Reference is not something which can be contained within a building … and never was. Reference librarians have, or should have, a well-worn Rolodex (or data file) of contacts – people and institutions – that can get the answers that people want.
This is still true today despite the ubiquity of web pages. When you are confronting a tough problem or a confused person you need the name of someone who can interpret the need.
Unfortunately, reference as “practiced by professionals” still relies upon the individual sitting at a reference desk and his or her ability to scrounge up an answer. The Rolodex may be there, of course, but we need more.
We need a Rolodex (a Memex?) of specialized reference librarians.
Doing this is not easy for a number of cultural reasons and those organizations which could most easily create such a thing (such as library systems) are generally too stressed by financial issues to consider doing it.
But it can be done. The tech to create the reference categories is easy enough.
Which, I suppose, means that I’d best try to do it where I am and see if the notion can spread.
By the way, I also write a weekly newspaper column that has to have a higher priority than this blog. I may, from time-to-time, merely point to it in lieu of writing here.
Here’s my latest in our local version of the TribLocal: http://www.triblocal.com/Lake_Villa/List_View/view.html?type=stories&action=detail&sub_id=170691