I've been working on an answer to Debbie's comment about a guide to ready reference, but am sorry to say I haven't been able to find one.
Searches on the web found a lot of great ready reference lists of websites, but not print books. Amazon lists some, but I don't have them to review. I remember having such lists in my library school text books, so maybe that's the best place to look.
But as I thought about this, and looked at what's on the ready reference shelf at my library, I concluded two things:
So in the spirit of the second one, here's an overview of resources on the ready reference shelf in my library. If you're so inclined, please share what you've got on your shelf - I'd really be curious to know.
For staff to help answer computer questions:
Things that don't really get used but I feel we should have:
Quick Facts & Referencey books (for annual resources, we keep the current year in ready reference and move past years to the reference collection):
Shelved right next to the desk
Granted, many of these only get used once or twice a year, if that, and almost all have online versions (or equivalents). But I really like being able to answer a question just by grabbing a book within reach, showing a patron how to look it up, and then let them sit at a table absorbing the information. I don't know, it feels more tangible and satisfying than relying on Google for everything.
I was weeding the reference collection when I came across Ready Reference : A Manual for Librarians and Students. It was published in 1984, so I flipped through it thinking the viewpoint of ready reference from 25 years ago might be humorously outdated.
I was wrong. I was 10 when this book was published, but I still use many of the resources author Agnes Ann Hede recommends.
Each chapter in the book is devoted to different types of resources, and describes the best books in each area. As you would expect, most of the book focuses on print:
I did get a laugh from the page comparisons, but it was certainly appropriate for 1984.
However, when I read the Computer section, I was amazed by how relevant it still is. There was no "computers are a difficult fad we just need to humor" mentality. In fact, the language she used is exactly what is commonly used today. She speaks of "getting into" databases, and casually refers to online searching (not on-line searching or "online" searching).
And her characterization and advice concerning balancing print and online resources is as true today as it was then:
[T]o be today's "compleat librarian," you must add to those [print] sources the increasingly abundant resources offered through computer technology.
The sad part is that this advice, 25 years later, is still not being fully embraced by the profession.
I debated, but ultimately weeded this book. As much as I liked it, it certainly was outdated, even though we do have the current copies of many of the print resources it recommends. But take a look to see if your library has this book. And weed your reference collection!
One of my coworkers and her husband run Gibson's Bookstore, in Concord, NH. When hiring new employees, each applicant is given a knowledge of literature test to see how well they'll do at reader's advisory.
Their opinion is that bookstore staff are first and foremost reading advisers, and cashiers and stockers second. The test questions cover a broad scope of literature, just like the questions of customers (and library patrons):
2) Name five characters invented by William Shakespeare.
13) What is Ender Wiggin famous for?
14) James and the Giant ________ by Roald _______.
23) Why do some Sneetches feel superior to others?
To get hired, applicants must get at least half of the questions right. Perhaps libraries could implement something similar? Perhaps they already do.
I also have a list of reference questions and tasks I give to reference staff after they've been hired, to help with training. It is based on something my director found (can't remember what or where), but I tailored it to get new staff familiar with the type of questions we get, our collection, our policies, basic tech support, and reference in general. They get it as a Word document, and work on it for their first few months.
Some people like tests and some don't. But each in their own way, I think these tests are valuable to make sure that the people interacting with the public are really able to help the public.
In contrast to past years, I was encouraged to be brief. So this years goals are a bit more quantifiable, and a bit less "well, that's part of the job description anyway." You know, the way goals should be.
GOAL #1: Improve access to information resources and library services
GOAL #2: Expand and improve the library's technology offerings
GOAL #3: Maintain and/or support web-based resources beyond the library's core collection
Admittedly, much of this still falls into the "continuing things we're already doing" category, but that is a large part of my job. And something else covered elsewhere in my review is encouraging all staff to attend at least 5 hours of some kind of training or professional development.
I think it's all doable. I can probably even manage to squeeze in helping patrons at the reference desk, too.
The end of May is always staff performance review time in my library, and it seems unpleasant for everyone. Staff doesn't like it, department heads don't like it, and town hall doesn't seem to like it. So why do we do it?
One reason is because we always have done it. But other reason, as cheesy as it sounds, is because it really can help. Whether it provides an opportunity to address an ongoing problem, a pat on the back for a staff person who otherwise might go unnoticed, or just to make you sit down and really think about the way things are going in the library, as awkward and uncomfortable as they are, performance reviews and setting goals are beneficial.
That being said, I loath them. And I'm even lucky - I only have four staff people at the reference desk, and they're all pretty good.
This year, the union requested we use a new, much more simplified form for staff reviews (down from eight pages to three). As department heads, we modified a form that the town already used in other departments and customized it for library staff. The most challenging part was defining which each job criteria entailed, but I think the result works pretty well:
And as ever year, I developed goals for the reference department for the coming fiscal year (if anyone is keeping track, you might notice much repetition from last year):
Reference Department Goals for FY2009
Head of Reference