make a replica.

No concrete examples but I can say that I have answered (and not answered) a reference question from a book I have recently looked at.

Several years ago paging through a book on Yankee inventions helped me later answer a question on the origin of the chocolate chip cookie.

Just knowing that we have a reference book that discusses events on each day throughout history has helped many times.

I have little time for self-study and have had to rely on much past experience, intuition, and guessing using the Dewey decimal system.

You are able to help patrons with greater speed and efficiency when you know where the information is.

Being new to North Carolina there is a lot of questions that I would have a hard time finding the answers to if I hadn't looked through the collection. We have a wide North Carolina collection that consists of a lot of pamphlets, etc that are not in the OPAC. You would need to have looked them over in order to know that they even exist.

There have been several times that a person will ask for a reference book on a certain topic, and I can remember that I have just cataloged a book that would assist them.

Related Papers

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Do You Read Print Newspapers and Magazines on Your Own Time?
Does Reading Help Reference Librarians in Their Jobs?
Online Browsing and Librarian Reference Service
Librarians and Shelf-Studying Print Collections
Librarians and Their Use of Television and Radio to Answer Reference Questions
Librarians and News Radio Shows
Has Current Awareness Helped Librarians to Provide Reference Service?
Does Your Library Provide Current Awareness Services?
Television News Magazines and Reference Librarians
Has Reading Helped Librarians in Other Aspects of the Job?
Are Librarians Paid to Read?
Do You Read Online Newspapers on Your Own Time?
Newspapers or Magazines in Library Staff Lounges


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