Friday, March 09, 2007

Should we open a Socratic Reference Desk and other Questions

Last week a co-worker and I joked about setting up a Socratic Reference Desk where the librarian seated would only respond with questions.

Then this week I had a fabulous coffee break (more productive, enjoyable and inspiring than a year's worth of meetings) with a couple of other co-workers in which the topic of questions came up again while we were thinking of possible library displays.

Over coffee, I brought up The World Question Center. This year they asked 160 scientists and 'public intellectuals' (for lack of better phrase) this question: "What are optimistic about? Why?"

The very first question the center put forward in 1998 was, What questions are you asking yourself? That seems to be the starting point of the website that Alec introduced us to: The Dropping Knowledge site.

I've only just started browsing their dropping knowledge 'commercials'. I first started with Laurie Anderson, since she is a hero of mine, and what I found endearing is that she did what so many professors do: strongly recommend a book but give a slightly wrong author name and a slightly wrong book title. (BTW, she means this book)

As librarians, we are consumed with answers, but as teachers, we should be consumed with questions. One way of describing Information Literacy is the encouragement of having questions in mind while searching and re-searching. (Would that make, 'critical thinking is having questions in mind while reading?')

As much as we were kidding around when we were talking about the Socratic Method Reference Desk, I think we may have been on to something there.

There is a deep human need in times of trouble to consult someone with answers. I don't think its a coincidence that the sources where humanity has referred to in the past (and in the present)- tarot cards, the i ching, and the oracle - all answer us in vague poetry.

When I was in library school one of my friends had a tarot deck. She didn't believe that the deck possessed any particular magic or personal energy claptrap. To her, the magic was in its randomness and how it encouraged the her to consider her situation in a new light.

And with that I have a new project. To create desk of oblique strategies for researchers. Should they all be in the form of a question? I drew a card and it said, " Lost in useless territory".

1 comment:

Lisa said...

sign above a public service desk in 1960's mini-series "the prisoner"

"questions are a burden to others. answers, a prison for oneself.