Reflecting on all my jobs - from metadata (2006) to museum assistance (2002-2006), from taxonomies (2007-2009) to teaching assistance (2005-2007) - I find that all were enjoyable in one their own ways. Of all of them, I was most enthusiastic in my job as a TA. Perhaps some days I was a little too enthusiastic, as I let my Panda Express food grow cold while jumping from table to table in the 4th floor lounge, trying to help everyone pull their final assignments together. Some problematic SQL data definitions here, a misaligned header image over there. I've been analyzing that work in order to determine the components that I want to find in a future job. I want to compare all this to what I understand reference work to be, so let me start there.
I can't say that I have much experience in reference. I took a course in graduate school and was trained at the reference desk as part of a summer internship in 2006. In the sample reference scenarios I had, a person would come to me with some sort of information need. The first task was to determine what they needed. That could involve discussing the project or question or desire - whatever it was that had caused the need. Once I knew what was needed, I had to consider the worlds of knowledge that existed (books, online journals, web sites, bibliographies, databases, etc) and select the ones that might contain the needed information. Following this, I had to apply tools and techniques to search through these resources. Finally, the search would yield the information or a source that contained the information that would meet the user need. This resource or citation would then be delivered to the person so they could access the information and satisfy their need.
So I compared this with a typical experience as the IT course TA:
A student came to me with a webpage that was malfunctioning in some bizarre way. We sat down together and I asked her to open up the source code. Since I know a fair amount of HTML/CSS, I usually understood the codes that my fellow students were using. Based on my experience and knowledge, I scanned through the file to find the code that was not properly written or integrated. When I found it, I then tried to determine why it was wrong and how it could be fixed. Once I knew, I prompted the student to describe to me what they had done and why they had done it that way. Often, the students had misunderstood the properties and functions of the various codes. As I slowly, step by step, explained the functions of the codes and how they work together, the student understood her previous misconception and corrected the problem. Then we saved the source code and hit refresh. A properly formatted page would then appear!
In a way, I was playing three different roles as the TA: that of the reference librarian, the information resources, and the information processing activity. I had to determine what was needed, present the information that would meet the need, and then help the student to understand that information. It was the last part that I enjoyed most of all. It required me to envision the wide world of knowledge that I had gained through my studies and experiences, determine how much of it the student could see themselves, and then reveal the unknown or foggy areas to them in a way that opened up that world of knowledge for them to master for themselves. I had to simultaneously see it all and explain one element at a time. The broad realm and the tiniest details had to come into harmony with one another at just the right time for them to click into place.
From what I know (and that is very limited), it seems that reference librarians focus more on perfecting the other parts of the learning/teaching process. They must learn about the worlds of knowledge that exist and are trained in the tools that allow them to navigate from universe to universe. They do not always have clear HTML codes before them to help them to see the person's current state of understanding or knowledge. Often, the information need is unclear, challenging, and complex. The reference librarian must have a keen and wise sensitivity to determine what information is needed. They must also have a clear mastery of the query languages that will speak to the information systems and retrieve information matched to fit the piece missing in the jigsaw puzzle. It is only through an understanding of both person and information that they can accomplish their goal.
I believe that all of these activities are important, and I don't mean to uplift any above the other in importance or value. But I must admit, that I do not have a heart for searching and puzzle solving like I do for clearly revealing what has already been found to those who remain unsure or unaware. That's why I have been considering the possibility that I would be happier in a slightly different role.
Like I said in a post back in May 10, 2007:
I think I have been given the heart to shape the image of the mind.
Information arrangement, art arrangement, word arrangement, idea arrangement - all like flower arrangement. An art of shifting, of reordering, of touching and beautifying.