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


NELA2010: Trends in Reference

   October 19th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Pingsheng Chen and Laura KohlSession notes from a great NELA2010 interactive discussion on reference and where it's headed:

A panel of experienced reference librarians explores the ever-changing landscape of reference service, with particular emphasis on implementing new and emerging technologies. Panelists include Laura Kohl from Bryant University in Smithfield, RI, Eleanor Sathan from Memorial Hall Library in Andover, MA, and Pingsheng Chen from Worcester (MA) Public Library.

Laura Kohl - What Bryant University is Doing

  • Offer text (using a Droid rather than online), email, IM
  • Goal has been to differentiate librarians from Google and add value "Librarians: the thinking search engine"
  • Bryant's mission is to be high-touch and hands-on - they don't just offer access, they provide instruction to make sure people know how to use things
  • All reference desks computers are dual monitor/keyboard (one faces staff, one faces patron), so it's easy for students to participate in the search, rather than just watch
  • Use Jing to create on-the-fly instructional screencasts for chat and email reference questions. These are uploaded to Jing's server, which archives them for reuse

How to patrons know what is available? Marketing all over the place.

  • Word of mouth - go into classrooms, tell people it's okay to interrupt us"
  • Hang up tear-off sheets all around campus (including in the bathrooms)
  • Have imprinted scrap paper at the desk with library contact information at the bottom
  • Use Moo Cards for business cards to hand out. Also used clear labels to add more contact information to the back of the standard business cards
  • On Twitter, Facebook (include redundant links to everything, which helps when regular website is unavailable), integrate into Blackboard
  • Use digital signage using rotating powerpoints, images, or anything else - these are in the library and throughout campus
  • QR codes on signs to go to websites or download contact information into students' smart phones

How to measure success?

  • Qualitative - comments from students (email, texts, etc)
  • Quantitative - track stats (face-to-face, phone, text, email, IM) - face-to-face is going down but students staying longer, and IMs are way up

Pingsheng Chen - What Worcester Library is Doing

Worcester is 3rd largest city in New England (behind Boston and Providence)

Trend 1: People need a librarian more than every

  • Across the country, library use is going up
  • Nature of questions have changed - fewer questions that can be handled in the traditional way, and knowing the collection is no longer enough

Trend 2: Reference librarians are reinventing themselves to make a wide range of new reference services available to meet users' current expectations

  • Provide learning opportunities for users, especially for job seekers (computer books, job search/resume help, workshops)
  • Provide personal assistance for job seekers or others (consult with a librarian, resume/cover letter help, set up LinkedIn or email account)
  • Provide virtual reference services - email, chat (QuestionPoint), text (My Info Quest), ebooks and databases for online 24x7 reference (and build Gale bookshelf)
  • Use web 2.0 and social networking tools to provide help in more than one way and in more than one place - blog, wiki, delicious links, Bookletters, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (do them all, because patrons have their own preferences)

Trend 3: Reference services have a bright but challenging future. So, with less money and less staff, we must...

  • provide public and free access to ideas and information
  • stay current with new technologies and new resources and be able to teach users those information tools and skills
  • offer a wide range of reference services to meet users where they are and connect people to information that matters in their lives
  • Bottom line: meet users' current expectations (it's about their experience)


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