or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk



The Ubiquitous Reference Model

   November 14th, 2006

I know the idea of "Ubiquitous Reference" has already been covered elsewhere, but I thought it was interesting. I first learned about it during Linda Braun’s session at NELA 2006, and have since done some reading about it on the internet. Here's what I've found:

Ubiquitous Reference actually refers to two ideas. The first of which is that libraries should be everywhere our patrons are. Usually this refers to creating our own profiles on popular (and useful) websites like MySpace and flickr, as well as having our own blog with rss feed. Also, this idea can be taken into the physical world, by setting up a library presence in coffee shops, bars, bookstores, etc - you know, where our patrons hang out when they're not in the library.

The great thing about this idea falls under the "if you build it, they will come" notion. If we're active on the internet (outside of our own websites), and talking about interesting things, people will find us. I've only been doing this blog for about a month, and I've already gotten hits (and questions) from people searching Google for bookprospector, as well as questions from people reading my comments on other peoples' blogs. Plus, just by being visible, we can get questions without even trying.

The second meaning of Ubiquitous Reference is even more proactive than that. Brian Mathews of Georgia Tech University developed a new model for doing reference, in which he not only set up shop in the virtual world, but actually monitored online conversations of Georgia Tech students. Then, any time one of them mentioned a specific keyword (article, assignment, book, help, journal, research, etc.), he would read their post, prepare an answer for them, and then contact that student with the answer.

Personally, I would have thought that such an approach would have freaked out the student, in a very Big Brother kind of way. But, Mathews found that students were receptive, and viewed him as an online equal. What's more, these initial encounters would often lead to the student saying something like "Thanks. You know, I'm also working on this other project…"

Now that's great. Granted, this would be a lot easier to implement in an academic library (targeting a student body) than it would in a public library, but I do still like the idea.

library 2.0, patrons, reference questions, service, Ubiquitous Reference




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