Librarians Need to READ© – Author’s Table of Contents

Editor’s note: This is a follow-up to the June 2011 Spectrum article, “Librarians Need to READ©.”  What follows is author Jacqueline Cantwell’s initial table of contents for a manual for librarians assisting SRLs.


  • Welcome librarian and let her know that she is entering a tradition. List current and past librarians’ involvements in local associations.
  • Write how daily work contributes to the larger goal of the library. 
    • Use insight from Sally Engle Merry’s study, Getting Justice and Getting Even: Legal Consciousness Among Working-Class Americans, shows how self-represented litigants (SRLs) want a fairer life and see the courts as a way to achieve that.
    • Provide contacts within court system, especially self-help centers.
    • History of collection—why things got cut, policy decisions for various areas. Annotate core items of collection by drawing upon reference databases like notes.
    • Use data collected from reference database to give a percentage of questions. For instance, it would be interesting to know how many questions are requests for commercial forms.
    • Problem here: With the shift to online, many patrons skip the librarian and fruitlessly wander online databases. Our contract negotiations with Lexis may have to include reports on types of questions. I have asked for this information from Lexis and was told that searches were confidential. I need that data; and, as I remember from my union days, everything can be negotiated.

Manual—Standards and Checklists

  • RUSA (Reference and User Services Association of the American Library Association) Guidelines
  • READ© Scale. Use the READ© scale and the reference database to evaluate the knowledge required to answer a question and appropriate levels of customer service
  • Teresa Welsh’s intern evaluation sheet for the University of Southern Mississippi Library and Information Science practicum program is wonderful. She thought through what makes an excellent librarian. This form could be applied to staff evaluation, not just interns. University of Michigan checklist for job interviews—a good way to monitor one’s work and career path before that job interview.
  • Checklists from Judicial Opinion Writing Manual
  • Research tables from Callister’s “Time to Blossom”
  • Now is there a way to incorporate these checklists into a prompt for reference encounters. Virtual and telephone staff have checklists. Can our terminal real estate include a prompt pop-up?

Manual—Interview Training

The training skits and examples I wanted can be found on YouTube and the web. Coordinating a training program with the checklists above and web-based programs would be enough to start an in-house program.

  • is a great resource. I need to go through its YouTube videos and incorporate its insights into my daily work. I really enjoyed “When Bad Things Happen to Good Librarians”
  • YouTube has an amazing number of videos for staff training that provide hints on how to handle difficult situations. Some are hilarious. Try “The Professional Librarian.” The Los Angeles Law Library has a nice video that is only six minutes, but would be a good start for a staff training session. Unfortunately, I have not found any videos of reference problems with SRLs.
  • Infopeople and Ohio Library are good sources for staff training. Infopeople has a good list of open-ended and neutral questions.
  • Review the glossary to an interview textbook after watching videos. Our reference desk situations are not unique. We can take advantage of theory to gain perspective on our work.
  • Ask a colleague unknown to library users to observe the library and how staff act. 


Jacqueline Cantwell ( is senior law librarian at the Brooklyn Supreme Court Library in New York.

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June 2011

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