if you come by my place of work on september 10th

I sort of like the “Slam the Boards” idea of librarians showing up on “answer sites” on September 10th and indicating that the answers they give are by librarians. It’s a neat idea. It shows librarians interacting with social communities and (hopefully) providing good quick reference. We shine when we’re giving answers, and less when we have to exert control over complicated real life situations. I would like to say, however, that if you come to my place of work, that being Ask MetaFilter, arguably one of the more awesome “answer sites” currently in existence, you’ll need to know a few things.

1. We have many great librarians already, over 50 at last count, though it may be more like 100, and these are only self-identified librarians library workers and library students.
2. You’ll have to pay $5 to join. One of our great techniques of keeping the riffraff out is out $5 lifetime membership fee. Works amazingly well.
3. You should learn the culture some, learn how to give answers, how to not tell people to JFGI (as if you would!), not to sign your posts and not to get in fights or make stupid jokes in AskMe threads.
4. Don’t toss up a bunch of bibliographic citations when a decent URL will do. You’re online, act like you’re online.

I think this idea is a neat one, but could backfire if we spazz out into every existing community and assume that because we’re librarians every bit of advice we offer is like manna from heaven. If I were planning to participate in this — and I’m not because I’ll be working — I’d spend some time between now and 10sep07 learning a bit about the places i was planning to go. Nothing says you really care like getting to know your patrons. Go. Be awesome.

4 thoughts on “if you come by my place of work on september 10th

  1. All excellent points! I’ve had just a couple of answers that clearly needed referring to the library, but the majority have been answerable using authoritative free sources. I think that’s the value we can bring to the transaction–rather than answers “off the tops of our heads,” we can push a little bit of information literacy–and say that it’s courtesy of a librarian.

  2. Good points Jess. You raised a lot of the concerns that I have over ‘Slam the Boards’, especially with regards to Ask Metafilter.

    I think one of the things that has made AskMe so great and successful is what I have started to call ‘over the fence reference’. These are not just complete strangers answering “off the tops of our heads” but a community of users with real and valuable experience, just like yelling over your fence and saying “hey Bob, can you help me with the idle on my lawnmower.” I am a bit worried that a lot of outsiders coming in not familiar with how a particular community functions may do more harm than good.

    That said, I highly recommend anyone who has not joined Metafilter/AskMetafilter yet to do so. It is well worth the $5 and you can see how an amazing web community ask/answer board works (with expert help and guidance form Jessamyn).

  3. So … did anyone misbehave?

    I thought your comment about using online sources was interesting. In the past, you’ve criticized virtual reference librarians for this very thing (“…when we tell people we’re providing them with librarians but what we give them are MLS-educated people with access to the Internet … what are we providing?”, https://www.librarian.net/stax/1837/massanswers-a-247-ref-project-answers-my-question-sort-of/)

    I quote you all the time, because it’s awesome. It’s one of the questions that I hope librarians were thinking about amidst their board-slamming. Another one is, what is the middle ground between online question-asking/answering communities and library reference services?

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