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Points of Reference

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This is the archive of the blog Points of Reference. From 2009-2012 a team of library reference experts talked about resources (books, databases, Web sites, e-books, and more) and publishing trends.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012 8:25 am
Teaching vs. fishing
Posted by: Lindsay Harmon

This recent post by Jessica Olin of Letters to a Young Librarian has got me reflecting on the balance between "teaching our patrons to fish" and just answering their questions. Olin writes that her stance, like that of many librarians, is to walk her patrons (college students) through the process of finding the answer to their questions. Her conundrum: Is this good customer service?

As a fellow academic librarian, I also tend toward Olin's philosophy of "making them work for it," and I followed it in my previous jobs at public libraries as well. But I do think that she poses an interesting question when she writes, "How would I react if my mechanic said some version of, 'I know what's causing that grinding noise when you turn left on hot days, but let's see if you can figure it out for yourself'?"

In an era where many libraries and librarians are being forced to prove their relevance to their patrons and their communities, where is the balance between teaching and fishing? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

One Response to “Teaching vs. fishing”
  1. M. Ashley Says:

    This is a fascinating topic to ponder. The analogy of a mechanic was perfect. Still, we don't question the educators methods in teaching. An English teacher isn't expected to do the work for the student. Perhaps librarians should be likened more to educators than to mechanics. Or, maybe you're on to something. Maybe we actually *can* learn to fix our own cars. There should always be such opportunities for teaching/learning in this world.

    At any rate, thank you for encouraging me to contemplate out loud.


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