Indiana University
Mary Strow

“We do a lot of sleuthing,” says Head of Reference Mary Strow of the quest for answers. “Sometimes the route is very circuitous.”

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A Centennial Year

By answering questions and offering instruction for the university community and the state of Indiana,  librarians help connect people with the information they need

Research librarians don’t know it all, but they almost always know how to find it. And for 100 years, the expertise of IU librarians has helped everyone from undergrads worried about their first big project to faculty who have spent a lifetime digging deep.

A lot has changed in the past century, of course. Mary Dunham, IU's first reference librarian hired in 1908, could not have imagined how Mary Strow, head of reference, would connect current researchers with the information they need. The Internet provides a means to find some types of information lightning fast. She and other memebers of the reference staff respond to inquiries from e-mail and cell phones, and her department recently highlighted Meebo, an instant messaging network, that has increased the flow of online questions. Librarians help students and faculty filter the overwhelming amounts of information that Internet search engines can provide and help them tap into the so-called "invisible" or "deep" web, which includes the valuable information in subject-specific databases and directories that librarians purchase and manage.

What hasn't changed since 1908 is a steadfast commitment to service. Whether by searching the Internet or poring through shelves of books, reference librarians share a keen desire to find the answer, or at the very least, to guide the researcher in the right direction. “My philosophy, and the philosophy of everybody here,” says Mary Strow, head of reference, “is that researcher will come away with something. They’ll come away with the name of a person to contact or database to search or a book to find. We always give them something to go on.”

“The first interaction,” says Strow, “ is the start of a dialogue.” Lou Malcomb, head of Government Information, Microforms and Statistical Services, agrees.“In the reference interview you learn the scope of what the person is researching, so you  go beyond the initial question to the multiple things they may be interesting in knowing," Malcomb says. "A good reference librarian will make people aware of other opportunities to expand or enhance their research.”