Last spring I wrote about the ethics of fake reference in a series of posts. About a year ago, a student in a library school course at an unnamed library school at a large state university in New Jersey popped up during my Sunday night chat reference shift lying to me and asking me fake questions.
Skip to one year later, almost to the day. I’m still doing Sunday night chat reference shifts. Reference students at the large unnamed library school in New Jersey are still lying to me. Apparently they didn’t read my posts from last year, so if you know the professor handing out this particular assignment — go lie to reference librarians at private universities and ask them fake questions — please pass this post on to them.
My first question is, what exactly do you think the students are supposed to learn from this? I really can’t figure out what it is. It can’t be how librarians at my institution (a private university, by the way) respond to genuine questions by our clientele or to honest researchers, because that’s not what happens when these students encounter me. Are they supposed to find out what happens when duplicitous library school students lie to experienced reference librarians and try to deceive them? If so, then keep up the good work, because that’s what the students learn when they get me on the line.
A friend of mine currently teaching reference says I don’t like to be “secretly shopped.” That’s not the problem. If the shopping was secret, it might be okay. The problem is, I can tell from the very moment the first question is asked what is going on. (I’d detail how I can tell, but that would just give the deceivers more ammunition. Experienced reference librarians can probably figure it out.) From the very first question tonight, I knew. It was obviously a fake question, and, frankly, a particularly stupid and improbable one. I answered politely, then referred the query to the patron’s own librarians. I was trying to be kind. Once upon a time I was a library school student myself, though a considerably more honest one.
The lies continued. The person claimed to be a student at a particular college. Uh huh. Fine. I refrained from saying, “you really have no scruples whatsoever, do you?” Instead I merely asked, “you’re in a library school reference course, aren’t you?” Finally, the person admitted the truth, but then had the further gall to say, “I just wanted to know what librarians would recommend for X topic.” Uh huh. Sure. If that’s all you’d wanted to know, you could have asked.
I’m not sure why I get so miffed about this, but I do. It seems to me a violation of professional ethics. Do the teachers of reference not see it this way? Am I not a professional with a job to do? Is my time not valuable? Do I deserve to be lied to by duplicitous students? As many around the country can attest, if I’m contacted directly, I’m more than happy to help students. Why lie to me?
I’m not sure what I can do but write about it here. Someday perhaps I’ll try to teach reference myself, to show how it can be done without asking students to lie to busy librarians.
Until then, I offer some advice to duplicitous library school students at the unnamed library school. Please don’t pester the chat service at my library. Your own library has a chat service. Bother those librarians. They are very good, and I’m sure they will resent your lies as well, but then again they work for your institution. If you absolutely have to chat up my institution. try telling the truth. It will get you further. You might not realize this, but the librarians where I work are pretty smart and very experienced. We do this for a living, and we can tell when you’re lying to us.