I remember the days when people came to the front desk asking us to look up the capitol city of Azerbaijan or the lines of a Kipling poem. And we actually looked those things up in BOOKS! What role is left for library staff to play in an era where this kind of information can be accessed at one’s fingertips 24/7?
Recent surveys show that people still want librarians to help them with information — not so much to find the information, but to help them sort through the masses of information and to advise them on what is relevant, reliable, and timely.
My 22 year old son recently commented on this phenomenon by observing that librarians are the human equivalent of the Control-F key on his computer keyboard – the shortcut used to search for a particular keyword or phrase within an online document. Exactly!
So nowadays people come asking much more sophisticated questions of us. Things like why is there a discrepancy between an entry on the pages of the 1875 Kansas Census and the transcription of the same census record on Ancesty.com? Why indeed? Or inquiries about the date that cable TV came to McPherson. Try looking those things up on the internet!
This forces us into the Control-F mode as we go hunting for documents, looking for key words, and comparing all the sources that might shed light on the mystery. The internet is a great tool and has made our work much, much easier, but it looks we haven’t yet outlived our usefulness as low-tech search engines. Until then, we’ll gladly keep serving as the human Control-F keys!