At ALA in Chicago in July, the American Library Association’s Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) presented LJ colummist Neal Wyatt (“Reader’s Shelf,” “RA Crossroads,” and “Wyatt’s World”) with the 2013 Isadore Gilbert Mudge award, which recognizes “significant contributions to the field of reference librarianship.” LJ spoke to Wyatt to get her reaction.
Congratulations! What does winning this award mean to you?
I am deeply honored to win the Mudge award. Not only was Isadore Gilbert Mudge a pioneering figure, previous winners such as Constance Winchell, Virginia Boucher, and Louis Shores also expanded the borders of our practice. More recent winners have continued to build upon this legacy of professional commitment and innovation. It’s an extraordinary privilege to be among the Mudge fraternity.
Does one accomplishment stand out to you as a highlight of your career?
I am endlessly thrilled when I see someone make a reading map or talking about how people who watch Game of Thrones might enjoy Richard K. Morgan or Patrick Rothfuss. Whole collection RA—incorporating fiction, nonfiction, audio, video, comics, games, music, art, and more—and the creation of reading maps to illustrate these connections are two things I have been working on for a very long time. It was thus deeply rewarding that the committee listed those contributions as part of the reason they selected me.
What do you see as the future of RA as part of reference work?
Framing reference and RA as copartners in public service is a critical step forward in serving patrons. While there will always be a need for expert reference service, there are so many ways of helping patrons reach the answers they are seeking that it only strengthens our practice when we respond in a multifaceted manner. After all, when a patron asks about the American Revolution, David McCullough’s 1776 or Jeff Shaara’s Rise to Rebellion can offer as fine and fulfilling an answer as the best reference book on the period. Being open to that possibility, to think across the entire collection, and to engage patrons in the most expansive of ways is the future of RA as part of reference—reference as a part of RA. What we want in the end is for patrons to know they can ask us questions—whether they are looking for a novel to pass the time on a long flight or detailed information about the Wright brothers. Reference and RA might vary on a spectrum of responses, but they both start and end in the same place—with the curiosity behind a query and then with patrons getting what they need and knowing they can come back any time and ask us new questions.