what’s in a name?

I wrote this post way back in September, but I guess I never finished it. Since I’m going to write some more on this topic, I’m going to go ahead and publish this now. Here is what I wrote then:

When I started to write my post on our new reference reading room, I immediately got sidetracked by the name of the room. So, I decided to move that whole discussion to a separate post.

So, what’s in a name? Technically, it’s just called the reading room (as the sign on the picture below indicates), but since our reference collections are in there and that’s where our reference desk is, I think it should be called the reference reading room. I might just be partial to that term, though, because, when I worked in the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress, the area where the librarians provided reference is called the reference reading room.

Seriously, though, what are the implications of calling it the reading room vs. the reference reading room? I think that part of the reason I would rather call it the reference reading room is because reference is part of what I do, so giving it that name would give credence to what I do. However, I’m not that vain to think that it should be called that just so I’d feel good about what I do. I happen to think that most students/researchers could use some assistance, whether they realize it or not, and it’s good to remind them that that’s what reference means. However, I’m not tied to the use of the term reference–it could just as well be the word research; I just think that there should be a notion of active research in the name.

I know that this space is intended to be a quiet space in contrast to what is expected to be the more noisy collaborative spaces in the research commons. However, calling it a reading room implies that it’s just a place to read. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with reading rooms or study areas. However, if you are going to put the reference desk in there, then it’s not going to be totally quiet. And, really, if we’re going to be spending money on them, then those reference books shouldn’t just be for decoration. So, which one is it? Is it a reading room, or is it a reference room?

Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, says:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

However, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables counters:

I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose would be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.

So, which one is it? I guess we’ll see when it opens…

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2 comments

  1. Aloha Jade, When I first arrived on the scene at the Yolo County Archives as the Interim Archivist I heard everyone call the space in which the patrons research, request records, and document their search as the “Reading Room.” I was not comfortable with what everyone was calling it because in all my time spent in Archives back in Hawaii I always called it the “Reference Room”, and heard other library professional do the same. When I became the full-time Archivist in March of this year for the Yolo County Archives I began calling this aforementioned room the “Reference Reading Room.” Not everyone has caught on to the new name, but its slowly growing on many of them. Previous to the retirement of a founding member of the Archives, Mrs. Shipley Walters and I would have discussions about why I call it by what I call it and why she calls it by what she calls it. Follow so far? Yes, I am sure you do! Well, I figure that a lot happens in this particular room not just reading like you stated above in your blog. We conduct reference services, research, and handle all circulation duties, yes even in an archives as we are a small and very unique repository. Now our team is keeping with the new direction of our Archives and services and for the most part we continue to implement the new idea and sound of the phrase “Reference Reading Room.”
    Thank you Jade for the wonderful discussion on the topic of “Whats in a Name” as I truly found this blog most valuable to where I am at in my thinking about this particular topic.

    1. Thanks for your input, Analu. I think it would make it simpler if the sign was changed to reference reading room, so that people do not think it is just a reading room. As it is now, I think people are afraid to approach us — they feel like they have to whisper when they have a question. And we, the reference staff, certainly get shushed or looks from the patrons. So, the area by the door/reference desk is supposed to be a collaborative zone, while the areas further back are quiet zones. But users don’t know this, of course, without any kind of signage indicating that this is the case.

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