Resurrecting Reference

That “Library Day in the Life” week seems to have caused many librarians to take another look at what they do for work.  From what i’ve been reading, no one really knows exactly what to do about it, either.  “Stuff” has to be handled on a daily basis by someone, and often it is the person on the spot that does it.

I attended a webcast, “Resurrecting Reference”  last Thursday.  InfoPeople sponsored it, and Joan Frye-Williams and George Needham were the featured speakers.  The handouts are available here (scroll down past the webcast description).  Although I missed the first half hour (because I forgot), the rest of what I gathered seemed to be that librarians can re-capture their roles as information arbiters by empowering other staff to handle the great majority of routine directional and procedural questions. The phrase Joan suggested was, “Here’s what I can do for you right now … and let me introduce you to the reference librarian, who can …”

Anther major theme was that information-seeking is now a collaborative behavior – people ask their peers first, and the experts next.  For libraries to remain viable as sources of information, librarians (“experts”) need to behave like peers: IMing, twittering and Facebooking in virtual space, and  roving (“What can I do for you?”), standing next to the patron and facing the same direction in physical space (“Let’s see if we can find it here…”), and not ever giving the impression that the questioner is dumb.  The old model of the patron coming to the desk is dead – by needing to go and ask, the patron is admitting failure, and it tastes bad to him/her.

For the last couple of years, I have believed strongly that phone service is becoming more important than ever before, because everyone has a cell phone, and has the capability of calling the library ad lib, whenever an information need arises.  The speakers, however, stated that people now simul-communicate – maybe twittering and texting at the same time as they are phoning or web-surfing.  Backing that up, I have noticed recently, when handling calls in our centralized Telephone Reference Service, callers will be online while we are talking.  It makes it easier to “walk” them through a process, like requesting a book or applying for a library card.

So, as Daughter often asks, “What does it mean?” It means that, because people often go online first, we need to make our library’s online presence a strong, dynamic value-added service.

My strongest interest is in remote delivery of library services. Remote use of our web site and catalog, including the electronic database subscriptions and downloadable materials, is increasing fast. We need to have a staff dedicated to coordinating our online presence and services – that job is spread across several departments and individuals, from marketing to collection development, from selectors of e-titles to individuals who put time in at the AskNow desk, from Systems staff to the librarians and paraprofessionals who answer the “contact us” and “askus” e-mail traffic.  Not once have they all got together to compare notes, to discuss popular services, to troubleshoot problems. We don’t offer any kind of IM or texting services, nor do we maintain an organized active presence in social spaces.  Telephone calls come in so fast that some callers abandon their calls before ever getting to a librarian.  We’re going to be last in line when people need information, if we don’t take action.

One of the items on my Life List is to convince Admin that our e-presence needs an e-staff to maintain it and an e-manager to coordinate it.


2 responses to “Resurrecting Reference

  1. “One of the items on my Life List is to convince Admin that our e-presence needs an e-staff to maintain it and an e-manager to coordinate it.”

    Where do I sign up???

  2. Let’s talk!

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