It seems to have become conventional wisdom that library reference is dying, or already dead. Conventional wisdom says that we are wasting valuable resources staffing anachronistic desks with professional librarians who do nothing but tell people where the bathroom is.
Well, conventional wisdom doesn’t match up with our statistics for the past year (June 2008 – June 2009):
- 63% of the questions we answered at the reference desk were Reference questions
- 6% were technical (and no, we do not count adding paper to printers as a technical question–we don’t count those at all)
- Only 31% were directional
Statistics from June 2007 to June 2008 show the same breakdown of questions.
And we are not talking about small numbers: We answered 20,758 total questions at the desk last year; 13,052 Reference questions. For us that comes out to 9 total questions an hour, more than 5 Reference questions an hour. I can’t speak for other reference desks, but at Stanford’s Green Library, we are definitely not sitting at the desk knitting and occasionally telling kids where the bathroom is. We are doing real reference, lots of it, and it is paying off.