Liz Crain and Pauline Theriault have a question and answer conversation about Pauline’s work as a librarian for Multnomah County Library. The interview has been edited for brevity.
Pauline Theriault: Years ago we had lines of people at the reference desk requesting help. Now, we have the internet and Google and people email us their questions. I think people don’t realize that there's a level of in-depth research that people can access through the library. They think they have to research everything on their own now. The library staff can help people find a lot of unique, in-depth, and elusive information.
Liz: What are the bulk of requests that people are coming to the Central Library for?
PT: It runs the spectrum, from finding information to help start a business to writing a book proposal and needing to know how many books sold on a particular topic. We get a lot of history questions; genealogy is really popular. People ask for information about marriages and divorces. Whatever you can imagine. You know, somebody is making costumes for their kid's play and they need some information on how to make something that looks sort of historical out of towels.
Liz: In your perfect world, what would you like to see this aspect of library research assistance look like?
Pauline: I always think it's great when more people are using this aspect of the library. I've always been interested in the thrill of finding information. It's nice when people come in and ask us questions because we can talk to them face to face and get immediate feedback. Reference services is a big part of what we do, but it's probably less than it used to be because of the changing nature of the information world. Either way is great. It's nice to be able to talk to someone and ask questions and confirm if you're headed in the right direction. It's much harder to do that in email. But I'd rather have people email us than not ask at all.
Liz: What's some advice for patrons when they are requesting research help?
Pauline: Sometimes people aren't sure what they're looking for until they start having a conversation with somebody. They're really not sure if something exists, so they ask for something else. People are often surprised that various forms of information even exist. Sometimes we might not be able to find something in the exact format that someone wants but we can provide an alternative that may suit their needs perfectly.
Liz: Any other advice you want to give people on navigating public library research avenues?
Pauline: Having that library card is such a valuable thing. It's probably the best card in someone's wallet in terms of access to information and books. You can check things out. There are all of these databases that you would never be able to access yourself for free, like full-text magazines. We have fiction, ebooks, streaming movies, streaming music. We have a database where you can learn a foreign language. Just plug in your library card.
Liz: Is there anything you'd like to advise patrons not to do when querying research requests?
Pauline: Don’t be in a hurry. Also, if you don't get the right answer or if it isn't what you're looking for, ask for clarification or explain yourself. It's a conversation.
Liz: What is your job title now?
Pauline: I'm a librarian in Materials Selection. I order adult non-fiction books, DVDs, sheet music, and music CDs.