What’s Your Reference Question?

February 10, 2011 at 3:03 pm

In the world of public libraries, college libraries, and school libraries, it is assumed that the library is a primary gateway to information.  What is often forgotten (even by the libraries) is that the private, special/corporate library is often seen the same way.

A former Mayo Medical School/Mayo Graduate School student contacted the Library as a result of discovering the last issue of Liblog in a web search, and requested documentation of his promotion at Mayo Clinic from instructor to assistant professor.  In a number of cross country and international moves, his copy of the documentation had vanished.  At the time of promotion the information would have been published in an internal news publication This Week at Mayo Clinic — a publication not available externally.  Other internal location possibilities  also existed:  Academic Appointments and Promotions Committee files, and Mayo Clinic Historical Archives.

The library is often the most accessible starting point for questions external to the institution.  Some publications are not widely available, if available at all.  This Week at Mayo Clinic is only one such publication.  The Clinical Bulletin was an internal news sheet published daily at Mayo Clinic from 1921 through the 1950s.  It had short descriptions of research findings, as well as meeting attendance.  One of the first descriptions of the ketogenic diet by R. Russell Wilder appeared in 1922 — just one paragraph.  It has been requested frequently over the years, but first you had to know it existed and where it could be found.

These are examples of what one of my colleagues referred to years ago as “tribal knowledge”.  As the environment becomes more complicated, the public services staff in the Mayo Clinic Libraries receive more questions from outside, often well beyond “library-related”.   The questions are aimed at the library as the most visible face of the institution dealing in information, but also generally knowledgeable about the entire institution.  We now have a shared resource to help answer such questions, with some of preferred referrals for some questions, such as inquiries from news organizations, or requests for patient information, or simply questions about Mayo Clinic.

Oh, and one of the advantages of having been a long term employee; I remembered the student quite well.  He had spent many hours in my office when only the Library’s Reference work group could do MEDLINE searches.  We didn’t find exactly what he hoped to find, but we had a very nice email reminiscence.

Patricia J. “Pat” Erwin
Reference Librarian
Plummer Library

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