Reference: a Beacon in the Darkness of Answer Sites (Thing 34)

I’ve been too busy exploring all of the Things to actually blog about them, so expect a slew of Things posts in the next couple of days. While I will not kid myself into thinking that I will finish them all by impending deadline, I will share what I have. So, I continue with Thing 34, Online Answer Sites.

Allow Me to Digress

Reference is not going away. If anything, good reference – both resources and recommendations – is more critical in today’s state of information-overload than it was in yesteryears. The format of reference, however, is transitioning to the digital realm in order to adapt to our increasingly wired (or wireless as it were) society. Being able to access more resources online means being able to access more information (the internet doesn’t require weeding to fit new information) more often (the internet never closes…unless you depend on your local coffee shop’s free wifi) by more people (digital information is more accessible to those with disabilities, such as those who are homebound or have visual impairments). Index and search technologies also make it possible to find needed information quicker, and perhaps with more precision.

In-person reference consultations and resources do still serve a purpose. In my job as a tech guru (not my official title, but more accurate) I prefer to help staff in person because not only do the interrogations conversations better clarify an issue (“my internet is not working” could mean anything from IE quits suddenly to the online gradebook is really slow, depending on the staff member), but I can also read people’s expressions and gather whether or not they really understand what I am saying. Based on the articles in Thing 34, I bet a lot of reference librarians would agree with this sentiment. As for the resources themselves, while I love having digital information available as quickly as my fingers can type a query, I will often reference books instead of online texts (especially when learning new programming languages, ironically) because they are often more comprehensive and don’t require electricity to operate (finding an open outlet at the beach is a bit difficult).

Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program

I never go to answers web sites when I have a question, though I do occasionally land on them via a search engine. On the rare occasion I have found useful information on an answer site, if only confirmation that others have experienced a similar issue.

Overall, I find answer sites to be too general and rather useless; replies are rarely accompanied by additional sources, if the answer the question at all. I have also never answered questions on such sites, as I have found most questions could be answered by Let Me Google That For You (or my favorite, Just Fucking Google It).

Would I recommend any answer websites to the staff or students at my school. Nope. I have yet to find an answer site I like.

(Please excuse the of exorbitant amount of parentheticalness [totally a word…according to the internet]; perhaps next time I will use footnotes instead.)

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