Defer to whose expertise?

June 4, 2015

Perhaps Michael Heaney should test his claims by becoming a daily reader in the University of Oxford’s libraries himself, although he does confirm that the priority for that physical book collection of world importance is now to go “digital” (“Libraries in fine fettle”, Letters, 28 May).

He will rarely find a subject librarian to speak to. If you have a question for one, you must fill in a form saying who you are and why you want to know. Then email it to reader services. They promise to respond “usually within three working days (Monday to Friday), and often within 24 hours. More complex enquiries may take longer to answer…We will respond…in all cases within 10 full working days of the receipt of an enquiry.” Probably by then the student will have had to hand in that essay and a visiting overseas researcher will have left the country.

The few remaining “academic” librarians are even harder to encounter. I am frequently approached for help by readers because they can find no librarian who can give them a steer. When subject librarians were first introduced I asked, as a test, a straightforward question in my own area of expertise. Later that day, a worried member of staff sought me out and said, “Gill, we’ve had a reader question. Could you answer it?”

G. R. Evans
Oxford

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