William V.Raszka, MD, Associate Editor, Pediatrics
Recently, my second son and I had a disagreement over some arcane bit of information.
I suggested he “google” it. Laughing, he asked if anyone used anything other than
Google to answer questions. We wound up discussing the advantages and disadvantages
of different search engines. What we did not discuss, however, were the advantages
of calling a reference librarian. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, reference librarians continue to answer millions of questions each year. For example,
in Hennepin County, Minnesota, which has a population of about 1,200,000, public librarians
answer approximately 1,300,000 questions a year. People may turn to librarians for
answers due to lack of computer access, ease of use, confidentiality, custom, or recognition
of the remarkable expertise of many reference librarians. Librarians may answer mundane
questions such as the weather forecast for the next few days or how to prepare a tax
form. They usually relish the opportunity to answer esoteric questions and take pride
in answering questions that cannot easily be found with a quick internet search.
Because librarians have access to paper records that may not be available to search
engines, such as newspaper clippings stored on microfilm, they can answer challenging
questions such as whether or not it snowed in a particular town on a specific December
day in 1837 or how the graphic design of the tax forms have changed since inception.
As for me, I still tend to use search engines for most of my questions. However,
I do find that if I really need information about a challenging medical education
topic, our medical librarian usually turns up resources I did not find. Maybe the
next time my son and I have an amicable disagreement on a topic, we will turn to our
own local librarian for assistance.