Asking Anonymously and Library Knowledge Expectations

One of the new responsibilities that I’ve undertook this semester is monitoring our library’s online chat reference service as an on-call librarian once a week. When talking with some friends, who also have a chat reference hour every week, we discussed the differences between being a user of the chat service and being a service provider; and the different situations in which we’ve used the chat service previously. I admitted to my friends that, when I’ve asked questions via chat in the past, I tended to do so anonymously if it felt like something I should know about already.

That is, I’m a library science student who is also a library staff member, thanks to my fellowship. I felt like I would be embarrassed to ask a question and be recognized by a colleague, when the answer might be seemingly obvious to a librarian who is acutely familiar with all the aspects of the library. Along a similar vein, during my first semester of my master’s program, I was hesitant to speak up in class because I knew I didn’t have the same library experience as some of my peers and I didn’t want to appear ignorant. Similarly, I felt embarrassed about my lack of mastery of search skills and things like Boolean operators because it felt like something that any librarian should know how to do; and something that my professors may expect me to already have some knowledge on.

But, I had to constantly remind myself that I was coming to a library science program as a result of a career switch. Yes, some of my classmates have been working in and around libraries for years and will have more immediate expertise, but plenty of them are straight out of undergrad or, like me, returning to school to pursue a new field. I was speaking to a faculty member about the search skills of first-year library students recently, and I ended up voicing my experiences, explaining to the faculty member my hesitation and embarrassment about not knowing these sorts of skills at the beginning of my degree. Library science students are humans, and they won’t know something unless they’re taught or discover it for themselves. I’m still learning things about the library at my own institution! Apparently, they offer statistical consulting for researchers, who knew! I sure didn’t until about a month ago.

All this to say, if you are someone who came to library school right out of undergrad, or as a career shift, or anything else where you may not have as much on-the-job experience as some of your more seasoned peers, it’s okay to not know some things about libraries, or your specific library, towards the beginning of your program. You shouldn’t be expected to know something if you haven’t experienced it or you haven’t been taught it. Ask questions if you aren’t sure about something and, while there’s no shame in asking anonymously, there’s also no shame in not knowing something about the library right away.

Jane Behre is a second-year MLIS student at the University of Maryland. At UMD, she is the coordinator for the First Year Book Program and a Research & Teaching Fellow. Her academic and professional interests include information literacy instruction and health literacy.

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

Categories: advice, Honesty

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1 reply

  1. I teach in an LIS program and often use “Ask-a-Librarian” and I use my name which many might know since I’ve taught a long time. I’m always glad to learn from people on the front lines. Also so many different access levels and licenses I sometime am using an outdated approach. No one has (it seemed to me) given me a vibe that I should know all the answers. Great post.


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