Asking about the Ask Desk

Lydia Good

Contributing Writer

lydiab5@goshen.edu

The Ask Desk holds much the same mystical role on GC campus as Westlawn Dining Hall, in that no one knows what or where it is. When people ask where I work, and I reply, “The Ask Desk,” they nod vaguely and respond, “Oh yeah…” after which, I (taking pity on them) follow up with, “It’s in the library.”

Despite being one of the more well-known hubs of the GC campus, I believe that a great portion of the student population is not aware of 90% of the functions of the Good Library. To many, the solitary figure behind the circulation desk is the entire representation of the staff at the library. Some students may have had perhaps a vague sighting of the five or so regular librarians, who do nothing of the things most students associate with librarians (courtesy of the public library system), such as shelve books or sit behind the front desk.

The Ask Desk is yet another rarely recognized library job split between regular, highly trained and qualified full time librarians, and some nighttime/weekend student interns. Two specifically, for the last few years. This year it was bumped up to three, quite a roster and much needed relief for the overworked Katie Yoder and I (shoutout to Sarah Miller).

The Ask Desk is situated in what was previously the reference room (are there even enough reference books left to call it that anymore?) or possibly known by alternative titles: the room with the games, the room with the coffee, the room you walk through to get to the computer lab, the room with those books for the Engaging the Bible paper, the ground floor room where you meet with study groups, that room by the doors. Though I’m sure almost every student could identify the Ask Desk by sight, I’m not entirely sure they could produce the name, despite it being emblazoned in neon letters three feet above the desk.

Being located in the reference room, the Ask Desk exists to handle day-to-day reference issues. If you have problems with your citations (and somehow made it through high school without ever hearing about Purdue Owl), or don’t know what a Boolean phrase is (you do, trust me, you just don’t know what it’s called), the Ask Desk is here for you! These are the questions we were trained to answer.

These are, however, (thankfully) not the questions we get asked. One of my favorite bonding activities with my coworkers is to reminisce on the infinite variations of “can you edit my paper,” all of which we have been asked at our many hours behind those double monitors. Grammar, punctuation, sentence phrasing, idea structuring, even simple verb-subject agreement are part of the daily toil of the Ask Desk job.

I have always felt very little like a reference librarian and much more like that quick stop writing mentor appointment made by a student who didn’t want to go through the trouble of setting up a real writing mentor appointment or wasn’t aware that was even a thing. Somehow sitting behind that desk gives my opinions on your paper more weight and sense of correctness than the friends/classmates you could have taken it to, who probably didn’t want to read your 40 page final nursing report anyway. Lucky for you, my paper editing experience has become fabulously honed in the last three years.

So the next time you have a 30 page senior thesis, a Storycorps paragraph (hopefully not again), an article review, or even simply an assignment, no words and only a vague idea of the direction you want to go for this paper, come on down to the Ask Desk, located in that room in the library where you print when the two computers by the printer are full! Doing our best to balance staffing hours with the amount of people that actually come, there is a 50% chance someone will be there! Feel free to approach us directly or sidle by the desk a few times while you work up the courage to speak. And no, we are not busy, and yes we would be happy to “edit your paper.”

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