Moving Beyond the Reference Desk

Link to related materials:

Moving Beyond the Reference Desk: An Annotated Glossary

Post comments regarding this afternoon breakout session presented by Patricia H. Dawson (Rider University) and Katherine McGivern (Bergen Community College).

For a change of pace, I, a Systems Librarian, decided to sit in on a reference session. This session is a discussion of how reference can go virtual (aha, the technical angle).

The session started with a discussion by 2 reference librarians about the range of services provided in their libraries and as a field librarian.

Katherine shares with us her experiences at BCC:

  • Can’t reach every student, how do we reach more students on our 3 campuses (including 2 campuses without libraries — Hackensack & Lyndhurst). How can we reach students that come to the library but never talk to the Ref. librarians, or leave the computer except to use the restroom? Note: they have 120 computers in their library.
  • Eliminated the traditional reference desk. Meet students at eye level. Use butterfly monitors and double keyboards.
  • Tried all of these things — chat, library 1on1 appointment service, roaming librarians, embedded librarians
  • Appointment service is very popular.
  • Roaming helps enforce policies, gives librarians a presence, help students find books, makes librarians more approachable
  • Embedded librarian worked with an online class as the subject liasion. This did not take a lot of time.
  • Chat — visited WPUNJ to get a sense of how this works. Initial contact has been minimal. Questions covered a wide range of topics. A blast email was sent out re: this new service. They offer chat from noon to 5. Librarians cover chat when they are OFF the reference desk (i.e., in their office) in 2 hour shifts. They used meebo but made sure that it launches in it’s own page. Had only 100 questions throughout the semester. Some chat questions were reference questions, many were general questions about the college. Some students use chat while in the library. The low usage of this new service has raised some questions — she thinks that maybe the hours that they have set are wrong, chat probably needs to be offered more in the evening.
  • In sum, they are reaching more students and getting more reference questions. Students are impressed that the librarians are chatting and are on Facebook — BCC students think that their librarians are cool!

Patricia shares her experiences at Rider as a field librarian. She will post her vocabulary here on this blog.

  • Science faculty and students avoid the library. The library has decided to go to them (i.e., the Science building) instead.
  • Emailed a schedule to faculty.
  • Took a laptop with the relevant tools installed over to the building. Setup a place in the student study lounge.
  • Initially, contacts were with the faculty only. Students were slow to use the service. Scheduling has to be balanced with BI classes, holidays, etc. (i.e., don’t schedule the field hours when a lot of BI classes are being run).
  • Made “house calls” to the faculty.
  • Professors hand-delivered students, and called students on their cell phones and told them to come on down.
  • Opportunity to meet new faculty. Got good feedback from students.

I hope that some reference librarians will add their feedback on this fascinating session.


2 Responses to “Moving Beyond the Reference Desk”

  1. Bruce Slutsky Says:

    There may be various reasons that there are less physical interaction at the reference. Could it be that students don’t need help because their library instruction classes were effective? On the other hand are they just shy about approaching a person about their information need and would rather interact anonymously through chat? Are the databases easy enough for students to learn by themselves without assistance from a librarian? If so this means that the database publishers are successful in making their product user friendly. I am concerned when an invisible user does not find any information and may be afraid to ask for help.

  2. Victoria Wollny Says:

    For those interested in “field librarianship,” Lisa Allen (Drexel – INFO 651: Academic Library Service, Spring 2003) discussed advantages and disadvantages in her paper, NEW MODELS FOR PUBLIC SERVICE IN ACADEMIC LIBRARIES: CENTRALIZED OR DECENTRALIZED?” at

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