Reference desk loses to Internet searches

Yu Dong, left, graduate student, gets help from Lena Singer, graduate student in Library and Information Sciences, at the information desk in the Main Library on Wednesday. Beck Diefenbach

Yu Dong, left, graduate student, gets help from Lena Singer, graduate student in Library and Information Sciences, at the information desk in the Main Library on Wednesday. Beck Diefenbach

By Ebonique Wool

At the University of California at Merced, students communicate with the librarians via text message, instant message or Facebook. There is no reference desk.

Situations like this are the extreme, but they still raise the question: Is a reference desk needed in the library at all?

“The only time I’ve used it is to get movies for my classes,” said Drew Patterson, senior in Business.

Lisa Hinchliffe, head of the Undergraduate Library, believes students are missing out on part of their college education by not utilizing the reference desk. She sees value in both face-to-face contact as well as computerized methods.

“We take a holistic view of reference service,” Hinchliffe said. “We’ve added ways of communicating at the Undergrad, but the face-to-face is still an important way of communicating.”

The Undergraduate library communicates with students via instant message, online chat, Facebook, MySpace, e-mail and telephone, as well as in person.

Some students still appreciate the physical presence of a librarian.

“I would probably prefer instant messaging,” said Sarah Olsen, freshman in FAA. “But I still think it would be helpful to have someone there to tell your problems to face-to-face. You get a lot more information out of a person than from a computer.”

Hinchliffe said that researching on the Internet with search engines such as Google or Yahoo on your own can be difficult without some guidance.

The Internet is a highly accessible, convenient yet sometimes unreliable tool to research, but it takes skill and knowledge of the search engines to get the best information possible, she said.

“I just don’t want people to only use Google,” Hinchliffe said.

“The value of college is that you have more than Google. I’d like to see students spend some time with scholarly databases,” Hinchliffe said.

Hinchliffe understands that the University’s extensive and top-ranked library system can be difficult to navigate through as well.

“It’s easy to find something on a topic (on the Internet), but it’s really hard to find the best things. College students need the best things,” Hinchliffe said.

There are workshops early each semester to teach students how to best make use of the University’s library search catalogue.

Working in referencing services is a busy job, Hinchliffe said.

“We’ve got two people answering questions all the time,” she said. “They do the IM and face-to-face and they’re busy.”

Though she has to field so many questions from students not related to research, Hinchliffe said she remains positive about her work with reference services.

“If I’m not there for the person who’s struggling with the book on the shelf, I’m not there for the person who really needs help with research,” Hinchliffe said.