Reference Renaissance Conference: Theoretical Perspectives of Reference

Unconscious Cognition in the Genesis of Reference Queries

Dr. Glynn Harmon

How do we elicit deeply embedded info needs? Does it require an altered state of consciousness? Research from the University of Texas School of Information shows it just might. The school is experimenting with alpha and theta waves- the brain states where we tend to experience tranquility, creativity and flow.

The study asked subjects to pose a query, then undergo brainwave synchronization using an audiovisual system for 20 minutes, and then ask their question again. The first round of queries tended to be terse, linear, closed-ended, and either/or focused. After relaxing with the audiovisual system, the second round of queries tended to be lengthy, divergent, open-ended, holistic, and more dynamic. They demonstrated flow. For example, before relaxing, the subject might ask: What kind of house should I buy? The second query, post-relaxation: I am avoiding a house purchase. Why?

You may not want to hook your patrons up to a brainwave machine, but the study does point to the importance of feeling comfortable when approaching the reference desk. So how can increase patron comfort and relaxation @ your Library? Please share your comments below.

Bottomline? Glynn recommends librarians brush up on psychology, learn non-verbal communication, incorporate relaxation techniques into the reference loop, and include the psychology of inquiry into information literacy courses. He also recommends Information Specialist as Team Player in the Research Process.

The Serious Leisure Perspective: Implications for Public Libraries

Dr. Jenna Hartel, University of Toronto

Many libraries aim to meet the educational and entertainment needs of their patrons. Jenna focuses on the leisure side of life, and suggests that free time is a great way to connect with patrons, especially when you consider that as much as 87% of public library use is for entertainment purposes, with 1/3 of library visits pertaining to hobbies.

Did you know leisure comes in three forms?

-Casual Leisure- no skill needed, ex: napping, TV, recreational reading, getting a message, playing with your dog

-Serous Leisure- requires skill, get better at it, contributes to your identity, often socially organized, it's fun but you take it seriously ex: volunteering, hobbies, amateurism -Project-based Leisure- one-time or recurrent, ex: build a rock garden, Christmas Hobbies

For more info, check out The Serious Leisure Perspective and Jenna's website

Theoretical Foundations for Re-envisioning Reference

Pamela Martin, Utah State University
Pamela invites us librarians to remember how we might viewed through a post-modern, information society perspective. She encourages us to remember that post-modern folks are suspicious of experts (like reference librarians) and one-size-fits-all classification schemes. She asks us to consider that hard-to-use library tools can be viewed as instruments of control and power-over, making us look like information hoarders (when in fact, we really want to connect information with people).

So how can we move beyond postmodern distrust and help our patrons get the info they want? Pamela recommends:
-Be the best non-expert you can be. Play and experiment alongside the patron.
-Embrace free information (including Wikipedia).
-Be sneaky and charming. Ex: the University of Washington's I School went on to Wikipedia, added links to their digital collections, made the online encyclopedia better, and participated in the free information revolution.
-Practice trial and error (make a game of it- what if students treated database searches like a video game quest?)
-Allow for failure.

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