Changing Nature of Reference Service
My library is located in Plymouth, a name shared by towns not only in the United States but also in other countries. Thus, we tend to get calls and emails and instant chat messages from folks who believe they are contacting their local library, but it may be a library hundreds of miles away from us. We usually catch on fairly quickly from the nature of the question or the library card number and good naturedly give the patron the correct phone number or URL of their local Plymouth library. However, with the many databases we have at our disposal, and good searching skills on the Internet, we are still able to answer questions for other Plymouth patrons no matter where they are located geographically. A recent patron query is a wonderful example of this: A patron called me and asked for a death date for her father so she could try to locate an obituary. She knew he died in Plymouth, but wasn’t sure of the month or exact year, only an approximate year. I explained to her that our local papers were not indexed and finding this information would be very difficult to do just searching reels of microfilm. She said it was very important for her to find this precise date since there were insurance issues outstanding. I told her I’d do my best and got her phone number. (The area code should have been a tip-off , but it didn’t register with me at the time.) By this time, the reference librarian in me was looking for ways to avoid prolonged searching of 15-17 year old newspapers on film. Thankfully, we subscribe to Ancestry Library Edition, so I tried using their version of the Social Security Death Benefits Index. Bingo !! I hit paydirt within three minutes. There was just one problem – the individual I was looking for didn’t reside in OUR Plymouth, but in another town called Plymouth almost 900 miles away. The odd area code finally made some sense to me. I called the patron and told her that I had good news and bad news. I had found the date of her father’s death, but that she was going to have to look through the newspapers in her own Plymouth library to find the obituary since we were several states away. She was truly shocked that we were not in her home state and even more surprised that we managed to come up with the information she needed so quickly. I told her that with our electronic tools, librarians are no longer limited by geographic borders, only our good resources and skills!
Entry filed under: projects at work.