Reference Anxiety

Reference, to be quite frank, terrifies me. I hate not knowing the answer, and even more so trying to find information on a subject that I don’t fully understand. Every time I shadow on the reference desk it seems to go from empty to extremely busy and I inevitably end up flying by the seat of my pants.

However, when I think back to when I first started doing reader’s advisory work I felt much the same kind of anxiety. Any situation in which you’re helping someone who is [sometimes not-so] patiently waiting for an answer or a suggestion can be fraught with uncertainty and pressure – even more so when you feel you are not experienced or prepared enough to answer this question.

I have a decent amount of desk experience doing reader’s advisory and ready reference, and even some finding non-fiction resources, but almost always for children. Adults, however, know exactly what they are looking for (whether or not it’s something you have in the catalog) and can be very unforgiving about a lack of access to said resource. On top of this is the feeling that I am constantly in someone’s way or creating a more difficult situation for an employee to deal with than they otherwise would have had were I not present.

This also makes me very aware of the challenges faced by the staff when trying to combine two desks into one. While I may be there to specifically train for reference skills and learn how to be a better researcher, a large amount of the questions I’ve had to field (and forward on) are tech related. Of course, the patrons look at the Info desk and do not see any differentiation between job titles or expectations, nor do they realize I am intern. All they see is someone who is available to help them and all I see is someone who needs my help – and feeling like I am unable/unequipped to immediately and effectively do so is beyond frustrating to me.

At the end of today’s shadowing shift I feel completely overwhelmed, but I know this discomfort will allow me to grow and challenge myself to become more comfortable with an important skill for my profession.


2 thoughts on “Reference Anxiety

  1. skokielaura says:

    It will get easier! We’ve all felt overwhelmed at the desk but I’m sure with experience you will feel better about your shifts.


  2. Reference can definitely be intimidating and tough at first. I agree with Laura that it gets easier, and having colleagues to help out is part of what makes it possible to answer questions about such a wide variety of topics. Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts!


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