Tag Archives: Academic Library

Student-Worker to Professional Librarian: Overcoming the Transition

Today marks the end of my first week as an Adjunct Reference and Instruction Librarian at HACC (Harrisburg Area Community College) York Campus.  While I am very excited to start working on my instruction presentations and help students at the reference desk, I have found myself dealing with a tough transition from student-worker to professional librarian.

How could this be?  I have been applying for librarian positions for over a year now – I went to library school – why does being a “Librarian” feel so awkward?

As a student-worker and supervisor, I was constantly moving: looking for students/staff/faculty, training incoming students, working the circulation desk, ILL, resource sharing, stacks, and special projects.  I also had several supervisors that I had to report to.  Now, I have the specific duty of manning the reference desk and working on class presentations, but I still have the urge to shelve newspapers and books, check the book-bins, and tell student-workers what they should be doing.

I am also finding myself concerned about being called “Faculty.”  During my tour, I met several staff and faculty around campus who mistook me as a new student.  Since the majority of the student population is non-traditional, I get the overwhelming sense that they don’t trust me to help them with their assignments.  And if the students don’t trust me, how will the other faculty trust me to instruct their classes?

How does one deal with this dilemma?  Well, here’s what I’ve done so far:

  •  Told myself: they wouldn’t have hired you if they didn’t think you were qualified and capable of doing the job.  This mantra has helped and was reinforced at my New Faculty Orientation.  Obviously, during my interview and presentation, they saw my potential regardless of my appearance (specifically age), and thought that I would be a good fit and addition to their library.
  • Be confident.  “Confident” isn’t the first word I would use to describe myself, but I have quickly learned how important it is to gain trust from students.  If students see that you are confident in finding the information they are requesting, you ultimately gain their trust.
  • Ask questions.  Don’t be shy, you are working with librarians.. They love to answer questions.  I have found that the more questions I ask, the more comfortable the staff and faculty feel with me – I want to do the best I can, and they see that.  All of this will help boost that confidence :)
  • Relax.  You don’t have to know everything all at once.  Any new job is an information-overload, and no one expects you to know it all.  Just remember to breathe while sorting through all of your new work email.
  • Be flexible and don’t panic.  During my first week, my supervisor had a family emergency which left me at the reference desk by myself.  Instead of panicking, I just followed #4 and winged it the best I could.  If you don’t know an answer, tell a student you will get back to them with the information they are seeking – don’t worry!

As I explore, discover, and learn all about being a professional librarian, I am sure I will begin to feel more comfortable in my new role.  In the meantime, I have to squash those desires to direct student-workers and command the circulation desk as I previously had.  Those days are over now – I can finally say I am an Academic Librarian, so it’s time to start acting like it!

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Koha ILS: Right for your Library?

When choosing an ILS for your library, it is important to consider many factors including size, funding, and compatibility with other consortia.  In order to get an overall feel for a system, one must test that system and do extensive research before choosing the best ILS for a particular library.  It is for this reason; many libraries should look into using a relatively new ILS called Koha.

Koha “is the first free software library automation package” and is growing tremendously in a worldwide market as a reliable ILS (Koha 2010).  The researchers behind the program began in 1999 before the 2K switch and ever since then have been growing and pushing for a new kind of ILS that would be universal to all library systems, including home-use.  First released as a beta program in 2008, the system is now live worldwide in three languages.

A main proponent in making this worldwide ILS is Koha’s policy on a no-vendor lock-in (Koha 2010).  Meaning the program will stay a free open-source software that enables libraries to download and install Koha themselves and have the “in-house expertise to purchase support or development services from the best available sources” (Koha 2010).  This provides libraries the option to be free to change their support company and export their data system at any time, as long as the support company that library chooses allows it.

Since this particular ILS is open-source software, it enables libraries worldwide of all sizes such as public, academic, special, and home libraries to benefit.  Not only does it provide basic options in functionality, it also offers comprehensive and advanced options including “modules for circulation, cataloging, acquisitions, serials, reserves, patron management, branch relationships,” to name a few (Koha 2010).  It utilizes an RDBMS searching function working together with an external search engine to provide users the most powerful searching possible.

