Monday, July 9, 2007

Whither the Reference Desk

This morning when I opened my e-mail the first message I saw was from Betsy Richmond. She was forwarding on a lengthy compilation of messages that reflected a Collib-l discussion of how to best attract students to the reference desk. Many academic libraries are seeing a fall in their reference desk use statistics. The discussion was wide-ranging and I suspect is reflective of what many of us are thinking about. Is time spent on the reference desk the best way to utilize professional librarians? Is it the best way to reach students? Is that where our students expect to find help with their research assignments? Are there better ways to assist students by utilizing new technologies?

I too have been thinking about this for years but have not come up with any clean answers. At one point I was wondering how one could be a good steward of university finances if the highest paid people in the library spent a large portion of their time sitting at a desk waiting for someone to ask them a question. But that really seemed to forget the nature of libraries. Here at OSU we have been working on lessening the time librarians spend on the reference desk to free up their time for doing other activities. The question was one of impact. Could librarians make a greater impact on campus by working more closely with faculty and graduate students with their research? By developing technologies that allowed students to learn and use library services more independently? Or would they have a greater impact on student research by offering one on one consultation sessions?

They are still working on finding a model of service that works best for OSU students and faculty. I would hope that during the coming year we will discuss how best to develop our reference services that are best suited to our university and our students and faculty.

One technology that seems to have worked very well here is having a chat box available in the upper right hand corner of most library website pages. From the very beginning of offering this option, students have been submitting chat questions as much or more than they have at the reference desk.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi John-

Welcome from UWEC's warm body with LexisNexis. I was in the Library Wednesday and learned you were coming.

You will like the midwest. I live in the Twin Cities, get thru EC several times a year for LexisNexis, more on weekends at W0AIH, an amateur radio station ( in Fall Creek, where I help operate during CW (Morse Code) contests.

-Jeff Strandberg