Saturday, May 07, 2011

What the Public Sees

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What kinds of things do you work on when you're on-desk? You want to be approachable and interruptable, but you don't want to just sit there and look bored between questions. Some projects look suspiciously like slacking off, but could be legitimate work!

Updating the Library's Facebook and Twitter feeds, for example, could be misconstrued as just playing around. We use social networking tools to accomplish real work, but the public might not realize that.

Reading blogs and journals could also be misinterpreted. Patrons might not be able to see the cover, which clearly displays Library Journal, so for all they know we're reading People or Cosmo.

Chat reference is another one.  Is the librarian chatting with her boyfriend about date night?  Probably not. She's probably chatting with a patron through the live reference chat service.  What if reference staff used smart phones to answer SMS (text) questions instead of a web service like Google Voice?  It would look like they were texting - which they are - but maybe not very professional.  In reality, what a relevant, current service for a library to offer!  They might use those same devices for roaming reference using mobile apps for the library catalog or databases. Again, it might just look like playing around to those who don't understand the service. 

Patrons often apologize for interrupting the staff person at the desk, so maybe they do know we're working on something legitimate. I've always been subconscious about what I work on while on-desk, though. I spent the first ten years of my librarian career 100% on-desk, so I'm probably just touchy about it. I did ALL of my work on-desk back then, so I was always working on something between reference questions. Even then, I wondered if patrons thought I was reading books at the desk when I was actually assigning call numbers or taking them off of "new" status. Did they see the Facebook screen open on my computer and think I spent my days (and their tax dollars) playing Farmville? (Mind you, Farmville was NEVER open on a work computer...I've never actually played it!) Patrons might see that telltale blue Facebook logo and make assumptions, not looking closer to see the library name there too.

Of course, if anyone ever asks what we're doing, we can describe whatever project we're working on and use it as an opportunity to talk about librarianship. The problem is that they probably won't ask. They'll tell their friends that they were at the library and the person at the desk was on Facebook.

Am I paranoid, or do other people think about this?


  1. I think about it, and I've experimented with spending and hour on desk looking ready and willing to help. Usually what happens is a patron comes up while I'm on the phone or not at the desk because I'm going to the stacks with another patron . . . there's basically no way to completely avoid looking busy and having them apologize for interrupting, so I might as well try and get some work done. I need the time to do collection development and try to make it something that is easy to stop and start, and I try to use my peripheral vision to register when people are approaching the desk.

  2. I agree - there is no way to completely avoid looking busy. I just make sure I look up and smile at people as they walk by. I catch up on blogs, do collection development, sort papers or do pencil/paper mind-mapping while at the desk.

    I work in an academic library so I also tell students during instruction sessions that their questions are way more interesting than anything I'm working on so *please* come bother me.