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My undergraduate degree is in Telecommunication, and a topic we consistently covered was that of usability, generally in regard to websites and telecommunication technology, but I think that it’s applicable here. What’s interesting is that, to me, a Reference Librarian is analogous to a computer user interface. Often, what separates a Reference Librarian from a patron is their knowledge of and ability to utilize databases and other reference tools (even when it’s just Google we’re talking about). This separation is what makes their job necessary and important, and not many people possess the ability or motivation to find a lot of information on their own. Why would a “normal person” know all that a reference librarian knows?

Reference Librarians may be analogous to a computer or database interface in function, but I don’t see Reference Librarians being replaced any time soon. The problem with many databases often lies in their low usability. They require, for many patrons, a human specially trained in information access to understand what they’re seeking because they don’t know how to speak the database’s language. Reference Librarians do.