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Being a Reference Librarian is a Lot Like Being a Personal Trainer

January 30, 2012

One of my classes at Pratt is called Information Services and Resources. It covers the basics for being a reference librarian. 

I’m looking forward to all the discussion about databases and sources, and where to find all the information, because then I’ll be on my way to being awe-inspiring like a real librarian and I’ll know everything.

Last week, class discussion centered on ready reference (things you can look up right at the reference desk, because someone has a question) and how to handle the kinds of people who are likely to approach the desk. And roving reference, where librarians move through the library, offering help if it’s needed.

And about halfway through the class, it started to sound really familiar. Kind of like being a personal trainer.


Be approachable. Because someone who’s an expert can be kind of intimidating to a novice. Whether you’re behind a big old reference desk with your hair in a bun, or wearing a black uniform with the club logo on it, your appearance says Expert Who Knows Everything. Not knowing things, and having to ask, takes courage. So be friendly, so they’ll ask questions.

Keep an eye on body language, to monitor if someone is getting up the nerve to ask a question.

In the gym, I learned the sort of lost-look aimless wandering. Same in the library, a little wide eyed, a little bit hesitant.

Watch body language as you answer, to gauge how much information they really want... Even though you Know All The Neat Things, don’t go off on tangents if their eyes glaze! Yeaaah, totally guilty of this one on theories of Pilates and balance training. 

and whether they’re asking the question they really want to ask, or you need to guide them a little. “How do I use this machine?” or “Where do I find the history section?” could be the first in a series of questions that will hone down to what they really want to know about getting stronger or working on a research paper.

Encourage them- if they have a wrong idea, don’t snap, but guide them to something better. I think I heard this one in every personal training staff development seminar, and especially in yoga training classes: Use positive language, try not to say “no!” or “don’t do it that way,” but say “here’s a way to do it even faster/better/more effectively.” And a corollary to it is what one personal trainer called “Don’t kill their puppy.” You’ll get people who are attached to one way of doing things: they love their elliptical workout, or the hip adduction machine, and it’s not really the best exercise for them. Don’t look all stern and say WRONG!!! Instead, respect where they are, and what they like… then suggest an addition, instead of taking something away.


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