Thursday, March 6, 2014

Tales of the Roaming Librarian March 6th

    After another week of Roaming the library looking to bring Reference wisdom to the masses, I've still not had much luck. This sign is nice and all, but it is not of itself going to be enough. The reactions I'm getting are all positive, or at least I take them as positive in that people are chuckling at it, which is what I want. But that is not translating directly into "OK, so I've got a question". In simple terms, few students are going flag us down like a waiter in a restaurant with their questions, so we must go to them. This problem is not new, librarians have known for decades that a lot of our users do not or will not ask us for help directly. It has been found that often a patron hesitates to ask for fear of appearing stupid or uninformed. So the ones who do ask, should get credit for overcoming that fear, and have their questions taken seriously by library staff, no matter what we think of it.
     Lately, I have been doing a very librarian activity – I’ve been searching the library professional literature for articles on the Roaming/Roving Reference service model. To my surprise, this model has been implemented in various ways for over thirty years. This project, here, is the first time I’ve ever heard of it.  Even from  a cursory reading, I've gotten some ideas on how to I approach students. Here are a few thoughts:
  • If they are wearing headphones/ear buds – they want to be left alone.
  • If they are watching a video – do not disturb.
  • Students sitting in lounge chairs in the Reading Room are reading, not studying. 
  • Make eye contact with patrons, and smile! A return smile and eye contact held can be the 'in' for starting a reference interview.
  • The above are examples of non-verbal cues. Learn how to interpret these. 
  • Find out the peak occupancy times, and focus Roaming on those times.
  • Look for groups, in particular groups reading and talking together over their books.
  • Groups engaged in chatting are probably not looking for research help, but if you hear an “in” as you go by, you might stop to chat for a moment, and let them know what you’re doing, and why. 
  • Going out looking for questions to answer may overcome the concern that patrons should not 'bother' the librarians with questions. 
  • Ambulatory patrons may be open to giving directional advice ("Are you finding what you're looking for? or "Can I help you find what you want?")
  • Anyone who speaks to you is giving you an opening for at least a brief chat, with explanation of your purpose. All interaction with patrons is PR for the project.
  • Once onto an actual question, ask the students if they know where to locate resources on the subject at hand. 
  • Offer to walk with patrons to the relevant area of the stacks, don't just point.
  • Mention or better show the meta-search engine and the LibGuides.
  • It is important to brush/sharpen up your communication skills to make this work!

A few notes from the ground:
     One group of students, sitting in the Reading Room, were poking each other and giggling as I came in. The Reading Room is supposed to be quiet, so I eyed them but didn’t intervene; instead I walked around the room, planning to come back around in case they had not settled down. They must have noticed my attention, because they were all looking at me as I swung back around to their table. I made a joke about threatening to ‘shush’ them, but not wanting to look like the bad guy. The truth is that in the Reading Room, the students police themselves on acceptable volume. Having thus provided myself with an 'in', I looked at what they were studying. One student was reading notes on Jane Austen's Persuasion for a Romantic Literature class. I remarked on my own appreciation for Austen, and suggested that the student try reading Elizabeth Gaskell next. 
One of her friends snapped a picture while we were talking - 
(Faithful readers should know by now that I'm kidding. This is Thomas Lockey, also of the Bodleian Library 1660-1665.)


Hibner, Holly. “The Wireless Librarian: Using Tablet PCs for Ultimate Reference and Customer Service: A Case Study. Library Hi Tech News 5 (2005) 19-22.
Kramer, Eileen H. “Why Roving Reference: a case study in a small academic library.” Reference Services Review Fall 1996 67-80.
McCabe, Kealin M. and James R W MacDonald. “Roaming Reference: Reinvigorating Reference through Point of Need Service.” Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research.  6.2 (2011)
Smith, Michael M. and Barbara A Pietraszewski. “Enabling the Roving Reference Librarian: wireless access with tablet PCs” Reference Services Review 32.3 (2004) 249-255.
Swope, Mary Jane and Jeffrey Katzer. “Why don’t they ask questions?” RQ 12.2  (Winter 1972) 161-166.

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