After graduating from UCLA, I went to Library School at UC Berkeley known then as “Danton’s Inferno,” for J. Perian Danton who was the head of the Library School at that time.
I’ve worked at the Berkeley Public Library for around 50 years with the exception of two years abroad with the Army Library Service in Germany and France. I missed reference work since the few reference questions dealt mainly with how to avoid court martial.
The Berkeley Public Library was a much smaller operation when I first started in the Reference Department at Central—the building was smaller and the staff was smaller. Administration was composed only of the library director and her secretary. The reference staff was four librarians. The library hours were 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and we worked alone in the Reference Room from 6 to 9 p.m. It was very hard on the feet and involved carrying piles of books from “the cage,” a locked area holding the expensive books.
We had the card catalog which listed the library’s holdings instead of an online computer catalog. We used carbon copies for duplication instead of copy machines, and print indexes such as Reader’s Guide to access magazine articles instead of an electronic database.
And, of course, there was no Internet. The Internet has made reference work much easier in many ways and harder in others. It’s a great help especially for quick lookups of factual information, addresses, people etc, and I don’t know what we would do without it anymore. However, information on the Internet is sometimes suspect and we must determine which sites are reliable and accurate.
Some reference questions are generally the same over the years—how to write a resume, a grant proposal, how to get a job, what to do if you’re made redundant, how to fix your car, build a bird house, find a recipe for goulash, a support group for bipolar people, how a certain Senator voted on a particular bill. etc.
Now in addition, there are questions about websites and problems on our public computers which are located adjacent to the reference desk. If we’re busy at the reference desk, it’s difficult to deal with the questions so we’re very grateful to the volunteers who often help out as tech assistants.
What I like about reference work is that you can really make a difference in people’s lives by showing them how to acquire the knowledge to solve both big and small problems, or accomplish something important to them.
Photograph by Phila Rogers
Reference librarian Evelyn Gahtan assists BHS student Ashley Duong.