The different modules Koha offers is completely comprehensive in that in the cataloging function, it is operable with MARC records which aids in acquisitions.  Because of the added advanced searching capability, acquisitions workflow is tremendously improved and serials information can be easily imported supported by other systems and technologies already operating in many libraries. Thus creating a smooth transition into the free system.

With regard to the reserves function, users can keep materials and adjust the circulation statistics and different checkout rules for those items, similar to that of Voyager for no cost.  For example, if the system were to be used in the academic setting, professors can place items on reserve for students and the user of Koha could enable the system to only allow the student to check out the material for a three-hour period to allow other students to access the material.  Enabling this function is extremely important to maximize workflow and accessibility.

This ultimately leads into the importance of patron management capabilities with the ILS software.  Koha automatically runs reports that send out reminders to patrons via email (or school email) and physical mail.  These reports can be run on a few different systems such as Microsoft Access, similar to that of Voyager’s Reporter.  This allows the user to have a better grasp of circulation statistics and holdings at any given moment (Koha 2010).

Koha also allows libraries to smoothly transition because it is truly a platform-independent solution that can be integrated immediately.  The OPAC, circulation, management, and self-checkout interfaces are all based on standards such as XHTML, CSS, and JavaScript (Koha 2010).  Meaning, any existing software can easily be transferred into Koha’s system because it is compatible with any World Wide Web technology.  This is especially important with electronic resources, as their document management allows for documents to be displayed in a myriad of different formats to be accessible by patrons with Internet access.

Recently, Koha 3.2 was released that corrected several bugs and added new abilities and differences including: the ability to batch modify items, batch delete items, a complete rewrite of the label maker, patron card creator, how budgets are handled, added more patron permissions, check out messages, fast add cataloging, custom RSS feeds, SOPAC integration, enhancements to acquisitions including those that allow for ordering over Z39.50 and from a staged MARC (and MARCXML) file, and the ability to merge bib records, and there are also talks of adding another metadata format storage system to be even more easily integrated into a home library (Engard, 2010).

Of course, with the new added features, Koha provides a plethora of tutorial and training material to aid librarians in smoothly integrating this new system into their existing ILS.  The students at Wayne State University created the Koha English training manual in English, however, there are several versions in many different languages including Spanish, French, German, Greek, Arabic, and Portuguese (Koha 2010).  The website also offers a Wiki page for their developers to discuss nuances in Web 2.0 librarianship and offer coding guidelines and API documentation to continuously improve the system.

Along with training manuals available in PDF format, there are also tutorials available on the Koha Wiki that discusses anything from simple frequently asked questions to upcoming Koha conferences (Koha 2010).  The company suggests prospective users go to different conferences in their area to get a full feel of the system through demonstration.  This is important for librarians to engage in because sometimes it can be difficult to find time to schedule a vendor to visit their own library.  However, with the amount of information provided by the website alone, training sessions can be done in-house and save time while making the large switch to a different ILS in the library.

Though, if training in house or if the tutorials are not enough, Koha offers free support as well as paid support depending on the extent of aid or training that must go into integrating the system to a particular library.  The free support includes the manuals discussed above and also the Koha bug database that includes a list of problems that have been discovered to be typical problems users may face.  The website also offers the ability to subscribe to their mailing list or to engage in their IRC, or real-time chat.

If this support is still not enough for your library, or if you do not have a systems librarian, one can pay for their support.  These companies around the world support Koha and “are happy to provide libraries with the full array of vendor services” (Koha 2010).  This includes installation, migration assistance, data integrity testing, staff training, software maintenance, and development of new features as they are released.

What can be seen as a negative is the amount of clicking to find information provided on the Wiki page.  One must click on a particular link and then go through the A-Z list of more links to help solve a problem.  However, the company encourages users to provide feedback, both positive and negative, to enable them to make decisions to change the feel of their website and to grant the wishes of their users.  Individual developers make these technical decisions, including libraries that directly or indirectly contribute new features, and members of their release team (Koha 2010).

