MOUSS Reference Services in Medium-Sized Research Libraries Discussion Group

1998 Annual Meeting Minutes
Tuesday, 30 June 1998
Renaissance Salon E
ALA Annual Conference
Washington, D.C.

Elliot H. Gertel, Florida Atlantic University, Chair, called the meeting to order at 9:30 a.m. and introduced himself and other members of the Steering Committee:

John Hepner, Texas Woman's University, Secretary
Chris Hannon, Smith College, Member at Large
Christine Whittington, University of Maine, Past Chair

The Chair explained that topics for discussion are now chosen at the meeting instead of in advance because changes in technology and reference services and resources move so rapidly. Discussion would continue uninterrupted until 11:30 a.m. and then adjourn to allow persons in attendance to meet scheduled airline flights. The Chair also announced that an election for two new Steering Committee Members at Large would be held. He noted that service on the Steering Committee is normally a five-year commitment, but one of the two elected individuals would be serving four years instead to replace a previously-elected Member at Large who is unable to complete her term.

All present were asked to introduce themselves to the group. In addition to the steering committee, representatives from the following institutions were present: University of Rochester (NY), University of Oklahoma, University of North Dakota, University of North Carolina (Charlotte), Broward County Community College, Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh), Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, University of California (Berkeley), California State University (Fresno), Utah State University, Wichita State University, University of Tennessee (Knoxville), Gallaudet University, University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee), University of Notre Dame, University of California (Irvine), Getty Research Library (Los Angeles), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Boston Public Library, ABC-CLIO, University of Miami (Coral Gables), American University, Johns Hopkins University, Cardozo School of Law, and one currently unemployed librarian. Thirty individuals attended the discussion.

The Chair asked for announcements of job vacancies. Positions available at the University of Maine, the University of Notre Dame, the University of North Carolina, and Broward County Community College were announced as either currently advertised or soon to be advertised.

The Chair pointed out that topics 7-8 from the last midwinter meeting had not been discussed and were eligible for discussion at the current meeting. Other topics were suggested from the floor. The following topics were selected for discussion by a show of hands from those present:

1. Internet and computer use policies for libraries, including adherence to campus, state and federal regulations.
2. Staffing patterns at reference/information desks, especially three-tiered arrangements.
3. Metrics: are surveys/data useful/valid measures of library activity.
4. Reference librarians teaching credit courses: release time, compensation, structure.
5. Collection development of serials in the reference department: budgeting, management of budget, and source of budget funds.
6. Librarian office hours in academic departments as departmental liaison.
7. Staffing of computer labs in reference areas.
8. Manual and electronic weeding and management of reference collections.

The Chair asked for volunteers to run for the two Steering Committee Member at Large positions. Kay Womack, University of Oklahoma, was elected to the four-year term. Patrick Oberholtzer, Gallaudet University, was elected to the five-year term.

5. DISCUSSION Topic 1: (Internet and computer use policies)
UMaine: Does have a policy. Tents are on each terminal. No e-mail, no games, no illegal activities. Terminal use is restricted to university students, faculty and staff only. One terminal is open to the public. Staff were subpoenaed to testify in a child pornography case. Middle school students were monopolizing public terminals. Not as strict with use by genealogists during the summer if the area is not busy.
UOk: Access is not restricted. The major purpose of the terminals is identified as for research or scholarly work. Students enforce the policy. Terminals can be used for e-mail.
FAU: Users may be doing research with e-mail.
UOk: Printing is free in the library.
UCB: Technicians took off the e-mail function. Access to e-mail can be blocked. Terminals can be modified to allow sending but not receiving e-mail.
UCI: 20 terminals used. An interactive learning center is on the second floor. No e-mail option is available in the reference area. E-journals are sent via e-mail. Students must go to the lab for color printing and must present their ID). Patrons sometimes try to enable e-mail through Netscape. "Send file" option goes to e-mail. The laboratory in the reference area is more open allowing better monitoring of activity. Reference terminals time out users to turn over terminals. The use of laptops is encouraged in the reference area.
UNC: The use of e-mail is discouraged: students are sent to the laboratory. The e-mail option is available in a half-dozen laboratories on campus. Library users can be restricted to services available only in the library. Terminal conversions can be used to sneak a computer lab into the reference area. Approximately 30 terminals are available.
CM: Length of use can be affected by multi-tasking during sessions. Provide express work stations.
UNDm: Approximately 25 workstations are available in the reference area. Not all are visible. Terminals run WindowsNT. Nine terminals (two requiring users to stand) are for public use. Others require authentication and a password. Policing function is uncomfortable for reference librarians. Internet access is free at Notre Dame but the public library charges. The computer lab is separate from the reference area. Users may link to the web once at a workstation.
UWM: Two labs are in the library. A teaching lab is open evenings and weekends: it is a 24 hour computer lab when not used by reference. Workstations have a different functionality at night. Student monitors are used to supervise the area. Originally there were problems with the server, but now there are two separate servers and the student monitors switch over from one to the other.
NIST: Try setting up express terminals. Also could use dumb terminals for e-mail only, optionally set to send only.
UtS: The campus computing center is adding e-mail terminals throughout campus. Every building will have two terminals just for e-mail.
UCB: Consider the terms of the library borrowing policy: students, faculty and staff are the library's primary clientele.
UNDm: How do you know if someone is a primary user? You can't always tell.
BP: An ID is required for internet access. Time restrictions of one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon were changed to one hour per day. Would like a 1/2 hour time limit on Sundays. Users clock in. Staff at the reference desk handle reservations. No e-mail option is provided. Four terminals are for adults, four for young adults, and two for children.
IMi: A Texas institution installed plastic holders for ID cards on each terminal. Reservations are taken for terminals. The ID placed in the plastic holder allows the user to be identified without disturbing the user's work. A user can be bumped from a terminal if not signed up. The system is easy for staff to deal with.
BCC: Terminals provide internet access. E-mail times out. Consider how to handle children's access in the Netscape graphical system.
UR: Library users of computer resources have increased but not enough to be overwhelmed yet.
HK: The computer lab offers a full range of services on 40 terminals. The reference center has 30 OPAC terminals. Sit-down terminals have no web access. Stand-up terminals include web access. Terminals are configured to access only library resources.
Gal: One stand-up terminal provides web access. E-mail is blocked.
UNDm: A stand-up terminal is for external use. Mobility-impaired access is a problem to be dealt with.
Gal: A separate sit-down terminal is provided for staff and handicapped use. It includes a "Library staff only" flap sign on terminal.
UR: How much handicapped use a library has can be a factor.
SC: Open terminals are used. Database licenses specify campus student access only. Lexis/Nexus verify on IP address.
UNDm: In signing up for Lexis/Nexus, stand-alone terminals are being eliminated.
FAU: All dumb terminals were replaced with PCs. The use of e-mail is widespread. A satellite computer lab exists. [The Chair indicated discussion should be discontinued or no time would be available to discuss other topics. A question was raised about timing discussions].

