Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ann Curry’s “If I Ask, Will They Answer?”

I thought Ann Curry’s “If I Ask, Will They Answer” article from this week’s readings was interesting in its attempt to address the lack of information on young library users’ experiences while looking for GLBT-related information in libraries.  The study Curry conducted, in which teen “Angela” approached reference desks at 20 different libraries to ask for materials that would help her start a gay-straight alliance at her high school, had some pretty disappointing findings.
  • Angela gave only 50% of the librarians positive comments in how they responded to her question.  Only three librarians showed her how to use any sources such as the library catalog or the Internet to find information.
  • Some of the materials identified by library professionals were not relevant, such as adult booklists or even picture books.  And in one case, a library staff member conducted a partial reference interview, mumbled something, and then walked off and never returned!  Clearly, improvement needs to be made on librarians’ awareness of relevant GLBT resources.
  • I thought it was great that one particular librarian was not only enthusiastic and helpful in locating appropriate resources, but then directed her question to the YA librarian who emailed Angela with more information, and then even mailed her a packet of articles, booklists, and other resources all within a few days.

While I was reading this, I did wonder how specific the librarians’ behavior was to Angela’s question.  For example, how many of the librarians would act inappropriately and be unhelpful for other types of reference questions?  And does Angela’s age have anything to do with how they responded?  Curry does acknowledge that it would have been useful to have a “double deception,” i.e., have Angela ask another general reference question at a different time to determine a more direct relationship with the GLBT question.  But as Angela pointed out, “It doesn’t matter to a GLBT youth whether the librarian is nasty to everyone, not just her.” 

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