Fly By Reference

So I was reading the recent Pew Internet Report, Teens, Smartphones & Texting, and was struck by a couple findings it reports, including:

The volume of texting among teens has risen from 50 texts a day in 2009 to 60 texts for the median teen text user…. Texting is the dominant daily mode of communication between teens and all those with whom they communicate…


63% of all teens say they exchange text messages every day with people in their lives. This far surpasses the frequency with which they pick other forms of daily communication, including phone calling by cell phone (39% do that with others every day), face-to-face socializing outside of school (35%), social network site messaging (29%), instant messaging (22%), talking on landlines (19%) and emailing (6%)…

and I’m wondering if this accounts for a phenomenon I’ve been experiencing at the Reference Desk recently, something I call, The Fly-By Reference Question. These are questions that are asked by a student at one end of the reference desk and, by the time I’ve heard it and am trying to answer it, the student has moved to the other end of the desk, barely hovering there, seeming to be about to take off. I understand if the question is, Where’s the bathroom, (a certain urgency can be implicit in the question), but I haven’t understood the student who asks, Do we have this book? and seems about to run off before even telling me what book they seek. I get the distinct impression that the interaction is supposed to take a few seconds, at most, and that I should be answering in about the time and number of characters it takes to reply to a text.

I’m not particularly dilatory in answering reference questions, but the expectation that seems to be communicated is: if it takes more than 30 seconds, don’t bother, I’m outta here.

Are you having any similar experiences? Or am I alone in this? I’d like to know.

More as it happens, but likely not by phone, face-to-face, social network site messaging, instant messaging, talking on landlines, or e-mailing,

Cheryl LaGuardia About Cheryl LaGuardia

Cheryl LaGuardia always wanted to be a librarian, and has been one for more years than she's going to admit. She cracked open her first CPU to install a CD-ROM card in the mid-1980's, pioneered e-resource reviewing for Library Journal in the early 90's (picture calico bonnets and prairie schooners on the web...), won the Louis Shores / Oryx Press Award for Professional Reviewing, and has been working for truth, justice, and better electronic library resources ever since. Reach her at, where she's a Research Librarian at Harvard University.