The joy of reference work is variety, particularly at the national library and archives of a country as large as Canada. On the other hand, the breadth of topics raised by our clients' questions can prove daunting. From the Queen Mother's milliner to the rudder of the Empress of Ireland, it feels at times that librarians need to know everything to satisfy our users. However, there are tricks to rendering research more manageable.
I will propose one such approach, a framework for understanding and categorizing clients and their information needs. As a form of reference shorthand, client profiles can inform our research strategies and steer us towards relevant tools and resources more effectively. For both new librarians and seasoned staff, these profiles may offer an organizational shortcut when tackling unfamiliar subjects. Through my time in reference, I have identified eight profiles that describe many of our clients and their requests: the Scholar, the Neophyte, the Family Detective, the Public Servant, the Quibbler, the Enthusiast, the First Recourse, and the Last Resort.
I will outline these profiles and their general characteristics, illustrated with images from our collection and representative questions from actual clients. I will further highlight how each of the eight profiles can help us understand where and how a patron may have already searched, the sources with which they may already be familiar, and the register and complexity to employ in our answers.
Alexandra Clemence– Acting Senior Reference Librarian, Library and Archives Canada