Dave Tyckoson, one of my mentors, talks about the “4 Rs of Reference”: Reassure, Respond, Restate, Repeat. Sometimes they do not come in that order. And sometimes, in the bustle of things, it is easy to forget the reassure part—until the patron’s insecurity comes up and more or less hits you in the face. And then, when this happens to me, my inner mom comes out, and I maybe say something that is not in any reference handbook or set of recommendations. Here is an example of this phenomenon. The patron logged in. S/he (“Taylor,” with no clue as to whether it was the Swift or Lautner variety) opened up with the following:
Taylor: This is my very first time taking an online class for college. The teacher is asking us to find one scholarly article about how language, culture, gender, and context affect one another. How do I go about doing that?
[Here is the clue that the patron is nervous about not knowing: “very first time,” which should be translated as “I have an excuse for not knowing what I am doing here, but I still feel awkward about this so please don’t judge me.”]
Nicolette: Hello! I’m a librarian from AskUS, a cooperative of academic libraries from around the state. I help out when your librarians are busy. Just a moment while I look at your question.
Nicolette: Hi there, Taylor. I would start in your databases—have you ever used online article databases before?
[Hoping that I have not made the patron feel more awkward, I just stay very nuts-and-bolts.]
Nicolette: They are collections of online articles—see here: http://lib.anyschool.edu/lmc/databases/—can you open that link?
Taylor: Yes, I am opening it now.
Nicolette: OK. You can go to the general databases (which are all-purpose) or to subject ones. See where at the top there is the one called “Academic Search Complete”? Click on that.
[Given the patron’s opening statement, I make extra sure to slow things down and ask questions step by step, because sometimes a couple of can’t-find-where-to-click instances in a row can bring on panic, and the patron gets lost. Thus, one thing at a time.]
Taylor: Oh, yes, I see it.
Nicolette: OK. Can you click on where it says “Advanced Search”?
Taylor: (cross chat) Once I search my topic I can click on any of the options?
[Although Taylor is showing more confidence by asking questions about next steps, I want to keep things slow. I do not want a lost patron.]
Nicolette: Let’s walk you through this step-by-step. Find the check boxes that say “full text only” and “peer reviewed only” and check them. Now you are ready to search.
Taylor: OK, I found them.
Nicolette: So, up at the top there are lots of search boxes, right?
Nicolette: In the first box, type relationship OR interrelationship; second box, type language culture gender context.
[Here I break up the instructions into choppy, line-by-line syntax to make perfectly clear exactly what Taylor should type.Using quotation marks in my instructions would cause the patron to use them in the search, which I do not want to happen—yet.]
Taylor: OK. Awesome.
Taylor: It keeps coming up with “no results.”
[“Keeps coming up with ‘no results’” has often been a harbinger of panic in my online patrons. I want to make sure of a few things before I give further search terms because if the field selections are the problem, any further search will not work, and the anxiety level can spike. So we do what we should have done before the search—check to make sure the field selections are not the problem.]
Nicolette: Next to the search boxes are boxes that say what fields you are searching. None of them says “subject,” right?
Taylor: No, it does not.
Nicolette: What happens if you enter impact gender language culture context?
Taylor: That worked; a bunch of different cites come up.
[Even though I have other patrons at the same time, ending the call here is not an option. If they have tons of results and go away and none of them work, they may never come back.]
Nicolette: Do you want to page through some of them to see if you think they will work for your assignment?
Taylor: Yes, I will. The instructor also wants us to cite the article in MLA format. Does that just mean to cite the article at the end of my paper?
Nicolette: Let me give you a website for citations.
Taylor: OK, perfect. Thank you.
Nicolette:https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/08/. See how it gives you examples to model your citations after?
Taylor: It’s not letting me click on the link. Would it still work if I copy and paste it to the top URL of a new page?
Taylor: Oh, wait; yes, it did.
Taylor: Sorry I ask some dumb questions at times.
[Need to nip self-deprecation in the bud here. Taylor is doing great for a first time online search. My Mama Bear instincts flood out.]
Nicolette: Not dumb. This is new to you, and not always intuitive.
[I now use the dreaded like to take us to more of a peer level. And the smiley face.]
Nicolette: I have done, like, 40,000 hours of searching online in the past 12 years, so it is a little easier for me. 😉
Taylor: Ah, I am able to see the examples they give for MLA formatting.
[I am sensing a slight return of confidence now that the examples are easily found. Then what I said hits Taylor.]
Taylor: Oh man, that is a ton of hours. Thank you for that site.
[Let them know that even librarians find some stuff challenging.]
Nicolette: I find this site easier than the actual style manuals, so you might want to bookmark it.
[Helpful hint followed by reassurance again and attempt at a joke.]
Nicolette: It is a ton of hours, and so if you cannot snatch the pebble from my hand just yet, Grasshopper, it is OK—that is what we are here for—to help.
[Suddenly it dawns on me that the patron might well not know this reference. I Google the Beloit College Mindset List for this year: “Students heading into their first year of college this year are mostly 18 and were born in 1998. Among those who have never been alive in their lifetime are Frank Sinatra, Phil Hartman, Matthew Shepard, Sonny Bono, and Flo-Jo.” Kung Fu was on air from 1972 to 1975. Forty-something years off—oops. Taylor thus might not appreciate being called an arthropod. I try to ward off offense and possibly spread a little hippie-dippie cultural literacy joy around.]
Nicolette: (not calling you an insect: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/snatch_the_pebble)
Taylor: Haha; no worries. I didn’t think you were calling me an insect.
[So, I’ve Reassured, Responded, and Restated; now let’s Repeat.]
Nicolette: Do you feel comfortable with those articles and think they will work for your assignment?
Taylor: Yes, this is making sense. Thank you so much. Good night.
Nicolette: Have a good night. Good luck on your assignment. If you run into any snags, feel free to log in again!
[That “grasshopper” thing could have been a mistake, but on the whole, I think Taylor came out of this more confident than s/he came in. Success!]