Friday, May 4, 2007

Is Reference Dead?

Is Reference Dead? Roundtable discussion
Facilitated by Carolyn Noah

How has reference changed at your library?
Patrons are more technology savvy, so we're helping them work through databases and
Constituency for reference desk is older. The younger folks are staying home and

What methods are you using for doing reference?
IM -- we just started using it
QuestionPoint -- helping kids with their homework and answering questions can transform the relationship with the library and the librarians. When it works, it works really well.
Reference by appointment -- making appointments helps add value to the time of librarians; works well with older patrons, younger patrons want answers now

How are you promoting reference?
In-house flyering, library website

How about reference space?
The reference desk is inconvenient, especially when you're trying to show folks what you're doing on the computer
People are going out from the behind the desk and doing reference at the public PCs
Collaborative space for reference work? Smaller libraries never had a reference desk, so they never had a reference desk to hide behind -- small mains and
Double-screens for reference computer, so patrons can see exactly what you're doing as you type
Tablet PCs walking around the floor

Reference collections?
Books -- collection is shrinking at least 25%, probably could get rid of more, academic library has shrunk it 50% or more
Dropping paper subscription in favor of online formats
The series collections that take vast amounts of space are going first/fastest
Patrons need it online or able to take it home or print it right off the computers

What do patrons want?
They don't want books, not even to photocopy. They want to just print it out.
Librarians are falling into the habit of not using/promoting our print resources -- one librarian started a "Reference Book of the Week" to promote the print sources that remain
Teachers are making them have a percentage of printed sources and electronic sources, both Internet and database
It's a teaching moment when you print out an electronic version of a print resource to show them that it's non-Web source
When we can, we confirm with the teacher what the intent is when they say, "You have to have a book source."
Also, is it a way to stop the flow of plagiarism

Role of reference librarian in the new age? Definition of reference librarian changing?
The role is the same, the tools have changed
Research questions are changing somewhat to social service referrals -- somewhat who speaks little English just gets an account number and complex instructions that they can't follow...they come to us to ask for help
Librarians are trained in putting together multiple sources, but the questions have changed in nature
A lot of little questions, a lot of handholding on computer use for non-users
Academic: it's shifted from complex research questions to training in online research skills, evaluating sources
Framingham PL -- developed a pathfinder for folks who are filling out online job applications
The older folks who are asking for our help are changing, too -- they need our support on
How do we help those who are too shy to approach us?
We can't make assumptions about what people should know and we need to just answer their questions
Some librarians see themselves as the arbitrer of information and won't ask others beyond their desk to provide service to patrons, they see it as a control issue
Librarian just takes a laptop into the YA room and monitors the conversation around them; if there's a question, she just jumps in and answers it and then the conversation grows by osmosis
"Community constituency builders" -- Natick Public Library, networked into community agencies advising and providing a structure for coalition building
IT Librarians

What do you need to ditch the desk?
  • Step 1: Get out from behind the one you have.
  • Watch and listen to the patrons as you walk around
  • Where do you have Circ staff send new patrons if you're out doing Walking Reference in the stacks? What other methods do we use to let patrons who need our help find us?
  • What do the patrons expect? Where will they go to seek help?
  • If you have the luxury of two people on the desk, have one sitting and one wandering
  • Laptop tables on wheels (with locking cables)?
  • Doing programs in groups
  • Get out from the library and do reference outside the building
  • Cordless phones or Vocera units
  • Office hours at the coffee shop
  • Distributing information about resources to new partners (like realtors) who can then pass on information to their users

What kind of training do we reference librarians need to have to do this new job
Customer service training, including training from the retail environment
Attitude is important
How do we shift our reference service online? -- "I feel like a coal miner right it's all going to be over really soon."
Email reference, IM reference, web form reference -- Some reference stats are going up, some down
Local history questions are going through the roof, they're coming in in Winnebagos and asking away
Our elders need us now, our new immigrants need us, our lower-income folks need us -- will this be the same or different in 10 years?
Lots and lots of tech support questions. How to search, how to find things, how to fix a stuck computer, how to format a resume, how to use Photoshop
Reader's advisory

More exploration of getting out from behind the desk
How do we staff these desks, both for security and for access?
Can we use expediting functions, information stations, to streamline the process?
Can we give some reference training to non-librarian staff as a part of that expediting process, so that the request for a book doesn't end with "No we don't have that."


Mat Bose said...

I really like the idea of getting out from behind the Ref desk and going to the customer, I have read a few articles on this topic before. Does anyone know of any studies that have been performed about how this effects the number of ref. questions asked? And reference services in general?

sue said...

Our roles are not terminating but rather evolving, along with the advances in technology, patron needs, and the fast pace of society at large. The questions we are asked are also evolving. However, the Reference Librarian fills a need that shall always be a need... there will always be patrons who are economically disadvantaged; mentally challenged; elderly; shy; rushed; confused; stressed; visually challenged; arthritic; linguistically challenged; etc. We are their lifeline.

We service-oriented Librarians provide much more than information. We also provide the human element: a welcoming glance; a kind word; a friendly smile; compassion, understanding, assistance, validation and a sympathetic ear.

Information alone is not the only task of the Reference Librarian, but rather providing a human contact as well.

Additionally, even for the computer savy researcher, sometimes a second person can help them "think outside the box" and find information which is not obvious. (two minds are better than one!)

YES, our roles are changing...everyone's roles are changing! But we are up for the challenge. I am not ready to roll over and play dead---there is a long way to go before everyone will have equal access to the technology, and I will learn what I can so I am prepared assist with the ever changing needs of our patrons.