Columbus reference librarians embrace search engines

During the mid-1990′s the Internet search enging Google threatened the very existence of reference librarians. People in search of a telephone number or a ballgame score can point and click their own way to an answer. Now, reference librarians at the Columbus Metropolitan Library say they’ve embraced the technology and they’re armed with more tools than ever before.

They call themselves “human search engines”. Reference librarians in the Metropolitan Library’s Call Center downtown attend to all main and branch inquiries ranging from directions and library services to how to get started on a scientific experiment for a school assignment. In all, the ’round the clock’ staffers juggle approximately 700 reference questions each day.

Mary Kelly started as a Childrens’ Librarian in 1981. She became a Reference Librarian four years later. She says in the past twenty years the nature of the questions have changed. “There’s questions now that we can answer fairly quickly in the blink of an eye that might’ve, back in 1985 taken me all day to work with a customer or call them back.” says Kelly.

A report by Florida State University found 100% of Ohio libraries are connected to the Internet. Kelly says with the help of the Internet, many patrons find the answers to simple questions on their own. She says though when the questions become more complicated, Google isn’t always the best or most efficient choice. Kelly credits her long library experience with providing her a variety of searching tools.

Jay Kegley is the Assistant Manager for the Library’s Science, Business and News Division. Inquiries that can’t be readily handled in the Call Center go to his division. Kegley has embraced the Internet.

Kegley says he often fields questions containing only a fragment or shard of information. While some might find that frustrating, Kegley says the less information he has the better he likes it.

Reference Librarians Jay Kegley and Mary Kelly agree no question is too small or insignificant. They say they enjoy helping people whether it’s finding the outcome of a baseball game or how to conduct a science experiment for a school assignment. And they like the way the Internet,which once might have threatened their jobs, has actually provided them with a new tool to help people more.

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