On Life Support, but Not Dead Yet: Revitalizing Reference for the 21st Century
You have to know that the title reeled me right in. This might be my favorite session of the entire conference. It was all about what reference IS these days, how we count it, who we are serving, and what the service looks like.
One thing I really like is the one-desk model. Basically, the idea is that no matter what desk a patron goes to, they can get the answer to any question they have. If they go to the youth desk and want to sign up for an adult program, they can do that. If they go to adult reference and want to get reading suggestions for a 6-year-old, they can do that. If they want to renew their ILL materials at the reference desk, they can do that. If they want to put a hold on a book at the circulation desk, they can do that. I've always said it's not up to the patron to know who they can ask what. They just go to a staff person and ask their question and we take it from there. The fewer people we can refer them to, or the fewer times we can transfer the phone call, the better.
Arlington Heights library has all phone calls and reference chats handled off-desk. That's a great way to have available staff who aren't trying to do ten other things.
Ann Arbor library has an online module they use called "The Channel." If any staff person needs help with a reference question or any other info, they put it on the channel and get an answer back from another staff member at any other branch, very quickly.
Part of this conversation was the idea of having non-librarians on the service desks with degreed librarians available as backup help. I love my library's Reference Assistants, and I can't imagine not having them around. That model works really well for us. Ann Arbor has taken it up a notch, though, and their librarians are not on desk much at all. Personally, I would really miss being on-desk, but I do see that their librarians are creating some really great content with their uninterrupted (ok, "less-interrupted") time. Having Reference Assistants has done the same for us, but I think our professional staff has maintained a nice connection to our public that theirs may not have as strongly.
I still love this discussion. Anything we can do to keep our libraries relevant to our customers is a priority. We have to continually examine our resources and how they are used, as well as our staff.