“The librarian as information priest is as dead as Elvis,” Needham said. The whole “gestalt” of the academic library has been set up like a church, he said, with various parts of a reading room acting like “the stations of the cross,” all leading up to the “altar of the reference desk,” where “you make supplication and if you are found worthy, you will be helped.”
So if this hierarchical model doesn’t reach today’s students, what will?
James Paul Gee, a linguist who is the Tashia Morgridge Professor of Reading at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the author of Why Video Games Are Good for Your Soul, argued that librarians need to adapt their techniques to digital natives. A digital native would never read an instruction manual with a new game before simply trying the game out, Gee said. Similarly, students shouldn’t be expected to read long explanations of tools they may use before they start experimenting with them.
On a more serious note, it's true that most students would rather deal with technology for an hour than ask a reference librarian something that would get them where they want to be in five minutes. From the article: "Even then, he said, librarians shouldn’t say that they are providing formal training, but should say things like 'let me show you a short cut,' the kind of language students use with one another all the time."
Sometimes students are intimidated by the process, but sometimes there are other reasons. Although about 95% of the reference librarians I've encountered have been more than helpful, I've met a few who were so irritatingly condescending (a la the "priest at altar" model) that I steered clear of them: "This is the library catalogue online, you see? You can put in your search terms here, and then you can narrow your search by adding words." Sometimes, too, as the article says, they want to lecture about the history and nature of the resource before helping anyone to use it.
Oh, and "dead as Elvis"? He's totally alive.