Saturday, May 29, 2010

Are references outdated?

This week there was a thread on the LIS students list bemoaning the fact that the public library only gave dates-worked references, and that employees were not allowed to do even that. One said that her library sent automated responses from HR for reference requests. How were they supposed to get responsive references when library policies forbid them?

A former student contacted me this week and asked if he could use me as a reference. I agreed, he's a thoughtful person, a good communicator, and willing to take on responsibilities. But I've never met him - I teach online. What's he like to work with? I can't really say, from experience. Terrific, I envision, but I can't say from experience.

That cuts both ways. I'm teaching in the LIS program again this year, for my fourth year. I've never met my boss, the assistant director, although I did take a class from him - online.

I have worked in two physical libraries. Both of my dept heads retired with the position being eliminated, leaving me to report to the deans, who then retired or moved on and left long vacancies. I could get references, if I knew where they were ;)

I can see the point of references. I've heard of candidates who looked great on paper, but were aggressive or never came out their offices at their previous job. That would be good to know before the face-to-face is set up. But if you're not going to get that insight, what purpose does the reference serve?

In a world of online classes, employers who fear being sued over a reference, and high turnover in the upper ranks, who can give that personal touch? Is it even reasonable to expect it today?

I don't have the answers. But maybe we should all be asking ourselves the question.

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