Joe Janes on “Reference 2.0”

Joe Janes, Associate Dean at the iSchool, Univ of Washington, provided what conference planners might view as a perfect keynote—on target for the audience, visionary yet practical, witty and entertaining. Janes writes the “Internet Librarian” column for American Libraries—but this is his first IL conference. Welcome, Joe!

With a nod to Lee Rainie, he said we should be confident about what we know about reference – “but I’m going to poke at that a bit.” We’ve done reference in different settings and for different levels of service based on needs – we can do this now.

Now, our world has too much info, people can find it on their own, and there’s ways to get help—so, we need to change our thinking about reference work. It’s worth assuming that “eventually” everything will be available in digital form. And there are very different ways to go about searching for things—more horizontal searching and federated searching. There are lots of ways to get at stuff at every level. We were trained to find whole things—now we will increasingly find parts of things.

So, the question is, how do we insert reference services into this environment? He advised us: “Explore our areas of strength and the niches where what we do can be responsive.” We’re made for the “deep ditch” kind of searches (as Rainie described)–we have the resources and experience. Stop chasing the kinds of questions you can’t catch…let them get those on their own

We’re in a participatory, connected, yet very individual kind of environment––so we have to try to help them. It’s based on the impulse that we all just want to be heard – I was here and I want to be remembered. He didn’t mince words.  “Get out of the freakin library – and, stay in the library. You’ve really gotta be somewhere and everywhere, as every library should be. It’s the concept of the library leaking out of the building. Somewhere and everywhere—in and out.”

He advised us to remember Mudge from 1909 – “method over material.” It still applies.
Use print when appropriate, use digital when appropriate. And he urged older and younger generations to teach each other and work together.

His outlook for librarianship? “This is the best time to join the profession – the tools are so much better! Yes, we should be confident in what we do – but we shouldn’t be complacent. There’s a lot more to be done. I see more and better opportunities for us as professionals.”

Like I said, it could be the model of a keynote.



Paula J. Hane
News Bureau Chief
Information Today, Inc.

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