For these reasons, Koha would be a wonderful ILS asset to any library, including public, school, special, academic, and home libraries.  The only issue with public, school, or home would be the use of MARC for cataloging.  Many times, MARC record is more complicated than necessary for the typical school or private library and may be a reason to go with a different ILS.  However, Koha is making a concerted effort to add an array of different formatting choices to continue to provide services to libraries of all kinds, worldwide.

Engard, N. (2010). What I learned today. Retrieved from http://www.web2learning.net/archives/4200/comment-page-1#comment-221157

Koha. (2010). Koha library software about. Retrieved from http://koha-community.org/about/

Koha. (2010). Koha users worldwide. Retrieved from http://wiki.koha-community.org/wiki/Koha_Users_Worldwide

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Business Reference: How to sort through it

For my Business Reference class, we recently had a question-set assignment where our goal was to find the most up-to-date information and provide the “correct” answer with APA-citation.  Sounds easy enough, right?  Wrong.  I discovered many problems with the assignment to the point I was second guessing myself over and over.  This could be attributed to my OCD-nature as a LS grad student, or what’s more likely is that the questions could have several different answers and I would never know if it was the most up-to-date.

Thus, here are some major sources of frustration:

 

Problem #1: Many of  the questions in the “question-set” were to mimic that of a typical reference question.  They didn’t.

Problem #2: There are so many different resources, which one should I use with the most current information?  Or am I really supposed to look at EVERYTHING?  Is that practical?

Problem #3: I am not very good at Math, nor Statistics…(this speaks for itself).

With my frustration mounting, I decided to contact an old colleague of mine for help, since business reference is his schtick, and he was more than happy to help me (thankfully).  In my paranoid, frantic e-mail, I wanted to address problem #1 (see above, :P ).  I wanted to know if questions such as: “List the revenue and net income for INSERT COMPANY HERE for the past 5 years.  What is the company’s growth rate over each of the last five years based on the total revenue/sales?” were typical.  When I first read this question, I had NO CLUE what any of that meant.  Coming from a humanity background, I didn’t even know what resources would have such information.  I also didn’t think this was a reference question that I would ever see, because I would never DO someone’s homework for them.  I can understand providing the material and the formula to answer this questions, but I would NEVER figure out “growth rate”..see Problem #3: I am not very good at math, and would not trust myself helping to that extent.

Then, Problem #2 struck me.  Gah! How can I possibly sort through all of this information??  How do I know it is the most up-to-date??  The only way I could think to approach this was to just go to a database and check it out.  I figured, if it seems too old, it probably is, and I went with that, no matter how impractical my method seemed.

But it worked!  Here is a list of databases/resources I found most current for business reference (if you library subscribes to it, that is):
1. S&P
2. Mergent
3. Yahoo! Finance (Yes, Yahoo, if you don’t believe me, check it out)
3. COMPUSTAT
4. Datamonitor (great SWOT analysis)

After that, comes the most out-of-date: The U.S. Census.  Obviously.  If it isn’t FactFinder, expect this to be your last resort.  Also, instead of answering Industry questions with the Census, try using their trade-industry website.  For example, if you get a question such as, “how many people are employed in the restaurant industry?,” check out The National Restaurant Association website: http://www.restaurant.org/

This is so much quicker than the Census Industry Statistics page, as you don’t have to choose whether the restaurant you are referring to is full-service, limited-service, etc.  The patron may not know all of that information after you conduct the reference interview.

Then comes the citation.  APA.  Business database.  How?

Here is a link to a wonderful resource for business citations, you can’t even find this stuff on OWL! http://www.sru.edu/academics/library/resources/Pages/mgmt_citing.aspx

So, if you find yourself second guessing how current your information is, take a look at the list above.  OR contact a handy librarian!  After all, that’s what they’re there for   :)

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Library Management Job Advertisement Analysis

I recently had an assignment to look over several different job advertisements to consider what employers are really looking for when it comes to management positions in libraries: Here’s what I’ve discovered which could be helpful to all those unemployed librarians out there :)

Purpose

Analyzing job advertisements in library management helps one build understanding of the job market and how personal/professional experience relates to the jobs available.  The author has discovered ten job advertisements and has analyzed the different requirements and preferred requirements while relating both professional and personal experience to determine what kinds of positions are available as well as discover what kinds of skills are favorable in the Library Management field.

