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


Guidelines for Handling Weekend Emergencies at the Library

   January 23rd, 2013 Brian Herzog

Hello, I'm IN CHARGE badgeThis has been in my "to blog" folder for awhile, but better late than never, I suppose.

In the fall, my library was able to reopen for Sundays for the first time in like five years. This is great news for patrons, but since our seasonal Sunday hours are voluntary (with paid overtime), we sometimes have a shortage of staff willing to work them.

In my library, there needs to be a Department Head in the building at all times. Generally this isn't a problem, but if no Department Head volunteered to work a particular Sunday, other staff (with library degrees) can be acting Department Head.

Since these acting Department Heads would be in charge of the building, we created some "Sunday Department Head Guidelines" for them to refer to if something unusual happened - and also to make sure the library delivered the same level of service on Sundays as we do the rest of the week. The goal was to have all necessary information - procedure, contact information, passwords, etc. - in one place.

I really like lists like this*, so I thought I'd share. Obviously it is primarily applicable to my library, and even then primarily only on Sundays (as other times follow slightly different procedures in certain situations), but perhaps it might inspire other libraries to also document procedures like this. Feel free to download and use these however you like (names, phone numbers, and other vital information removed):

I know the staff here appreciated it, as it can be daunting to be in charge when something goes wrong.

 


*Some people say I have a love of rules, but that's not true - orderliness and answers are what I like. Take that, entropy.



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Updating Library Policies

   September 8th, 2009 Brian Herzog

MacKay policiesI'm finally getting my library's updated policies online. We started revising them in April 2008, and the Trustees approved the new versions in April 2009, so I'm a bit behind.

Updating a Dreamweaver-based website is slow going, so I thought I'd share the new (footnoted) Reference policy here. The old policies are still online until I get all the new ones coded and published. Once that is done, our plan is to review them every three years (some of these hadn't been touched since 1999) to make sure they are up-to-date. I'm also trying to think of a better way to display them on our website - any ideas?

Reference Service Policy

The following guidelines should be used by Reference Department staff in providing answers and materials for ready-reference and general research questions taken in person, by telephone, by mail, or submitted electronically.

The primary role of the Reference Staff is to assist patrons with their information searches and to educate them in the location and use of all types of reference resources. While assistance will be provided, patrons should not expect Reference Staff to do their work for them. Staff should spend no more than 15 minutes assisting a patron before returning to the Reference Desk to be available to assist other patrons. Patrons are not permitted to purchase dedicated staff time for reference or research services; please see the Library's Gift and Donation Policy (4.3) for additional details.*

Confidentiality
All reference transactions should be treated with confidentiality, and the patron's right to privacy must be ensured. All information requests should be discussed only in a professional manner.

Timeliness
Patrons of all ages will be provided correct answers or referrals to their reference requests as soon as possible. If an answer cannot be provided within twenty-four hours, the patron will be informed of the status of their request.

While priority is given to walk-in patrons, telephone and electronic requests will be answered as quickly as possible. If "same day" service cannot be provided, the patron will be informed.

Locating Materials and Resources
Whenever possible, answers will first be sought using the resources available within the Chelmsford Library, whether print or electronic. The Reference Staff will also use the resources available through the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium (MVLC) and the Northeast Massachusetts Regional Library System (NMRLS). If an answer cannot be provided immediately using local resources, appropriate print or electronical materials will be requested or located on the patron's behalf.

Every effort will be made to provide patrons with a source for an answer, where appropriate. If a patron is unable to visit the Library, the staff should offer to mail, fax or email a copy of the material, or a bibliography of the resources used (reproduction and/or shipping costs may apply).

Loaning of Reference Materials
Reference material will not leave the building. Material in this area is considered to be important for ready access to patrons, or be irreplaceable local history items. Allowing References items to circulate defeats the purpose of having a separate section for reference use. Patrons are encouraged to photocopy if they need to have the printed material in hand.

Types of Questions
The Reference Staff strives to provide professional and complete answers to any type of question asked at the Reference Desk. In addition to general reference questions, the following types of questions receive special treatment:

  • Directory Information - Reference Staff will assist patrons searching for names, addresses, or other contact information in any publicly-available resource, including telephone books, city directories, and electronic resources. Reference staff will not provide personal information about other Library staff, nor information contained in their personnel files. Please contact Library Administration or the Town of Chelmsford Human Resources Department for personnel information.
  • Homework Assignments - The use of the Library for homework and research assignments is part of the educational process, and staff should strive to provide students with a positive library experience. Questions from students should be answered in the same manner as other informational requests, and additional time should be given to provide the student with informal bibliographical instruction and research techniques.**
  • Technology Questions - All Reference Staff will be proficient with the technology resources available within the library, and are responsible for assisting with electronic research resources and basic library computer and internet competencies. Technology questions beyond the scope of regular Library resources may be referred to the Head of Reference or the Library's technology administrator.
  • Medical/Legal/Financial Information - Medical, legal, tax and investing assistance is limited to directing patrons to Library resources and/or secondary referral sources such as local hospital libraries, law libraries, etc. Reference staff cannot, at any time, assist with the interpretation of medical, legal or financial information, or give patrons advice on these topics.
  • Trivia Questions - Trivia question should be considered in the same manner as other informational questions. In line with the Chelmsford Library's Public Service Policy (2.1), “The needs and requests of library patrons should always be taken seriously and treated with respect. Equal consideration should be given to all users in a non-judgmental environment.”

 


*I added this sentence to keep patrons from thinking they can "buy" reference staff time with gifts or donations, which also got included in the Gift and Donation Policy, so it would apply to all library staff

**I originally included a sentence saying that staff would focus on helping the student, and not anyone that might be accompanying them. The reason is that a lot of times, a parent brings their child in, but never lets the child speak or explain their assignment - the parents just wants to get as many books and possible and leave as quickly as possible. I'm not a parent so I can't criticize, but this bugs me to no end. However, the wording was awkward, and other department heads thought it sent a bad message, so it was cut.



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Guide to Hiring Women

   May 29th, 2008 Brian Herzog

1943 Guide to Hiring WomenSince I mentioned recently that it's staff review time in my library, I thought it'd also be appropriate (although I use that term loosely) to post this 1943 Guide to Hiring Women. Originally published in "Transportation Magazine," I found it over on the studio twentysix2 blog, and I agree with Tom's commentary.

As a male in a traditionally female-dominated field, of course I found this interesting. I work for and with women, and have women who report to me, and I'm happy to report that this is not at all applicable to 2008. All of my colleagues, professional and paraprofessional, have their jobs because they are good at their jobs - not just because they fit the uniforms we had on hand.

Times change. That's a good thing.



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