The fact that reference is a function performed in a single library does not mean that it is of the library … anymore than, say, the scholarship and research devoted to a critically acclaimed history book researched on three continents. The reference librarian also needs to go where the information is.
Due to the problems of real-time access to information, this was indeed at one time (usually) the library, though those of us who’ve worked in research or corporate libraries also know how to work a phone if necessary. Those of us who cared about quality reference services in public libraries also knew how to use a phone and generally had a torn and tattered Rolodex as well.
This all changed with the advent of online information. First came the “for a fee” databases such as those provided by Lockheed’s DIALOG system in the 70s and 80s. Next (of course) came the Internet.
If the reference librarian can be said to have a “home” today, it’s the Internet. We use books, we use subscription databases, we use telephones … but when it comes to having an idea as to what is happening in the great wide world there is nothing that can compare to the breadth and power of the Internet.
Books give us depth; the Internet gives us breadth.