Methodology

The data for the job advertisement charts came from ten job descriptions collected from ALA Job List (ala.org).  These ads referred specifically to library management and included a range of different jobs such as “Library Director,” and “Head of Public Services.”  To get a full idea of different job requirements through all of library management positions, it was necessary to find a multitude of different kinds of jobs related to management/administration.

Table 1: Required Qualifications

Required Qualifications %
ALA-Accredited Master’s Degree in MLS or equivalent 100
Significant supervisory and management experience (5-8yrs) in academic libraries 100
Excellent interpersonal and communication skills 100
Ability to complete projects on time and on budget and report on status and progress 100
Success in managing staff and resources (Ability to lead,mentor, and motivate staff) 80
Ability to work successfully in a collaborative environment 70
Thorough understanding of issues facing academic libraries 40
Strong analytical and decision-making skills 40
Ability to work effectively with diverse employee and user communities 30
Excellent computer skills with experience using word processing, spreadsheet, database, presentation and advanced graphics software 30
Experience with training and supporting faculty in instructional needs. 30
Subject expertise to serve as liaison for one or more academic disciplines, selecting materials, providing instruction, and reference services; 20
Successful completion of standard background checks including but not limited to: social security verification, education verification, national criminal background checks, motor vehicle checks and credit history 10
2nd Master’s Degree 10
Experience managing a budget of at least $500,000 10
Ability to develop and maintain favorable external and internal partnerships with the various constituencies of VCUQatar. 10
Demonstrated understanding of teaching and research in the sciences and engineering; 10
Substantial accomplishments in relevant scholarship and service. 10

Table 2: Preferred Qualifications

Preferred Qualifications %
Demonstrated understanding of digital library concepts and standards and electronic resources acquisitions and management (digital library/tech services) 40
Proficiency with automated library systems for technical services (EBSCO and OCLC) 30
Additional Master’s Degree or Ph.D. 20
Knowledge of another language 20
International work experience 10
Proven success with fundraising and grants development management 10
demonstrated knowledge of emerging technologies and related research; these include but are not limited to: Blacklight; Fedora/DuraSpace; Evergreen’ Koha; other Open Source and proprietary systems related to online library environments 10
demonstrated experience in the implementation of Open Source software and tools; these tools include, but are not limited to: Enterprise Java development; Ruby scripting language or equivalent; Ruby on Rails; Solr; Tomcat Unix, Linux, AIX preferred 10

Educational and Professional Experience

I graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in English and a minor in Latin in May 2009 from Millersville University.  To further pursue my interest in librarianship, I am currently enrolled in Clarion University’s online MLS program and am graduating December, 2010.  With the knowledge that I have gained through the experience of working in an academic setting, I have acquired many of the qualifications many of the above job advertisements seek.

·        Access Services: As a Student Supervisor III, I supervised all students; issued warnings, provided training sessions, and oversaw all aspects of student operations including circulation, reserve, duplication, stack maintenance, and interlibrary loan.  Through these services, I have become extremely knowledgeable in ARES, Odyssey, OCLC, Ariel, Adobe, Voyager, RapidILL, ILLiad, and Access PA.  I also work closely with the supervisors of these departments while providing access to materials for students, faculty, and staff.

·        Tutorials and Instruction: As a Student Supervisor III and Outreach Support Intern, I have had multiple opportunities to create tutorials for such services as Duplication, E-Reserve, and ILL which are used in many library instruction sessions.  I have also observed library instructional sessions in order to familiarize myself with these methods of teaching.

·        Reference: As the Outreach Support Intern, I have had the opportunity to spend many hours at the Reference Desk shadowing a librarian and aiding students and faculty in finding and utilizing library materials.

·        Relevant Course-Work:  Cataloging, Collection Development, Government Documents, Business Reference, Library Management, Research Methods.

During my time at Millersville, I have had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects as well as working independently, being a team leader, and working closely with staff and faculty.  My organization and communication skills have been defining factors in my success on every project I am a part of.

