Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Reference Librarians and library staff, never the twain shall meet?

Public libraries are seeing a gain in the number of non-MLS reference librarians. In addition more and more library staff members such circulation clerks, pages, and public computer specialist are answering reference questions or ready reference questions.  This has caused some resentment amongst various staff members as librarians feel that reference questions aren't adequately being addressed, and non-librarians feel as if they are being unfairly criticized.  The librarians are also feeling that their degree is not being utilized.  We are also looking at moving to a combined circulation and reference desk which will only excaperbate the problem.

To address these issues we have decided to develop a training program with written guidelines for all library staff.  For example, the program will address what type of ready reference questions can be answered by any staff member and when a the question needs to be referred to a reference librarian. A further extension of this will be reference training for the librarians - both those with MLS and without a MLS.  

There are four main areas in which I want to focus on for the reference librarian training.  One area I want to exam is how we are using information resources at the desk.  Are we just finding books for consumers, or are we also utilizing our databases, websites, and other forms of media.  Also, how do we provide utilize all of the sources without overloading the user with information?   The second area is how we are presenting the information to our customers.  Are we expecting them to learn to adjust to library lingo and methods, or are we adjusting to our changing customer needs?  If we are, how can we continue to improve in that area?  The third area is emphasizing good customer service.  This begins with a proper reference interviews and includes getting up and walking the customer to their resource.   The last area I want to investigate is what technological tools we can use to help us and to help the customers.  As I love to play with new gadgets and apps, this will be a fun one.

How do you handle reference in your library?  Is your circulation desk allowed to put a book on reserve?  At what point do they refer questions to the reference librarians?  In what areas do you recommend training?

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