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Moving Beyond the Reference Desk

This first session of the day was two presentations on how two different libraries have shifted the focus of their customer service away from the reference desk and the reference department and are meeting their patrons where they are.

Have Laptop Will Travel- Pat Dawson (Rider University)

Dawson is the science librarian at Rider, and in order to interact more with students taking science courses, she decided to have set hours in the science student study lounge in the science building. In order to not conflict with possible BI sessions (ie, the professor woudn’t schedule a session if they thought she would be providing this service), she set up times later in the semester, around Thanksgiving. Dawson posted signs in the study lounge letting students know when she would be having office hours there, and she emailed faculty members so they could announce in their classes.

Dawson ended up having some student contact during her sessions, but also felt that the faculty contact she had was just as valuable. She was able to meet with several new faculty members and set up library sessions for the following spring semester. She felt that the timing around Thanksgiving wasn’t right for the students, so she is planning on having the sessions several weeks before Thanksgiving in Fall 2009.

How We Stopped Manning the Fort and Became Virtual- Kate McGivern (Bergen Community College)

McGivern discussed several ways in which they have modified their reference area and services to be more accessible to their student population. During larger library renovations, they replaced their “fortress” desk with a low, dumbell, shaped desk. This made the desk more approachable and gave them more work stations where they could consult with students. They also added butterfly monitors so that students could see the searches more easily. (This is similar to what we have done over the last few years with our desk.) They also sent their entire reference collection to the stacks, and over the summer will make them circulating titles.

The reference librarians have also started doing “roaming” and “embedded” librarianship. Their usual staffing schedule is to have two librarians at the desk during a shift. One of those librarians is supposed to roam the library to see if there are patrons that need help. They wear nametags but don’t carry any sort of communication or handheld device. McGivern indicated (I think!) that their layout was such that they could see the service points from anywhere in the building (two floors) and that there were workstations on both floors that they could take patrons to if they needed extensive help (beyond deciphering LC and locating a book in the stacks). The embedded librarians were participants in courses via Blackboard. They created a “Librarian on Board” icon for those courses and the librarian had full access to the Blackboard course.

Both speakers highlighted their use of the book, The Desk and Beyond: Next Generation Reference Service by Sarah K. Steiner and M. Leslie Madden (Z675 U5 D425 2008, Reference Office).

Sending Out an SMS: Exploring Reference Via Text Messaging with Mobile Devices- Joe Murphy (Yale University)

Murphy discussed the implementation of texting services at the six Yale science libraries, and the evolution of text services in general. He strongly stressed the importance of text and mobile services to our student populations, several times saying that that was the main way that he got information. Our students are very comfortable with these methods of communication, but sometimes we are not. If libraries plan on implementing text services, we need to make sure that we manage staffing, cost and student expectations. We need to make sure we are answering questions as effieciently as possible, especially for those students who don’t have unlimited texting (ie, don’t answer the question as if it was an email, don’t assume that all students have unlimited texting). He also sees texting moving beyond reference services into other library services, such as catalog searching and overdue notices.

During the lunch break, there were two vendor presenations (AltaRama and Reference Universe) and time to look at vendor displays. I picked up information from Reference Universe, Credo Reference, LexisNexis and AltaRama.

AltaRama- Arthur Brady

AltaRama is another product that was designed by librarians, and the name is an aboriginal word for “the act of finding.” They have several different components and you can purchase them as a package or only the particular components that you need. The different components are: DeskStats, RefChatter (uses Library H3lp), RefTracker, RefScheduler, SMSReference and VRLPlus. He emphasized that they are all very customizible to each library.

Reference Universe- LuAnn Harrison

The Reference Universe product from Paratext has taken the indexes and articles from the major reference publishers (Gale, ABC-CLIO, etc…) and created an online database so that their contents are now searchable. Additionally, they have included the current online content from these publishers, making over 20 million citations searchable at the same time.

OK, This is Just too Weird- Elizabeth Edwards (George Washington University)

The last presentation of the conference was an interesting one discussing the Gelman Libraries study of Facebook use on their campus, and specifically, how students percieved the use of Facebook by the library and librarians. They worked with a graduate student in the anthropology department to do an ethnographic study of the student population. He did surveys and informal interviews with students who responded to a Facebook ad, a library webpage ad, or a Facebook group email. Most of the students felt that Facebook was a purely social space, the only academically related activity they used it for was to set up study group meetings. This made it difficult for students to understand why “authority” figures such as professors, librarians, or even family members, would be in that space, and it made them uncomfortable, but they weren’t sure why. When they looked at librarian facebook profiles, they liked the profiles that already matched what they thought librarians were like, i.e., included book recommendations, research tips, but not when they included personal information (though, interestingly, they felt like they were invading the librarians’ personal space). She recommended considering student perceptions of the library, taking the time to ask them how they felt about the library and Facebook as a social space, as this survey was specific to the George Washington student population, and other campuses could be very differerent.

Again, if anyone has questions or would like more information about any of the presentations, let me know! Lyrasis is supposed to post the powerpoints and other documents soon, so I can forward that to anyone who is interested.

Harrisburg Airport fun fact: In addition to a much-appreciated Starbucks and a lovely, non-desiel-fume- smelling waiting area, the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant is located at the end of the runway! Somehow I missed it when I arrived!