Friday, May 8, 2009

Getting Rid of the Reference Desk

10:45-12:00 Friday, May 8 Getting Rid of the Reference Desk

Speakers: Kate Sheehan, Head of knowledge and Innovation Innovation Services, Darien Library; Gretchen Hams, Head of Children’s Services Darien Library; Frank Baudino, Head of Information Services, Northwest Missouri State University; Lori Mardis, Information Librarian, Owens Library, Northwest Missouri State University

Frank Baudino, Head of Information Services, Northwest Missouri State University; Lori Mardis, Information Librarian, Owens Library, Northwest Missouri State University

Many libraries are considering getting rid of the reference desk. This is coming full circle here at the conference. This workshop reminds me of Scott Bennett's "History of paradigm change." The idea of eliminating the reference desk meshes with the theme of reconfiguring the way we think about the library and the way we think about the idea of library as service. Salem State College has tossed around this idea while working with architects on the design of our new library. With more academic libraries considering the information commons, a change in reference services seems to make sense. Let's see what our speakers have to say about it.

Check out the "Getting Rid of the Reference Desk" presentation here: Owens Library Presentations

Frank Baudino thinks of getting rid of the reference desk as another arm of instruction at the library. Frank cites a decline in reference questions as part of the rationale for getting rid of the reference desk. Frank felt that there was a need to roll with current trends. If there was a decline in reference questions, the librarians clearly were not offering the service they were capable of offering. At the same time as a decline in reference questions, there was a steady increase in the demand for library instruction, a demand for online library instruction, and an increase in the use of library web pages. Frank stresses that it takes a lot of work to develop relationships with faculty, to assist in instruction initiatives with faculty, and to have time to perform all the other duties required of an information/instruction librarian.

Frank cites statistics that showed an increase in the use of the library web page as part of the rationale for a new model. This became an opportunity to target these web-based users. Frank also cited the loss of a professional librarian position (a position the library never got back), which taxed staffing. An increase in web page use (resulting in loss of foot traffic to the reference desk), loss of staffing, and an increase in the number of instruction classes facilitated a shift in the way traditional reference was viewed. These observations are neither good nor bad--it is what it is (thanks BB--go Pats!).

Frank explains that his library (Northwest Missouri State University Library) had paraprofessionals working at the reference desk. If students needed additional in-depth research help, the paraprofessionals would refer the student to the on-call professional librarian.

Some of the things Frank's library was considering was a change of signage to support the reference scheme they were devising. Frank also talked about the desire to market the reference consultation model (more to come from Lori). Frank says his library never followed the chat reference model, but looked toward other areas to supplement the loss of the traditional reference desk.
Frank explains that his library finally settled on the one-stop-shopping model. I like one-stop-shopping, but what exactly does this mean for the library? Keep reading!

Most of the reference librarians were for doing something different. The trouble was getting personnel in other areas on board with the new reference model. Frank developed a task force with librarians and support staff in order to look at the problem. The task force felt that reference should be offered in some way. There needed to be a way to train students, devise appropriate hours for service. There was also a a logistical recasting of how staff would refer in-depth questions to professional librarians for consultations.

Enter Lori.

Lori explains that the reference desk was merged with the circulation desk to create a Library services desk. The library settled on a model that used students and paraprofessionals at the Library Service Desk. the students and paraprofessionals were trained to identify when a professional librarian should be consulted. Generally speaking, Lori says anything beyond ready reference requires consultation. The professional librarians carried hand talkies (whatever they might be called) to communicate with service desk staff.

Lori says that the staff at the Library Services Desk (a combination of the traditional circulation desk and ready reference desk) was encouraged to have a discussion about the question to decide whether to send the student to a professional librarian. Part of the discussion takes place between paraprofessional staff and students at the desk and the professional librarian. Lori says her library uses walkie-talkies. Lori says she takes the walkie-talkie around with her. If Lori is contacted via talkie at an inappropriate time (during a meeting), she can defer the "call" to another professional librarian. I am a little weary about the talkie. Lori explains that the professional librarians are only on call for three hour intervals (part of a rotation) and not on-call after hours except by choice.

Lori says the librarians put the web page to good use by developing an in-house "Ask A Librarian" feature on their website with links to all of the librarian's photos and job titles. This encourages students to contact a librarian they might have worked with in the past. Take a look at the library website here: B.D. Owens Library

The library web page was reconfigured to reflect the new reference model. There was an increase in tutorials and a concentration on each subject area to help students (not coming to a reference desk) to better find what they are looking for.
Because the librarians were not sitting at a reference desk, they were able to concentrate on planning and developing other initiatives, most notably their work on instruction classes. Spending more time on planning instruction classes led to more comprehensive and in-depth consultations with students--and faculty; the quality of service increased exponentially.

A couple of quick questions asked at the lecture:

Why not pursue chat?

An audience member asked why they did not explore chat reference and Lori explained that chat would still mean being tied to the desk and would defeat the point of re-purposing the new reference model.

How many librarians do you have?


Is that a large number?

No. We need the extra staff for subject areas.

How do you analyze the traffic to your subject guides posted on the library web-page?

We use google analytics. Otherwise we get feedback from students and faculty after presenting the sites in classes.

e-mail Lori and Frank with additional questions:;

1 comment:

evision said...

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