When I first started Junior High School, my mother would not let me go to Manhattan. If I asked my mom – “the guys want to go to the City, can I go?” – the answer was always no. Growing up in Queens, there was nothing like the excitement of going to Manhattan. Even though I loved the bustle of “The City,” seeing the sites, the amazing buildings, people watching, going to Central Park, buying slices of pizza (then 25 cents!) or a hot dog, there was no way I could get around the edict of my Mom.
One day, while working on a research assignment, the librarian at the Queens Village branch advised me I could find more complete materials on my project if I went to the Queens Borough Central Library, then located on Parsons Boulevard in Jamaica.
When I told my Mom the librarian recommended I complete my work at the Central Library due to the availability of more materials on my topic, she was more than happy to give me bus fare and lunch money for the trip to Jamaica. The Central Library was a bus ride from Queens Village. I could take the Q1 or Q43 bus to get there.
After many productive trips to the Central Library, again one of the reference librarians at Central told me the 42nd Street main Library of New York Public in Manhattan had a wealth of materials on my subject. Aha!
So, when I spoke to my mom, I used the same line – “the librarian said I should go to the 42nd Street Library for more extensive materials to complete my assignment.” Same response – “let me get my purse” – and soon I was on my way to the subway to get to the 42nd street Library!
I then knew if I prompted the librarian by asking, “can I find more materials on this subject if I go to 42nd Street,” the answer was always yes. Of course, as excellent and complete as the Queens Central Library was compared to the branches, 42nd Street had the largest and most wide-ranging research collection. In fact, NYPL is the third largest library in the world, right behind the British Library and the Library of Congress.
I would take the F train to the 5th Avenue/53rd Street station and walk the eleven blocks to the library. Just coming out of the subway and walking the streets of Manhattan was really exciting for me. The sights and sounds, the stores, the whole difference in energy between Queens and “the city” was wonderful. Even to a young person, 5th Avenue was special.
When I first entered the daunting library, after bounding up the steps between the two lion statues, I made passing notice of how magnificent the building and the interior were. I knew I was looking for the Reference Desk, as consulting with the librarians would facilitate my main goal – to finish my work quickly and get out to the streets of the city.
I have thought about how the library reference staff reacted to this 13-year-old, eagerly approaching the desk for help, with a well framed question or focused research goal. I’d like to think they got a kick out of it, but being New Yorker’s with tons of public experience, they probably didn’t even notice.
What I did not recognize at the time was how important the referral from the reference librarians at Queens Central Library was. This referral changed the dynamic, as the NYPL librarians had a reason to take me more seriously. It was even possible, without this referral, they may have sent me back to Queens Central.
Turns out in the world of library reference, a referral is one of the primary methods librarians use to get the best possible information for a patron. This might mean sending the requestor to a different library that had a more comprehensive or relevant collection, as happened here. Or, the librarian might refer you to another resource, such as a professional association, or subject matter specialist, to get the needed information. The primary goal was to provide materials that led to a complete and authoritative answer to a question or sources directly related to the research task at hand.
I became very familiar with using the NYPL collection and helpful reference staff. I found myself going there many times, always using the same trick to obtain permission (and budget) for the day in Manhattan. Next time we will take a deeper look at how I accomplished my research.