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Reference Renaissance

Becoming Ambient:

Finding Reference Services and Me


(Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Library 2.0)


Lance J. Heidig

Reference & Instruction Librarian

Cornell University Library



Reference Renaissance: Current and Future Trends

Denver, CO -- August 5, 2008


Call this the confessions of a former analog librarian.


Reference librarians have long pondered the disintermediation of information and their own potential lack of relevance in an age of relevancy search engines. But rather than being Googled out of existence, reference librarians are finding a bit of resiliency, and more, with our use of the new interactive Library 2.0 tools and services.


Moving reference services beyond our reference desks is not just a professional evolution, it is a personal transformation. I am a traditional Reference & Instruction Librarian. The twenty four years of my professional career have been spent at our physical reference desks and in our library classrooms. But now my analog past of books, printed journals, and card catalogs has become my ambient future of blogs, podcasts, wikis, and chat reference.


Peter Morville’s emerging world of “ambient findability” where “we can find any one or anything from anywhere at anytime” is not yet a reality, but our reference staff and the services they provide are now virtually omnipresent and eminently findable. I am findable.


Reference is all about interacting with the students, faculty, staff, researchers, readers and visitors who use our libraries. Mine talk with me. They find me at our reference desks, though not as often as they once did. I am not there as much, and neither are they.


Increasingly my library users are talking with me in their classrooms where I am now an invited guest instructor or an embedded librarian. They are now finding me outside the library as often as they are finding me inside the library.


They do talk with me. And chat with me at our Digital Reference service point. And blog with me, and wiki with me, and they listen to my podcasts. They e-mail me, they IM me, and they read and respond to my web pages. They Google me. And they can find me on Facebook, although I am not so sure they want to find me finding them there yet. The point is they are finding me, and they are asking me questions.


My digital outreach exceeds my analog grasp. I can be found blogging in support of my university’s Reading Project and podcasting a virtual tour of our historic library building. Yes, I have a Facebook account, and from it you can find the various LibGuides that I have created using Springshare’s new guide-building software. One of these guides was created for a semester-long writing course on digital literacy that I am co-teaching with a faculty member. Together we are using a wiki to manage our course content. Both the guide and the wiki encourage two-way communication with our students.


Call it a Reference Renaissance. Call it regeneration or re-energizing. Call it relevant. Old dogs are learning new tricks. On the Internet they may or may not know that we are librarians. But we are what they are looking for and finding--the human interface to Information.