I do a lot of referring. People stop into my office and I tell them to stop into another librarian’s office for better help. People come up to the reference desk and I do what I can to get them started and then refer them off to the liaison that’ll be able to go deeper. People ask me about renewing books, or getting a job in the library, or ordering books, or fixing computers, or registering for classes, or getting access to materials that we don’t have here, or any number of other questions that I can’t answer well by myself.
Sometimes these referrals are specific: “You need to talk to so-and-so, and here’s her contact information and what you can expect from her.” Sometimes they’re more vague: “You need to go talk to somebody in this special collection at the University of Minnesota.” And up until recently, I didn’t stop to think about the differences between those two types of referrals. Both get the people with a questions to somebody who can hopefully answer their questions, right?
I was recently on the receiving end of a non-library-related referral that left me with a bad taste in my mouth. It left me wishing that there had been somebody I could have turned to for a more personal, specific referral, a referral to somebody that they knew would take me seriously and work through my questions carefully. But I was out of my element and didn’t have a nice network of people who know people who know people, so I just went where I was told and hoped for the best. What a waste of time.
I think I’ll work at making my own referrals as specific as possible from now on. If I don’t know the name of the librarian at another institution that can answer this question, I’ll find that out. I’ll call ahead. I’ll pave the way. I won’t just send lost but optimistic students into unknown territory without any assurance that the person on the other end will at least take their questions seriously.