THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF REFERENCE1

by

Harry S. Martin III

April 1990

 

I.         Trust not thy Customer nor the certainty of thy Customer's information, but question thy Customer mightily, asking: "Who, what, when, where, and whence cometh thy information?" Until thy Customer divulgeth the Hidden Truth being sought, all is for naught.

II.        Ensure that thy Customer hath familiarity with the Catalog, the Library's Guide, its maps, its periodical indexes, the Index Tables and the sundry wondrous publications found there and upon the Information Desk, for the Librarian helpeth those who first help themselves.

III.       Write thee down the query made of thee, so that thou mayest gaze upon it from time to time whilst thou searcheth. Forget not to record the Name of thy Customer and the Time at which the request was made of thee. Verify also the Accuracy and the Spelling of all Names and all unusual Words.

IV.      Verily shalt thou first pause to reflect upon the query in front of thee, to consider the nature of the information thy Customer seeketh, and to decide upon the tools into which thou wilt first delve. A strategy for research is found not on the run.

V.       Advise thou thy Customer to move not and to remain in a State of Patience, for I say unto you that a tail-gating, over-the-shoulder peering, earth-pawing, heavy breathing Customer is a bane unto the Librarian, yea an abomination even unto the entire World of Information Science.

VI.      Forget thee not to consult with thine own Catalog, by name HOLLIS, nor with its predecessors; Overlook not thine own Reference Shelf, nor the works thereon, gathered with so much lucre and toil, with so much sweat and tears. For I say unto you that a Perfect Memory existeth not.

VII.     Always shalt thou inspect with care the Preface to every Reference Book thou dost use, to learn what mayest be included therein and how it might best be found. Remember the Index to thy Book, for there is the Portal through which thou wilt best find the Treasures hidden between its covers.

VIII.   Thou shalt not overlook the addenda, the supplements, the pocket parts for the works which thou useth, for therein may truly dwell the object of thy seeking.

IX.      Forever and ever, be thou Aware of founts of information Outside of thine own Library, Great though It may be; Nay, forget not even sources which may not be in the form of Printed Books. The World loveth a Local Expert, and Mother Bell hath many listings.

X.       Blessed are the Meek and the Humble, who are not too puffed up with their own importance, who can admit to their limitations, and who possess the Courage to utter unto their Customer, saying: "Truly I must say unto thee that I knoweth not and may not answer thy question. But be of good cheer, for I will refer thee to the Reference Librarian, in whom abideth longer Experience."   Eternally damned be they who check not with the Reference Librarian but who say instead unto the Customer, "Nay, we have it not." For I say unto you, the Truth shall be Found.


[1]    With apologies to Roberta J. Gardner and Linda Zelevansky, The Ten Commandments for Library Customers, Special Libraries, July 1975, p. 326.


HLS Home Harvard University Martin Home

Harvard Law School, 1563 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138
Copyright 2001 The President and Fellows of Harvard College. Reporting Copyright Infringement
Last modified: Friday, January 18, 2002 03:20 PM by Terry Martin.