The university library collection is divided among several buildings on campus. When seeking help with my question, I made what initially seemed to be a false start: I took my question to the wrong building. The librarian’s response was: “What subject area is this?” This stumped me: if the librarian, with her knowledge of the library, didn’t know the answer to this question, how could I? Users have difficulty mapping their questions onto the internal structures of an institution. Unfortunately, these internal—often bureaucratic, usually opaque—structures may inform the structure of user-facing resources such as an external website or even a reference desk. When I hesitated, the librarian told me that the collection in her building was limited and that I should instead visit the central location.
I was disappointed to be sent to a different building. Just as the library website provides a seamless front-end to all the library resources within the various physical buildings and online databases, and just as any computer terminal allows me to search the entire collection from a central page without knowing how things are organized on the back end, I felt that any librarian at any reference desk in any building on campus should have been able to assist me. I felt that the information desk should not require me to know the contents of the buildings before asking for help.
Yet I adjusted my opinion after a recent positive experience at the public library. This interaction showed me that a librarian who really knows the contents of a collection is able provide more than just excellent search skills. And so the first librarian I spoke to at the university—the one at the smaller, more specialized location—might not have had the collection knowledge to answer my question effectively. Instead, she sent me to someone who did.
[Done as part of assignment for LIBR 503 at the UBC iSchool]