Library Blog

Reference: What People Think I Do vs. What I Actually Do

Woman at desk with computer and books.

Have you seen that meme/graphic widely shared on the internet which depicts what other people think of your profession as opposed to what you do all day long? This year we will be featuring content on our blog using that format to describe what the RWU Law Librarians do all day long. Today we are talking about reference services.

The stereotype of a reference librarian, or what people think we do all day, is that we sit around reading books. People think librarians are quiet people who love books. While librarians may have gotten into this profession because they love to sit quietly and read, the realities of law librarianship are such that reference librarian work is filled with stressed out people, endless questions, and multi-tasking. There is no sitting around quietly reading books in our day!

Whether you call it reference or research, the basic service our library provides is help to students, faculty, research assistants, teaching assistants, staff, clinicians, externs, interns, and administration. Every weekday from about 8:30 am to about 5:00 pm one of the library staff members who hold both a JD and an MLIS sit at the reference desk or are available online to help our patrons. Some people prefer to stop by and get help in person. Some people prefer to chat using our Ask A Librarian chat service. Some people prefer to call us on the phone. Some people prefer to send us emails. We answer a variety of questions in a variety of ways. 

We get patron questions about technology (like how to redact a document in Adobe), about physical library resources (like how to find a book on franchise law), about library research databases (how do I locate federal legislative history resources in HeinOnline), about legal research citations (how do I Bluebook an NPR story), about study aids (how do I find example property law essay questions), and about researching real world issues (how do I find this case my boss thinks is out there but no one else can find). Beyond just answering questions while sitting at the desk, the reference department works on larger research questions for faculty and administration that may take hours, days, or even weeks. This might be to support faculty scholarship or research legal education innovations the school may be considering. 

Reference librarians also support student events and programming. We work closely with law review, moot court, the Marine Affairs fellows, student leaders, and student groups in a variety of ways. We plan training sessions, support scholarship, and help support the academic and social life of our community where possible.

Finally, members of the reference staff are also active in outreach activities. We host giveaways, fun events, holiday celebrations, and we help keep the library active on social media. (Check out our blog and FB page and Insta page and Twitter!).

Overall, librarians who work in the reference department are busy! We might be sitting around reading a book...but it is probably a book we are reading to support faculty research while waiting for our computers to update.

Library Blog