“Perhaps no place in any community is so totally democratic as the town library. The only entrance requirement is interest.”
With all the attention libraries have received in recent months, I have been thinking back on decades behind the reference desk. I arrived at a time when paper books were the norm. Many of the books we used to answer people’s questions didn’t even have indexes, so we perused their contents page by page. Experienced staff laboriously created and maintained homemade records, clipping, indexing, and filing, while passing on wisdom orally to younger generations. Smaller libraries, with limited collections, had to call even to find out if we had a particular title on the shelf.
The internet, of course, has changed the very nature of the reference process. People are able to do more basic research at home–including students with full-text access to many magazine articles. As in the past, reliability of resources must be considered and librarians are turned to for help in answering more complex problems, or for recommendations.
Today, as more and more experienced librarians retire, we are encouraged that a new generation of energetic, technically-minded and enthusiastic young people are choosing the profession. One day, in the all-too-near future, I shall walk out the door for the last time to begin the final phase of my life. When that happens, I shall take with me the memory of many fine co-workers over the decades and an amazement at the human mind’s endless questioning and desire to know.
To quote Samuel Johnson, “Curiosity is one of the permanent and certain characteristics of a vigorous mind.”