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Notwithstanding efforts to the contrary, information cannot truly be controlled, at least not in the way that the control-critics suggest. That is, the “fencing” of information is a remarkably futile proposition; the control we offer owners of intellectual property rights is simply not the control we offer landowners. It should not be, but more importantly, it cannot be. It turns out that information does “want to be free.”¹ -- R. P. Wagner

Part one – Reference, Instruction, and Information Needs

Molly Riley MLIS Professional Portfolio University of Washington, 2011

Created by Molly K. Riley for the MLIS Professional Portfolio in the Information School at the University of Washington, Seattle. 2011. All photos taken, all ephemera collected and scanned, and all graphic compilations contained herein created by Molly K. Riley, except for the photo on page 4, taken by Alyssa Berger. And except for the screen shot of The ipl2 on page 9, accessed from Please respect this intellectual property. Works cited: 1. Wagner, R. Polk. “Information Wants to be Free: Intellectual Property and the Mythologies of Control.” Columbia Law Review, Vol. 103, No. 4 (2003): 995-1034. 2. Honan, Matthew. “Apple Unveils iPhone.” MacCentral, Jan. 9, 2007.


Table of Contents “Can you help me with that?”.........................3-4 The Monday Reference Challenge....................5-6

The Future of Information Services...................7-8 The Questions Keep Coming.............9-10 Instruction..........................11-12 “Innovate or die.”...................13-14


How do I locate e-reserves for my literature class?

I need some grammar help.

I am looking for information on how women stereotype other women.

Can you help me access the ASTM database to get the standard specifications for biodiesel fuel? Is there a way to find a UW professor's complete list of journal articles?

I need some help starting a research paper; is there any way you can help me?

Can you help me find books about Wesley Wehr, one of the prominent folks of the beatnik generation from the Pacific Northwest?

Is there a term in literature or rhetoric for someone who writes more to be paradoxical than to persuade?

If it says 'BE Periodicals', where is that, exactly?

Where can I find good articles or scholarly sites with further information on the Philippine Constitution?

Where can I find primary and secondary documents about Congo and Genocide?

I have a few questions regarding citations for my dissertation‌

Can you help me with that? I'm looking for information on education history, education theory, and measures that can be used to collect self reported education information.


For more than a year and a half my head has been daily and graciously crammed with a growing knowledge of databases, search strategies, resources, journal titles and catalog tricks. I’ve been fortunate to work in reference while studying towards my MLIS degree, fielding questions at the Suzzallo Reference desk and through the University of Washington’s virtual reference service, AskUs. There’s something thrilling about walking up to stand behind the “ask us” sign at the reference desk, or signing in as the chat librarian for an hour in the afternoon, because you never do know what will happen next. There’s no way to anticipate what sort of information a person is after, or what need, exactly, is veiled beneath the question “Where are the journals?” And for this reason, each interaction I have with a library user teaches me something new. Not only have I learned how to navigate a myriad resources, but I have learned how to talk to and build trust with a library user in order to determine what sort of information he’s really after. It’s a reference dialog with a user that helps both librarian and user determine what information need wants satisfying. Reference requires agility with countless sources, databases, search interfaces, and those extra places it never hurts to check. And this agility must be complimented by resourceful creativity and endless curiosity.


Reference also requires humility. You feel idiotic when it momentarily leaves your head that the first name of the Tolstoy whose works this particular student is probably after is “Leo,” naturally, not the “Alexey Nikolayevich” also listed in the catalog, or when you find the perfect source two minutes after a student leaves the reference desk in frustration because he thought you’d be able to help, and you didn’t, really. And you’re thankful for those good days when a student says “Wait! How-did-youfind-that-so-fast?! Why couldn’t I do that?,” or even when someone in your bibliographic instruction session says “Thank you, Ms. Librarian.” Yes, reference requires that adept ability to navigate the wide world of information, ever expanding and proving more boundless. And, in humility, it requires a commitment to public service. As I move into the working world, I am eager to continue to creatively and humbly serve the information needs of library users.

The Monday Reference Challenge


The world of reference is large and diverse, especially at an institution like the University of Washington. During my first year as a Graduate Student Reference Specialist, the other graduate students in the division and I were provided additional training in the form of “weekly reference challenges” facilitated each week by subject librarians across the disciplines. These challenges presented us with real questions these librarians had fielded, questions like, “I want to compare the U.S. health care system with Sweden’s heath care system. I especially need statistical data, but don’t know where to look. Do you have any suggestions?” And these challenges also provided an opportunity to explore subject-specific print and electronic resources without the pressure of library users watching our every move. After working on these questions throughout the week, we met with the librarian who had posed the challenge and discussed strategies and sources. I was particularly struck by this advise given by one of the challenger librarians: “Don’t worry so much about ‘finding answers,’ and focus instead on how you would approach the question, both in terms of working with the user and coming up with starting points.” Beyond the practice this training afforded me to explore various ways to address information needs across the disciplines, I found our collective discussions about strategies and approaches equally valuable. Every librarian will tackle a question in a unique way and so through collaboration, we have much to learn from one another.


