Reference for children

                  This is a challenging aspect of a youth service librarian’s job. what is it that the child is looking for? Children are complex and can be misunderstood which makes them a user group that many librarians do not want to deal with. But I find them fascinating, funny, and incredibly smart. It is important that children are able to receive reference service as well because they have very specific information needs.

                    There are three basic types of service that they need. help with homework and research, voluntary inquires based on curiosity  and assistance with personal problems or issues. This is the dilemma for many librarians because they don’t want to be the teacher or parent helping  or doing homework for the children. This as an opportunity because if the child is not getting the help anywhere else this is the librarians opportunity to step in. Librarians are trained and specialized in knowing the tricks to research and assisting patron’s information needs, and it is our duty to assist with homework help.  The curiosity questions are a bonus. children have a quest to soak up knowledge because they are growing and being able to satisfy their thirst is rewarding.  And assisting children in their personal lives can be tricky, because they will tell you your life story and then some. Librarians need to put their own judgement aside and give the best answer for that situation and if needed talk to the parent or caregiver.

                   Shenton and Dixson’s  “Information Needs: Learning More about What Kids Want, Need, and Expect from Research” explains the types of needs that arise and the variables that effect them.  This is crucial to understanding how to do a reference interview with a child because they care about accuracy and urgency as well as adults.  But children are different in how they act socially and the types of questions asked. The authors came up with strategies for practice and an important one is to develop questions that are not based on preconceived notions but based on the child’s real needs (Shenton, 26). It is also necessary to have open dialogue with the child patron because that way if the need was not met by certain materials the search can be tried again.  This is crucial because some children are shy and will not say so, or they do not even realize they didn’t meet their own need.

                Children’s reference is rewarding and demanding. Librarians have to know it all and be able to read minds,  but not really we can do those things by being friendly, attempting the question wholeheartedly,  and knowing the library’s collection.

Shenton, A.K. and P. Dixson, “Information Needs: Learning More about What Kids Want, Need, and Expect from Research.” Children and Libraries 3 (2): 20-28.


3 thoughts on “Reference for children

  1. Hi Becca,
    You make some really great points regarding providing reference service to children. In working with children, I think it can be very difficult to divulge what the child is actually trying to find out versus the librarian’s assumption or perception of what the child’s information need is. This is where the art of reading body language comes in. Akin to the way that librarians use their detective skills to uncover information sources, librarians can also be detectives when conducting the reference interview, picking up on the subtle clues the patron gives off. Like we discussed in class, I think that possessing effective communication skills with kids/teens is probably the most important aspect of providing quality reference service. With children, I believe this means first and foremost putting them at ease, and being friendly, approachable, and encouraging – not to mention actually showing a little interest in what they are trying to find out!! I know that when I was growing up, I was very shy and I dreaded having to interact with adults. If the adult was curt or rude to me, then forget it, I was ready to crawl back into my shell and never venture out again. Librarians really need to realize that their interactions at the reference desk may have a permanent effect upon the child’s information seeking behaviors. I am with you that it can also be sticky assisting children with their personal problems/ issues, but librarians need to approach these type of information needs with the same professional candor that they would devote to any information need. Lastly, I totally agree with your statement that “It is also necessary to have an open dialogue with the child patron because that way if the need was not met by certain materials the search can be tried again.” The reference transaction does not end with the interview, follow up and evaluation are key in creating lifelong library users!!

    Thanks for posting this!!

  2. Great post. I think children’s reference would be an enlightening experience. Based on the confusion that happens with Adult reference transactions, I could only imaging performing a child’s reference question. I think children’s reference tends to be more complicated based on the child’s comprehension level. Communicating on their level is sometimes hard to discern (although I image it becomes easier the longer you work with children). As I learned in my reference class, what a patron wants and what they ask for can often be two different things. This could be further amplified when conducting reference with a small child. Misunderstandings would be more likely based on a child’s level of speech and understanding of what they are looking for. Despite the added challenges of conducting reference with children, I think it would be much more rewarding to help a child find something in the library.

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