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In my new position at the public library, I’ve been learning my way around the print reference collection. Let me say this. If a library is a magical place, the reference collection is the source of the power. In my ignorance, I had never ventured behind the reference desk during my initial year at my branch. After spending a mere half hour wandering through the shelves, I realized the error of my ways.

I have been spending my initial training days studying the print reference collection because it is an integral part of our library. Even if most of the searching and problem solving that reference librarians and information services specialists do now is done online, knowing our way around the physical reference section is critical.

Even if it’s only a matter of being able to search for information in the event that the power goes out or the internet is down, I know where I can go to find necessary info for my patrons or for myself. There’s something incredibly satisfying about being able to go to a shelf, pull a book, and open it to the page you need for the data you are trying to find.

A part of me really misses the old card catalogs of my youth. That’s right, folks, I grew up learning the Dewey Decimal system so that I could find a 3×5 card with a book’s call number on it, match the number on the card to a book on the shelf, and take that book to the librarian to check out. Now I understand and fully accept that technological advancements have made it so that a card catalog is now found in a museum rather than a library, but I am still proud that I know how to use it. (I file that accomplishment along with my knowledge of 8-track tapes, rotary phones, and manual transmissions.)

I’ve found all manner of wonderful tools to put to use, both for myself and for others. Here’s a few of them.


I am very pleased to have found copies of books like these on the shelves. I foresee a great deal of free time being spent browsing through the reference collection now, and I am happy to say that research for future projects is going to be a lot more fun than I ever would have guessed.


  1. I am also proud to say I learned how to use the card catalog when I was young, along with the rotary phone (my grandpa’s house still has one in the kitchen). I suck at driving manual, but I can operate a record player. At any rate, I also almost went to work at the library for a while, and while ours is small and rather limited, I still love just browsing the shelves and seeing what turns up. I envy you your knowledge of the library’s power source. I will also be looking up the books you show, particularly that dictionary of literary characters. Thanks!

    • There’s some pretty amazing stuff hiding in the reference collection. I knew that it would be beneficial to me with my ongoing research, but I had no idea that I would find some of those titles in there.

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  1. […] of Phrase and Fable. This meant that I had to leave my desk at work and journey downstairs to the print reference collection to track down a copy. Ours is a few years out of date, but I’m planning to purchase a more […]

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