Rethinking reference is nothing new, and I'm unlikely to come up with any startling revelations. All I know is that I'm doing more and more instruction every term and it's my first priority. Balancing my time between direct service (reference and instruction) and my other duties is hard, and naturally I'm trying to figure out where best to expend my time and effort. My whole department, like just about every reference department at academic libraries, is trying to figure out what to do about this.
I work the late reference shift on Wednesday (attention stalkers!), and every week as I sit here answering mostly directional or factual questions, I think we might as well hire students to staff the desk at night and on weekends. But at least once every shift I end up with something more advanced, like teaching somebody how to use the ERIC thesaurus, finding the American Antiquities style guide online, or helping a student come up with alternative keywords for better searches in communications databases. I wonder what impact removing professional librarians from the desk would have on our patrons. I don't know our collection nearly as well as I'd like, but I can walk students right to specialized sources, and I don't think we could expect student workers to learn that level of complexity.
I don't have any answers, and I'm not raising any new questions. We keep adding services, and at some point, we're going to have to let some go. Some subject librarians are doing on-site reference in their departments and others do tons of consultations from faculty referrals. We've added IM reference, and it's being used a little. I'm trying to figure out how to integrate text messaging into this service, but that's just one item on a huge list of plans/ideas. I'm doing some consultations and a lot of instruction that's leading to students dropping by my office for help. I never thought I'd want to give up parts of my job, but if I could spend less time on reference, it might help with balance.
Just thinking out loud here.