Currently, I am working as a collection agent building communication and interpersonal skills as I finish my MSLS degree.  If asked how I might fill the gap (of a little over a year) in the academic setting, I would explain that my time working at Millersville ended because I was no longer a student.  I began working at Apex Asset Management collecting medical debt where I deal directly with consumers, attorneys, and others among a diverse working environment where I gained the knowledge and skills of working in a high-stress, fast-paced environment utilizing my interpersonal skills to facilitate payments.

Findings

Interestingly enough, much was learned from the different job ads.  Every ad required a MLS or equivalent from an ALA-Accredited university.  Other than that, the most frequently looked for skill was experience.  Every ad asked for at least 5 years experience ranging all the way to 8 years.  As graduation approaches, I have thought about my experience and how it relates to the library-world.  Many jobs, aside from library management, require roughly 5 years experience.  Luckily, as a student worker and intern, I have gained much of the experience that is required (not just preferred).

References

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  (2010, July 27).  Lehigh University, Director of LTS             Administration & Planning [Online job description].  Retrieved from http://            cf.lehigh.edu/jobs/job_post_detail.cfm?PostID=498

Charlottesville, Virginia.  (2010, July 27).  University of Virginia, Director, Online Library

Environment [Online job description].  Retrieved from http://joblist.ala.org/

modules/jobseeker/controller.cfm?scr=jobdetail&jobid=15396

Columbia, Maryland.  (2010, July 27).  Howard Community College, Director [Online job description].  Retrieved from www.hccjobs.org

Doha, Qatar.  (2010, July 27).  Virginia Commonweath University School of the Arts,             Director [Online job description].  Retrieved from http://joblist.ala.org/            modules/jobseeker/controller.cfm?scr=jobdetail&jobid=15327

Ferrum, Virginia.  (2010, July 27).  Ferrum College, Head of Library Public Services             [Online job description].  Retrieved from http://joblist.ala.org/modules/            jobseeker/controller.cfm?scr=jobdetail&jobid=15265

Gainesville, Florida.  (2010, July 27).  University of Florida, Chair: Humanities and             Soecial Sciences Library [Online job description].  Retrieved from http://            web.uflib.ufl.edu/pers/FacultyPositions.html

Hobbs, New Mexico.  (2010, July 27).  New Mexico Junior College, Director of Library             Services[Online job description].  Retrieved from http://www.nmjc.edu/            jobs/            currentopenings.aspx?JobID=497

Houston, Texas.  (2010, July 27).  University of Houston, Associate Dean for Access             and Technical Services [Online job description].  Retrieved from http://            info.lib.uh.edu/general_information/jobs.html

Rochester, New York.  (2010, July 27).  University of Rochester, Director, Science and             Engineering Libraries [Online job description].  Retrieved from             www.library.rochester.edu/somervilledirector

Wilmington, North Carolina.  (2010, July 27).  University of North Carolina Wilmington,             Assoc. Univ. Lib. For Technical & Collection Management Services/Lecturer             [Online job description].  Retrieved from http://consensus.uncw.edu

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Multilingual Collections a must in American Libraries

(2007). Guidelines for the Development and Promotion Of Multilingual Collections and Services. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 47(2), 198-200. Retrieved from Library Lit & Inf Full Text database.

It seems it would be natural that American libraries would provide multilingual collections policies for libraries, however there seems to be a lack of awareness of what must go into collection development procedures in order to provide an adequate collection to serve the needs of all ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds of patrons.

This article describes specific guidelines for the development and promotion of multilingual collections and services for all library patrons.  The authors describe that it is primarily important to “provide an effective, balanced, and substantial collection for each ethnic, cultural or linguistic group in the community.”  They suggest purchasing library materials related primarily to the population of the library’s community according to the census.  Then, provide many different subjects, genres, and geographic materials appropriate to the patrons’ interests and user needs.

The article goes on to further explain different policies and procedures libraries can implement in order to promote the materials to the multilingual group.  For example, in order to adequately promote physical access, signage in the predominant language must be created.  It can also be noted that physical access can be gained by promoting the library through social and cultural community activities targeted toward these specific ethnic groups and can best be promoted through the library’s Outreach Services.