The Future of Information Services

The future of information services and systems is like any future: unpredictable and unknown, but with infinite possibilities. And those possibilities really are endless, so long as we are willing to adapt and innovate. The general impression of librarians and libraries shifts with every passing day, and it becomes even more imperative that we not only vocalize abroad who we are, what we do, and how happy we are to help, but also prove that to be true through adaptive, responsive and relevant service provision. Offering virtual and chat reference is one way libraries demonstrate innovation and adaptation to users needs. In my time as a student worker in the reference division, I’ve answered nearly 500 chat and email questions. Some of these questions are straightforward, and some are more involved. And though not every question is easily answered through this medium, this can serve as the gateway for users to interact with librarians, and makes it easy for us to pass questions along to others who can follow up with a user. A portion of a chat conversation I had with a student last spring follows on the right, demonstrating that even a discussion about revising the thesis of a research paper can be carried out over chat. In this case, the student didn’t have time to wait to meet with her subject librarian, so we tackled this question together in real time. 7

Patron: Hi , I have a quick question about my paper topic for my BIS 490 class ‌ Librarian: Librarian 'Molly' has joined the session. Librarian: Hi there! I'm Molly and I'd be happy to help. Librarian: Can you tell me a bit about what you're working on? Patron: Thank you! Ok, here is what I turned into my Prof and she said there is something there but I believe its a little to wordy... Librarian: Great, I'm ready for it! Patron: "Has resistance in Latin America, towards both political and cultural pressures, and experiencing social injustices, sparked the influx of athletes, specifically baseball players, into the United States to potentially live the American Dream" Patron: I just wanted to clarify my paper topic, the "towards both political and cultural pressures" is what my Prof had a question about Librarian: Okay, great. Let's do that. Librarian: When I read "towards both political and cultural pressures" my understanding is that you want to look at the way people in Latin America have pushed against the established politics or culture of their country. Librarian: Is that what you mean? Patron: Yes. And instead of fighting for their country or playing along and suffering human rights violations, they leave and turn to sports, specifically baseball, as a way of resistance. Librarian: Right, that makes sense. It sounds a bit like you want to look at the way baseball players have responded to the realities of human rights violations in their respective native countries. Librarian: I think "political and cultural pressures" are implicit in "human rights violations," so it may suffice, in your topic statement, to talk about human rights violations broadly, and then to get into the details of different sorts of violations in your paper... Patron: So maybe instead of the political and cultural pressures, I could say... "Have Latin American young men battled the human rights violations in their respective countries by migrating to the United States to play baseball and live the American Dream" Librarian: Yeah, that's a fascinating thing to look into... Would a statement like this be what you're getting at: "Have Latin American baseball players come to play in the US as an act of defiance against the human rights violations committed in their countries?" Librarian: Oh, wow! We had the same idea :) Librarian: I think you worded it perfectly! Patron: Yes we did! Wow. Ok, thank you! Librarian: The way you've restructured it here makes more sense. Patron: But I really like the "act of defiance"! Librarian: It's now clear that you're looking at the cause and effect relationship between human rights violations and migration to the US. Librarian: Well, feel free to use it! :) Patron: Just as long as it makes more sense now, I know what subjects I need to research I just wanted a topic that really covered all that I want to include. Librarian: It certainly makes sense to me, and I hope it will to your prof as well. Patron: Exactly. The class is culture and resistance in the Americas, and my prof’s book we are reading is about the Chilean exile, so I feel as though there are some kind of similarities! Patron: Well, thank you for your help! Much appreciated! Librarian: Absolutely. Thanks for using this service and feel free to do so in the future! Patron: Oh I will, I honestly didn't think it would be this easy and so helpful! Librarian: I'm glad it worked out well! Enjoy your day. Patron: Thanks you do the same! Librarian: Will do, bye! 8

The questions keep coming… In my coursework at the Information School, I had the privilege to answer five questions on the Internet Public Library, familiarly known as ipl2. These questions posed a special challenge in that we, as ipl2 librarians, were required to find good, reliable information freely available on the internet to address ipl2 users questions. Providing reference services in the wild west that is the Internet at large is different than doing reference at an academic library with reliable (largelysubscription-based) databases at your fingertips. It takes discernment and persistence to find hearty and solid information among all the wolves in sheep’s clothing that stalk the corners of the internet. I benefited greatly from being forced to not only consider how to pass along an answer to an ipl2 patron, but also from seeing anew the importance of staying current on the good sources, and means of locating them, freely accessible in our wide world of information.

