Wednesday, November 14, 2007

for future reference

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.


John said...

I wonder what impact removing professional librarians from the desk would have on our patrons.

It's not a linear thing, I can tell you that. Our desk is staffed at least 50% by student workers, staff members, and part times. It's truly a mix of people. Sometimes this has less than salutary effects, sometimes not. Certainly there are nights where I only get one or two "real" questions, but then there are nights like this past Tuesday when I leave the desk utterly brain dead. No way one of our undergrads, however good, could have provided the service I did.

Kaijsa said...

That's exactly what has me confused. Is it worth the cost (time and money) to have a librarian there just in case a complex question comes in? It bothers me to think of students not getting the specialized help they need, but that already happens between 10pm and midnight and other times the building is open but the desk isn't staffed.