Overall, the importance of including different cultural groups into collection development can make for a more inviting environment for all library patrons.  Libraries must provide access to materials to all of the surrounding public and community regardless of the “preferred language” of the library.  It is also important to provide many different kinds of media and language acquisition programs so patrons can fully utilize the materials that are presented in the library.  It does not hurt to also have a well knowledgeable staff and perhaps one librarian that is bilingual to the other language predominantly spoken in the community.  It is absolutely essential to include the entire population of a library community in order to uphold the ethics of the American Library system.


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Death of a Listserv

The use of instant messenger (IM) with regard to reference capabilities is becoming more common among academic and research libraries.  Naturally, more people are talking about the benefits and also the negative aspects of utilizing this service within their own library through listservs.  In my exploration through the DIGLIB mailing list, I discovered a thread from October, 2009 dealing with this very topic.

The thread begins with a curious graduate student working on her MLS who is working on a research study “assessing undergraduate awareness, use, and satisfaction of an instant message reference service at a public university.”  She further states that the main portion of her research is interested in looking at the long-term benefits of implementing an IM system within an academic or research library, but cannot find any literature pertaining to her query.

Though only 2 people responded to her thread, she explicitly states: “Please contact me directly off the listserv if you care to share you experience.”  I found this to be counter intuitive to the purpose of a listserv, but I have come across this similar phrase among several threads that actually have substance.  Though, it seems, a few people wanted to share their experience regardless of her plea for “off listserv” contact.

Bob from Detroit writes that she should look for information through her “favorite search engine” to find information regarding the negatives pertaining to the use of IM’ing in a research or academic setting.  However, he goes no further in answering her question, nor does he provide any articles that could be of any use to her research project.

Though, the next post suggests that the original “thread-starter” should consider her terminology when researching about this topic.  Leo provides sound reason for this, in that he states “many libraries use rather convoluted language such as ‘Chat Reference.’”  He also goes on to say that libraries that have had success with this kind of implementation use services such as Libraryh31p or Meebo and “enjoy considerable usage.”  It seems, too, that in his experience with IM’ing for reference, it has also become a shift, as though the librarian were at the actual reference desk and therefore provides little benefit than actually meeting face-to-face.

Frankly, I agree with Leo.  The implementation of IM in place of a reference librarian, usually doesn’t bode well.  Many students do not take to the idea of IM’ing, and unless there is a librarian working late at night, students are even less likely to utilize the function.  For example, at Millersville University Library, they are currently using MSN Messenger, and are having little success with it, even when there is a librarian available after hours. Honestly, from my experience as an undergraduate, there is nothing better than asking for help on a research topic than from that of a face-to-face contact.  Some students wouldn’t agree, but in order for certainty, the reference interview is most important and I have found that there is an increasing amount of miscommunication when a text function is enabled.

However true both posts contributing to the main feed are, it seems that they are not quite the thoughtful approach that I may have had if I were participating in this discussion.  Both comments are rather short and provide little feedback or personal experience.  I have found that in order to help someone with their research, as a library professional, I would think it to be important to cite relevant literature and other reference materials to aid the original poster.  However, I have discovered quite the contrary.  Perhaps it is related to the fact that in the original thread, the poster wanted people to contact her “off the listserv.”  Again, I wonder, how does this help the people reading the thread?  It seems to defeat the purpose of the listserv utility and thus has provided no answer to the question posed.

Therefore, it becomes obvious to me that people (at least in regards to this post) are merely using the listserv to gain contacts in providing aid in personal and private research.  I have found, too, that many are simply posting ads for calls for papers to conferences, many of which are in other countries.  So, overall, my experience with using the listserv utility has been a negative one.  It seems as though they are not serving their purpose any longer and any meaningful discussion is happening “behind the scenes.”