“I’m looking for records of births, death marriages, migration any an all of the above for a family tree and genealogy. I’ve searched the internet for information and have come up with a bunch of sites that are very costly and I was wondering if there’re any books that may hold the info I need. I live in WV; he was born in WI and the family migrated here from Germany in the early 1930s.” Hello! Greetings from ipl2. I’m writing in response to your question about where to find free sources for genealogical information. Thanks for getting in touch with the ipl2 regarding this question. It can be tricky to track down genealogical information online since there are so many subscription-based services! I started my search for resources toward which I could direct you by taking a look at ipl2’s subject resources for genealogy. To take a look at this list yourself, start on ipl2’s site: From here, click the icon that reads “Resources by Subject” and then click on “Genealogy” under the heading “Reference.” Since the direct link to this page is quite long, I’ve shortened it for you here: Many of the sites listed on this page could be useful to you, so it’s worthwhile to take a look at some of them. One site I first found on ipl2’s site, but which I also found referenced on many other library sites, touted as being “the most comprehensive list of genealogical websites” is “Cyndi’s List of Genealogy Sites on the internet.” You can access it from the ipl2 page I pointed you towards, or directly from here: … etc. 9

… and the way we answer varies.

Reference and instruction services can come in many forms, both explicit and subtle. As librarians, we can provide direct service to address information needs as they’re presented to us, or as we parse out in a reference dialogue with a patron. We can also attempt to predict the sorts of information library users will seek and construct tools or guides, made readily accessible, for use by an increasingly computer-bound library-using public.

One of the ways the University of Washington Libraries provides this sort of asynchronous service is through LibGuides. These guides are created by librarians to address some ways to get started doing research in a specific subject, or are geared towards a particular course and then support students in completing their assignments. I used the LibGuide-creating program, hosted by SpringShare, to reformat guides for librarians, including the Library and Information Science guide, and the Information Management guide, as well as to create a unique guide to provide users with some basic information about how to use UW’s WorldCat local catalog, as well as the UW-only catalog. A sample from this guide is found on the left.


Instruction Over the course of two days in December 2009 and 2010, 180 high school students descended upon the Suzzallo and Allen Libraries to do research for a long-term assignment in their International Baccalaureate (IB) history course. For most of these students, this visit constituted the first formal introduction to conducting library research. And for this reason, it was my pleasure and responsibility to introduce this topic well, thankfully in groups of just thirty students at a time. There are many avenues through which we put our information literacy skills to use. One aspect of information literacy is the ability to find and evaluate scholarly, popular, secondary and primary sources for their reliability and relevance to academic research. It was my hope and intention to equip these students with the necessary foundational skills to carry them through their IB coursework and into the more rigorous assignments they’ll encounter in college.

After providing instruction to these students the first year, I re-worked the session the second time around. Before launching into search strategies and the myriad sources available at UW, a complicated topic in itself, I discussed with the students a few simple questions they should ask themselves before running recklessly into a search engine, catalog, or database: What do I want to find? Where will I find it? What possible search terms can I use to find information on this topic? This structure was an excellent set-up for the subsequent demonstration I provided to these students in using actual resources. Some of the slides I created for this session are featured on the right. I’ve helped two other similar groups of high schoolers conduct library research during my time at Suzzallo, as well as assisted and observed UW librarians with other instructional and orientation sessions for undergraduate students. It’s essential that you understand your audience as much as possible when you enter an instruction session. Teaching should be tailored to the learners, engage their attention through various means of participation, and include a means to evaluate whether the principles you set out to teach were learned. My undergraduate background in teaching provides me with an excellent backbone off of which to build practical, meaningful instruction sessions to library users in a variety of settings and on a variety of topics.


What are you looking for?

Where should you start looking?

What terms can you use to search?


“Innovate or die.�

--Erik Boekesteijn, among many others. 13

Librarians are innovators. They introduced the card catalog and put MARC records to use; and they innovate now with the myriad electronic tools at our disposal. We can expect, at least for now, that the future of reference will be largely virtual, and will lean heavily on and utilize emerging technologies. So, librarians must make their knowledge and skills of searching for and sifting through information available to users by providing services in the online environments where many users are already spending much of their time. When the iPhone was introduced, Steve Jobs said, “every once in a while a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything.”² Smartphones haven’t yet changed everything for everyone, but they are changing a great deal. And we must use this, and every cultural and technological shift that will come, to our advantage as we serve those seeking some of that credible, useful information that roams free.


Molly Riley MLIS Professional Portfolio University of Washington, 2011

Part 1  

MLIS Professional Portfolio, 2011 Part 1 - Reference, Instruction, and Information Needs

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