Reference as Strategy Game: We’re Here to Help

by Bret Christensen

It's a back and forth kind of thing

Do you like playing games? I have some friends who are really into strategy games, at which I am horrible. I get creamed every time because these games require that you play off everyone else and adjust your strategy to what they’re doing. Too many variables. It’s like chess on steroids.

Me? I like playing board games like Sorry, Life, or Candy Land. Yeah, Candy Land! Games that you play for the sheer joy of playing. Games that I can play with my kids and games that I can actually win. OK, most times my kids beat me, but that’s the idea, right? Sometimes you win, sometimes they win, and everyone has fun.

Working in public services, it sometimes feels like I’m playing a strategy game with other people. While the objective is always to get to the answer they are seeking, most times people neglect to tell you key details that can actually help you help them. It’s like playing ping pong. You serve up the ball, they hit it back, you hit, they hit, back and forth until you get to a point where they either tell you what you need to know to help them or the ball drops and they leave frustrated and everyone loses.

For example, the other day I had a young lady come into the law library. The young lady was dealing with a number of issues, and I started the game by asking, “How can I help you?” The young lady responded by telling me that she wanted information on appeals; that she lost her case and wanted to appeal it. I ventured, “Um, what kind of appeal? Civil or criminal? “Just appeals,” she replied, and I led her over to our section dealing with how to file a civil appeal.

Fifteen minutes later, the young lady came back and told me a little more of her story. Seems she has a dog that barks – a lot. So much, in fact, that her neighbor has started to complain. So I pointed her toward Every Dog’s Legal Guide: a must-have book for your owner and Neighbor Law: fences, trees, boundaries & noise (both by Nolo Press).

Ten minutes later, the young lady came back and told me a little more. Seems that she lives in an apartment. The dog is not her dog, but she really likes the dog. Seems that the neighbor that is complaining is actually the landlady, and the landlady is threatening to evict the young lady if the dog doesn’t stop barking.

In the strategy game, the ball has just entered my court. I finally have enough information to help. I suggest that the young lady read up on landlord tenant law. I suggested California Eviction Defense Manual (CEB) or Powell on Real Property (Lexis).

Twenty minutes later, the young lady came back and told me a little more.  Seems that while the barking dog is bothersome, the landlord isn’t so mad with the dog as the landlady is bothered with the drug usage in the apartment. So, landlady is not calling animal control on the dog, but she is calling the police about drug use in the apartment.

So, why is the dog barking? We’ll get to that in a moment. In the mean-time, the ball is back in my court, and I suggest that the young lady take a look at the best criminal law resource for California, California Criminal Law: procedure and practice (CEB). I also suggested:

…and off the young lady goes.

Forty-five minutes later, the young lady is back and said that while those were really great resources, maybe she needs to tell me that:

  1. The dog is actually barking at the multitude of guys she brings back to the apartment every night, and
  2. The landlady isn’t actually angry with the dog since the dog belongs to the landlady

And the information keeps on coming. Thing is, no one has to tell me anything – it’s just the more they say, the better I can help. So, with the last bit of information, I suggested that the young lady take a look at Sex Crimes: California Law and Procedure (TR) and Appeals and Writs in Criminal Cases (CEB) and suggested she also take a look at the Sage Project, Inc (to deal with the multitude of guys parading to and from her apartment) because she’s going to need all the help she can get.

This is just one example of more facts coming to light during an ongoing reference interaction. While some patrons may be reluctant to tell you the relevant facts that allow you to provide the best assistance, often they will loosen up and start to tell you what you need to know to strategize and suggest pertinent resources.

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About mrlibrarian7

I am a law Librarian. No, I don't have thick, black glasses, a bun in my hair or a pointy nose - but I do provide killer legal reference to anyone who walks, rides, crawls, or otherwise gets through the front doors.
This entry was posted in Issues in Law Librarianship, Legal Research, Patron Services and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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