I have often thought that participatory culture is leaning more toward the blogosphere and other means of social networking.  We must remember that e-mail and listservs have been around for a rather long time and it seems that they have run their course.  In order to find meaningful discussion and aid when speaking of reference issues, it may be more important to look at blogs and Twitter (micro-blogging) to gain knowledge and experience.  Overall, the only positive I see from the listserv is when someone has a question about where to find a rare item, and even then, there are other ways of finding materials.  It is apparent that it is time to explore other modes of participatory functions in order to aid reference librarians and their quest for answers and knowledge.

Gorman, Marisa. “Librarian Opinions on Success of Long Term IM Reference.” Online posting. DIGLIBS. Oct. 2009. Web. Apr. 2010. <http://infoserv.inist.fr/wwsympa.fcgi/arc/diglib/2009-10/msg00028.html>.

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[De]construction of the Reference Desk

I have often wondered where the reference librarian was when I needed them.  Haven’t you?  It seems whenever you need help, it’s after hours, or the librarian is in a meeting (shock!).  But, recently, I came across an article that functions as a model for any library that may be thinking of getting rid of “the desk” and embarking on a more sensible approach; the article I reflect on is called Desk Bound No More: Reference Services at a New Research University Library by Sara Davidson and Susan Mikkelsen.

The University of California Merced campus was the 10th satellite that opened Fall, 2005.  The librarians hired to establish the new library took it upon themselves to reevaluate traditional reference methods and to explore new opportunities that would better serve their students and faculty.  Essentially, they decided that the actual reference desk would no longer be needed and a roving reference approach would be utilized.  However, UC Merced decided to take the roving-reference approach to the next level.

Since their library opening was a fresh start, they were able to set up many different modes of communication that patrons could use to ask reference questions or get help on an assignment.  The librarians eventually decided that they would enable texting, social networking, email,instant messaging, and 24/7 chat capabilities.  They were very conscientious of the students they would be serving by also doing extensive research on the decline of reference services.  The author states that between 1991 and 2007, reference usage was down 51%.  This is greatly attributed to students believing they have the means to do more research themselves and therefore tend to be more self sufficient.  It should also be noted that students who grew up around social networking may be more comfortable communicating that way, and for that reason, walking up to the intimidating desk where the librarian sits may be a little anxious for some.

So, the librarians again took that into consideration and decided to make this non-threatening atmosphere where people could easily ask questions and not have to necessarily wait long for a response.  However, for those who want an answer right away, the library created a Service Desk where simpler reference questions could be answered by a student worker.  This library, like that of Millersville University, highly relies on their student workers in order to function.  I really appreciated that the students were respected so greatly to make decisions about whether a reference question was over their head or if they could in fact answer it themselves.  That is something that I would have liked in my previous experience because I have always looked at reference questions as sort of a puzzle that is extremely gratifying when coming to that conclusion and helping the patron.

It is that very principle these librarians had in mind when they decided to break “tradition.”  This is apparent when Davidson begins discussing the three major reasons they decided to do this based upon their library’s values:

1.  Constantly improve visibility, discoverability, and accessability of the library’s resources

2. Reference interaction should value persistent, asynchronous, multi-user forms of communication.

3. Reference should provide services that reflect our current information and technological environment and the diversity of its users.

However, though philosophically sound, there will always be some minor challenges that need to be overcome, and the article addresses that.  Student workers, since relied upon so heavily, will have to be trained extensively and this must be done so regularly in order to provide the best service possible for users.  It is also important that Davidson notes here, that students must be taught when to refer the patron to the reference librarian (no matter how intimidating that may be).  But the low amount of challenges that are faced with this kind of library, make the change well worth it.

But it is unfortunate that many libraries as we know it will not be making this change any time soon.  The reason this library was able to do that so smoothly and easily is because they were starting fresh.  In a well established academic library, people are not so willing to change either because they cannot visualize the benefits or because they are blind to the problems.  The research within this article clearly shows the rapid decline of reference usage and the proof that majority of the time, students are not at the library during “reference hours.”  I know this from first-hand experience. It seems that the data must be addressed within libraries to break down these walls of tradition and complacency many have set for themselves.

Davidson, Sara andMikkelsen, Susan ‘Desk Bound No More: Reference Services at a New Research University Library’, The Reference Librarian, 50:4, 346 – 355

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