2007 Midwinter

Reference Services in Small and
Medium Sized Research Libraries
Discussion Group

"Who Needs a Reference Desk?"

January 21, 2007 -- 10:30-11:30

Session Notes

1. Attendees were welcomed by Jeanie M. Welch, Steering Committee chair, and Shirley Brander, co-chair. Approximate attendance: 175.
2. Handouts were a graph showing the decline in traditional reference statistics, compiled by the Association of Research Libraries (see attachment) and the following article: Siess, Judith. “Ditching the Reference Desk.” The One-Person Library, vol. 23, no. 7 (November, 2006): pp. 7-8. This article discussed the closing of the reference desk at Northwest Missouri State University in 2001 and included reactions to it.
3. A show of hands indicated that most attendees still had traditional reference desks at their institutions.
4. The floor was opened for discussion with participants asked to give their name and institution.
5. There were several models of reference service discussed, including traditional reference desks, combined reference desks with either circulation or computer help desks, roving reference, and VRD/IM services.
a. New ways of patron contacts included:
i. Video virtual reference service, including video kiosks outside the library, using Webcams
ii. The Singapore Public Library model—Branches have “concierge” service using cell phones to contact reference librarians at the main library.
iii. Roving reference, including putting laptops on book trucks or using wireless communication software (e.g., Vocera [http://www.vocera.com/]
b. Reference statistics were discussed, including revamping statistics, including reference transactions done away from the traditional reference desk (e.g., individual offices) and using MIS software to track reference transactions that include questions, answers, sources used, and time for each question. One institution was using University of Wisconsin software.
c. Marketing of reference services was discussed:
i. Setting up reference services in student centers away from the library
ii. Going to departments
iii. Providing bookmarks in local schools to advertize VRD
iv. Publishing reference questions on the Web (e.g., My Space)
v. Putting the knowledge base on library Web site

c. Analysis and evaluation of reference services:
vi. One institution found that library Web sites were more frequently used by students who came to the library and also found 90% of questions were similar and used a limited number of resources.
vii. One institution used the READ Scale to analyze the degree of difficulty of reference questions.

Respectfully submitted,
Jeanie M. Welch
Chair, Steering Committee.