Reference Services Section RSS 2008 Annual Meeting Reference in Public Libraries Discussion Group

Meeting Notes
RSS Reference Services in Public Libraries Discussion Group 
ALA Annual 2008
(9 guest, plus chair and co-chair)

In addition to the 9 attendees, there were at least 6 people that had expressed and interested in the discussion group and visited the RSS Reference Services in Public Libraries Discussion Group table at the All Committee Meeting.

David Vidor, member of the RSS Evaluations of Reference and User Services Committee mentioned coordinating a possible future program/discussion group. Will contact incoming chair Ruby Licona.

Discussion Notes:

  • Web 2.0 – how do we integrate it and get non-tech savvy staff and higher-ups interested? 
  • 23 Things – At Cleveland Heights Library: All staff complete the tutorial, prizes (wii, ipod) are offered to finishers, gave presentations to all department in the library (including janitorial staff!), created a FAQ to explain why people use these tools, helps all staff be able to answer basic questions from patrons.
  • Show your administration examples from other libraries’ websites as to how they incorporate web 2.0 in their patron services.
  • – Use it to create pathfinders, search tags, searchable lists of abstracts.  Use it for patrons to create their own lists and bookmarks.
  • Pick 2-3 functions that you think would work best for your library and start with those.
  • See how nearby libraries use 2.0 technologies, see if you can learn from them.

Dewey or Don’t We?

  • Maricopa County is using subject areas rather than Dewey.  Spine label example:  author’s last name, subject matter (cooking, international).
  • DPL is now uses the term customers instead of patrons, and is thinking of moving toward a bookstore model.  Using “balance scorecard.”  Has different types of branch libraries; family (works well for browsing because holds aren’t allowed), literacy and learning, etc.
  • Wake County Public Library, NC: Library catalog doesn’t reflect all of the genres (just mystery, fiction, business, etc), and some are just indicated by adult nonfiction in the catalog.  So how do customers find items on the shelf?  Still have Dewey labels, but first categorization is in the item’s genre section.  It remains a challenge for pages to search and find holds.  All reference desks do circulation.


  • Roving librarians.  How do you rove the computer areas without making patrons feel like you are looking over their shoulder?  Stand at end of computer bank and as if anyone needs help.  Internet monitors (students?) scheduled for weekends and evenings. 
  • Caution roving librarians not to get too involved in shelving and then forgetting to pay attention to librarians.  Give a list of projects to roving librarians.
  • Cleveland Heights eliminated reference desk.  Calls come into a central number.  Have computer pods; one chair per station, no ready reference materials, locked access computers, log into mobile voip phone system.  Staff is scheduled in two hour shifts.  One complaint from staff is that they aren’t allowed to do work on the floor, so they get behind with projects, etc.

Chat Service

  • SPL does it at main library. 
  • Alexandrian Library (IN) does chat and virtual. 
  • Cleveland Heights has done chat off and on and just started utilizing the Spark client.
  • None of the other attendees do chat other than statewide chat reference.

Guest Logins

  • Alexandrian Library (IN) charges $1 for a one day/two hour guest pass. 
  • SPL charges $15 for a three month pass plus borrowing privileges. 
  • DPL is considering eliminating guest passes, only library card holders can use computer, guests will be registered for 30 day temporary card.
  • Cleveland Heights has free guest passes.

Print Management Systems

  • System allows patrons to load money on their library cards (Faros).
  • Print management is great!  Reduces amount of unnecessary printing, automatically calculates the free first 5 pages.

Effective Reference Performance

  • Useful tool to ensure librarian accurately understands the patrons’ questions.

Future of reference librarians in regard to interaction with patrons

  • Diminishing amount of reference questions.
  • Interaction with patrons won’t disappear, but might be different type of interaction (more how-to, instead of help-me-find).
  • Patrons think Internet answers are sufficient.
  • Trying to make technology and information sources more transparent.
  • People fall into two categories, those that want interaction and those that want to do it themselves.
  • Librarians need to feel satisfied with helping patrons with whatever their needs, even if it doesn’t involve a complicated reference questions.
  • Size of library influences type of interaction you will have with patrons.  Small libraries might have less complex questions, more of helping people with all kinds of needs.

Reference Statistics

  • How do you count, how does your count reflect new or different services?

Floating Collection

  • Works well in some systems, some systems have problem with too many items at some locations, not enough at others.