Topic 2: (Staffing patterns at reference/information desks)
UNDm: Use paraprofessional staffing for slower hours. Add another paraprofessional level to answer some types of questions.
HK: Two staff at the counter work as a team. The librarian generally handles reference questions and the library assistant handles general or directional questions. The reference librarian is identified as such.
UOk: At the reference desk, the first hours are staffed by a library technician, the last two hours are staffed by a graduate assistant. Staffing patterns depend on how busy it is and include one librarian, two librarians, and one librarian with library assistant.
Gal: Mixed results are achieved with student training. It is hard to get students to refer questions. Lots of time is spent on training. Reorganization at the University of Maryland to one library resulted in doing way with paraprofessionals. ACRL is planning a panel discussion on the topic.
WS: Friendliest students sometimes end up being the most trouble, because they are so eager to help. Help was physically moved from a reference/information desk to a "Computer Help Desk". Users pay for printing. The reference desk staffed by a couple of paraprofessionals with special training.
UWM: Professional librarians and paraprofessionals staff the information desk. Library Science students and interns are used. Four persons are scheduled at the desk; three on weekends.
CM: Administration has the most interest in tiered service arrangements. Simple questions are not always as simple as they appear. A reference librarian needs to interface with the community or lose contact with clientele.
SC: How can universities staff for the projected move to 24 hours daily reference service?
GRI: More paraprofessionals may need to be used. Schedule two hours per week.
HK: Two hours per week is not enough time on the desk.
UNDm: Ten hours per week is the threshold. With fewer hours you lose skills and miss new things. A commitment is needed at least to the minimum time.
UOk: One librarian is pushing for the tiered reference approach. Reference desk closes at 11 p.m. One librarian is on call while one is at the desk.
UCB: Budget cuts resulted in combining reference and information desks. The staff of nineteen students do shelving and information desk duties handling equipment and reference questions. Seven hours of desk training are provided. Tier 1 deals with how to use indexes, NewsBank, and Proquest. Student turnover is a factor. For the first five weeks on the desk, a new student is paired with a more advanced student.
UMW: Eighty-one hours of service is usually expected to be provided.

Topic 3: (Metrics)
UR: An involved surveying method is being used. What are valid measures?
GRI: Reference statistics involve in-library/outside-library assistance, phone/in person assistance, reference/ready reference/15 minutes or longer, and CDROM/OPAC assistance. Two desks are surveyed. One person collates statistics.
SC: What do you use the surveys for?
GRI: Data is compiled for the administration to use to verify the use of the library.
UND: We try to compile a picture of everything we do. We survey every fourth hour. Results show the complexity of reference work.
UNDm: Numbers have dropped. Questions take longer to answer.
HK: We use a telephone column in the survey. Extended responses are those that last more than 30 minutes.
BC: Consider the complexity of questions.
UMn: The number of questions is down. We are dealing with more extended reference questions. A monthly statistical report is compiled.
UNC: Track use of web pages. The server reports statistics for each web page. These are just as important as other statistics.
Gal: The style/type of librarian affects statistics. Just how valid are the statistics?
UND: Statistics can be increased by roaming.
UWM: Paper changes and jams were moved to a different category. Repeat contacts with the same patron are counted separately.
UOk: Statistics are affected by how the tics are counted.
CU: The university administration uses statistics. They affect the budget. How is the quality of services being measured?
UNDm: Currently, we don't count individual questions. UMn: Individuals add their statistics to their activity reports.
UNCC: Monthly statistics help with self-evaluation at the end of the year. They show what the department does as a whole.

With thanks to everyone for attending the discussion, the Chair announced that it was time to adjourn and noted that topics 4 through 8 would need to be postponed. He issued a reminder that the next discussion will be held during the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tuesday, 2 February 1999, at 9:30 a.m. (location to be announced).

The Chair adjourned the discussion at 11:30 a.m.

Submitted by John C. Hepner, Secretary