LJ Talks Reference with RUSA

What’s the state of reference today? Members of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), a division of the American Library Association, share their thoughts.

What’s the state of reference today? Members of the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA), a division of the American Library Association, share their thoughts. Answers are contributed by RSS Chair Melissa Del Castillo, RSS Vice-Chair Ava Brillat, History Chair Meg Galasso, Emerging Technology Chair Seti Keshmiripour, and Communications Task Force Chair Jennifer Boettcher.

RUSA represents many aspects of reference service, including business, technology, collection development, access, and history. How do you define this ever-evolving field?

Melissa and Ava: Reference library workers are often the “face” of library services. We wear many hats, but above all, we keep focused on library users’ needs. We realize this commitment to our patrons through service offerings, collection holdings, and our information literacy support tools.

Meg: Reference work celebrates and promotes the use and creation of information in all forms. We connect and engage with our users, whether at the physical or virtual desk or through the resources we create, to find answers, solve problems, and explore new ideas.

Seti: Though reference services continue to change, one thing stays the same—our commitment to meeting the information needs of the public by identifying information needs and providing equitable access to information resources and services.

What are the rewards of reference service?

Melissa and Ava: Reference library workers get many rewards from their work. Reference services put library workers in direct contact with their communities, keeping them attuned to emerging needs and trends. The daily challenges of reference services feed the need for lifelong learning and the desire to feel valued through the help one offers to others. Additionally, the deep satisfaction of successfully helping patrons with complex issues is hard to find in other areas of librarianship.

Jennifer: People come to us when they are vulnerable. They may have tried Google but need more help finding information or sources. We are friendly, empathetic professionals who can help. It is so rewarding to hear the relief in patrons’ voices and know that we’ve made an impact while doing a job we love. It’s even more rewarding to think of those patrons then sharing the knowledge gained through our interaction.

Seti: The most rewarding aspect of reference services is patron satisfaction. It means so much to know that we’ve made an impact.

What does the future of reference look like? What kinds of changes do you expect to see in the upcoming years?

Melissa and Ava: AI is already having an impact on reference. While it’s hard to anticipate the specifics, it’s certain that AI will drastically change reference services. No matter what the future holds, library workers providing reference services must stay abreast of AI trends to make informed decisions on how to intentionally integrate AI into their work, whether this looks like AI-generated reference services or counseling patrons on how to use AI effectively and critically.

Jennifer: The future will bring change, but libraries can remain relevant so long as they are not just information repositories but are places for users to find curated collections, learn how to be critical thinkers, and partner with librarians to create knowledge. For this to happen, librarians must stay current on generative artificial intelligence, copyright law, and local trends and interests while promoting digital, informational, data, media, cultural, financial, and functional literacies. The key to success is connecting with our communities, harnessing our patrons’ passion for knowledge, and helping users seek, find, evaluate, and interpret information affecting their daily lives.

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