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On Monday and Tuesday, April 6-7, I attended the REFolution: Reference Service in a Constantly Changing World conference in Hershey, PA. It was a busy two days with lots of content and not as much chocolate as you might expect!

Foreshadowing Reference Futures: Far Out or Forthcoming?- Mary Radford (Rutgers University)

After an early flight out of Greensboro, I arrived in time to check into my room and head to the ballroom for lunch and the keynote address. Mary Radford is a professor at Rutgers University and was a very engaging and energetic speaker. She began her talk by discussing all of the continuous change that we deal with, both in our jobs and at home, because of advances in technology. She shared the results of research she has done on how Millennials (born 1978-1994), and more specifically Screenagers (born 1988-1994), get their information. This research showed that Screenagers want instant access and use their phones for texting and IM rather than talking. Interestingly, they prefer to text rather than to call because there are no awkward silences with texting, and they can carry on multiple conversations at one time.

When discussing their responses to virtual reference specifically, Screenagers used the service because it was recommended to them, it was convenient and it was efficient. They didn’t use VR because they perceived that they got unhelpful answers when they did use it, and that those answers did not go beyond what they had already found via Google. They were also interested in interacting with subject specialists who could get them beyond the basics they had already located.

In terms of marketing reference, Radford suggested promoting our full range of options because our users want to know all of the ways they can contact us. To illustrate how we could promote the convenience and efficiency of using reference services, she shared a tag line from Harvard, “spend two hours doing research or 5 minutes with a Harvard librarian.”

Looking into the future, she sees continued growth in the following areas: distance education, technology innovation, the use of portable wireless services, ebook digitization, assessment, collaboration through consortial involvement and different models of staffing. She closed with, “we are change managers, don’t get in the way of change.”

READ Scale: Using Qualitative Data to Record Levels of Effort and Expertise in Answering Reference Questions- Lynn Berard (Carnegie Mellon University), Bella Karr Gerlich (Dominican University)

The traditional method of keeping statistics at public service desks is to just keep tick marks for each question or patron interaction. Obviously, a single tick mark does not reflect the variations in the time it takes to answer a question or the level of subject expertise needed. The READ Scale (Reference Effort Assessment Data) is one method that can be used to reflect these aspects of our reference interactions. Each interaction is given a rating from one to six, one being directional and six being in-depth, labor intensive research assistance. Berard and Gerlich discussed their national study that focused on the implementation of this scale in academic libraries of various sizes around the country. They started by surveying the libraries involved to make sure that they all agreed on how different types of questions would be ranked. This is an important aspect to keep in mind, because it is crucial that each participant is using the same criteria to rank their interactions as everyone else. Beyond the time involved in answering the question, other criteria used to rank interactions included the number and types of sources consulted.

Most of the libraries in the study felt that the system was easy to use and easy to incorporate into their workflow at the reference desk. The libraries used the statistics they gathered to make staffing changes (maybe a student can handle the times when there are mostly one and two level questions) and to have on-going staff training and development (staff discussed how they might have answered the question differently, veteran reference librarians showed newer librarians different resources and vice versa).

Google Gems for Reference Librarians- Russell Palmer (Lyrasis)

This was a pretty interactive session, with lots of demonstrations and examples from attendees on how they use Google everyday in their workflow and at the reference desk. I was familiar with quite a few of the resources mentioned, but it is always good to have a refresher on all of the things you can do with Google. A few I liked were:

  • Google sets: fill in two or more words in a series, and Google will give you other related terms (enter hook and line, Google adds reel, lure, float, sinker, bait). It was suggested that this would be good for students to use when they need to think of additional search terms.
  • using the “:”: examples given were: define: , stocks: , allintitle: , and filetype: . The example for filetype was to search filetype:pdf coca-cola to locate annual reports and other company information that isn’t on the website but is located in pdf files.
  • Google news archive: useful for geneology searching and has a helpful timeline feature that allows you to see when in time the majority of references to your search topic appeared.

Scaling up IM Reference: Using Library H3lp- Rebekah Kilzer (Drexel University)

Rebekah Kilzer discussed the implementation of Library H3lp in the reference department of Hagerty Library at Drexel University, starting with the evolution of their virtual reference services. In 2006, they used AIM and Yahoo with an average of 30 chats per month. In 2007 they added gmail and MSN, and in 2008, meebo. Their IM traffic jumped from 100 chats per month in Winter 2008 to 600 chats per month in Fall of 2008. Their email traffic also rose during this time, partly because their IM requests were routed to email when the chat service was unavailable. The increase in chats and emails required a change in desk staffing, and they now have two librarians at the desk each hour and one in their office monitoring the chat service.

Library H3lp is an open source program, though there is a minimal fee based upon FTE (this wasn’t discussed in detail). The program was designed specifically for libraries and features queues, customizable widgets, the ability to transfer chats to another librarian, stat tracking and call logging. Other aspects that I found interesting were: patrons can email the transcript to themselves when they are done, it can convert text to chat, any previous IM clients can be forwarded to it, and the widget can be set to forward questions to email when there isn’t anyone staffing the desk.

Kilzer stressed the importance of staff training before the new system was active. They did a lot beforehand to make sure that they kept the good aspects of the previous system for both librarians and patrons. They also did a lot of practicing, with small groups of librarians sending and answering questions amongst themselves, so that they would be comfortable with the interface and features. They found that after they implemented Library H3lp, of the over 200 questions they answered, almost all were through the Library H3lp interface, with 2 from AIM and 2 from Google Talk.

Of these sessions, I really liked the presentations on the READ Scale and Library H3lp. I think there are aspects of each that we could implement and benefit from, even if we didn’t decide to adopt the entire system.