MOUSS Reference Services in Medium-Sized Research Libraries Discussion Group

2001 Midwinter Meeting Minutes

Tuesday, January 16th, 2001

Renaissance Ballroom East,

Washington DC


Because Chair Kay Womack was unable the attend the meeting, Past Chair, Chris Hannon, began the meeting at 9:34 A.M. by introducing herself and Steering Committee member Patrick Oberholtzer who will serve as Secretary. All participants introduced themselves. Ten participants attended representing the following institutions: California State University-Fresno, Eastern Illinois University, Gallaudet University, Iowa State University, Smith College, Texas Woman's University, University of Florida, University of Notre Dame, University of San Francisco, and University of the Pacific.


By unanimous acclaim Colleen Seale was elected as the new Member at Large. Participants were also informed that when the minutes from this meeting are posted on the RUSA-MOUSS web site, they will be notified by e-mail. Numerous vacancies were announced at the University of Florida.


The Chair asked for discussion topics. The topics were:

  • Graying of the profession
  • Pornography or other objectional materials on public terminals: Intellectual (or viewing) freedom vs. workplace harassment issues
  • Qualitative analysis of Reference Services Staffing Level of the Reference Desk: splintering of duties and/or additional duties
  • Usually we vote on the topics suggested and discuss topics in order of number of votes received. Due to the low number of participants at this meeting, we decided to have a looser more free flowing discussion


TOPIC 1: Reference Duties and staffing of the Reference Desk

Notre Dame (ND) began this discussion by mentioning that reference librarians are taking on more responsibilities and duties in addition to the traditional duties that have always been performed. We add new things but don't throw out the old ones. We see fewer questions at the desk and that has resulted in single staffing where as before we had double staffing. Smith College (Smith) said that staff needs time to react to changes and that staff are frustrated with changes and duties added. University of San Francisco (USF) said that new duties are added all the time. An additional concern was how do new librarians learn to teach? The whole process seems very seat of the pants and that no experience in instruction is a problem. USF also mentioned that their 5 regional libraries are staff only part time; that patrons will phone in questions to the library. University of Florida (UF) asked who is a distance education student? Students with long commutes, weekend, evening, or part-time? A new facility has recently been established in Florida that is supposed to handle these types of questions. Smith mentioned that they have a grad program in Social Work and that students live on campus in the summer but are off campus the remainder of the year. We compile a list of libraries that students can use when they're on placement. Sometimes they will actually have borrowing privileges, sometimes just access. We also mail Smith books to students on placement and will do ILL for articles. For students with no ready access to an academic library, we will copy articles from journals at Smith. Iowa State University (ISU) brought up the difficulty of multiple school-sponsored courses. When a course is jointly sponsored between two schools and needed materials are in both libraries, how can students access the information they need? One solution is to give identification numbers to all students. Gallaudet mentioned that it seemed that departments on campus develop courses for distant education without thinking about the libraries role. However, the library is expected to provide the same kind of service to distant Ed students that they would provide to walk in students. ISU asked what should we stop doing? Sending students to the electronic databases when you know that the print indexes will probably be a better place to start. Stop using print source except as a last resort. Smith said that because fewer question are being asked at the desk, staff have been reduced. In contrast USF said that more questions are being asked and that staff is also being asked to do more. Smith asked what kinds of statistics are kept. Some kinds of questions are not recorded. Who records and why? Smith mentioned that folks at the U of Mich had notice an increase in traffic as indicated by their statistics. Some speculate that traffic had not really increase; it's just that staff are being more diligent in their recording of questions. UF, USF, Smith, Gallaudet, and ND all said they had pretty much dropped online searching with a few exceptions. The discussion next turned to reference chat services. UF recently added a chat service. Staff may do less desk duty in exchange for reference chat. Some staff are enthusiastic about this and others are not. The library hopes to integrate this service with other traditional reference duties. ND asked how UF organized chat duties. UF said that sessions are scheduled for up to 2 hour-blocks at a workstation. An audio cue tells when you have a question. Staff are permitted work on other things during their chat times if there is no business. A do not disturb sign is posted so that chat reference librarians will be able to work uninterrupted. Smith asked about hours the service is offered. UF replied that it now offered 20 hours a week (11-2). ISU wanted to know about training. UF said that the vendors provided training and they currently use NetAgent software. The ref librarians also practice chat sessions with each other. UF also discussed the pilot project they did for this service. They found to their surprise that the heaviest use was in the morning and not at night. Sunday night had the lowest use time. They plan to study the chat traffic and adjust staffing time if needed. California State University at Fresno (Fresno) mentioned that if ref librarians want to become involved in RUSA-MOUSS, you can attend the all committee meeting on Saturdays from 9:30 to 11am. In one room each committee will conduct business at separate tables and thus you can explore which one you would like to join. UP stated that MOUSS seems to have an identification problem. People think that it is about management, but it's really for front line librarians. Fresno, USF, Smith, UP, and ND briefly discussed the tracking situation and how it will affect this group. UP felt that it will take years to fully implement the tracking system and many of details have not been worked out. Even top ALA people don't know. Smith asked for idea about when this discussion group could meet. It has always been Tuesdays.

Fresno felt that this discussion group could meet anytime but Saturdays at 9:30, 2-4 Sunday, and 9:30 on Mondays could be considered. ND suggested Monday afternoons. Gallaudet said that we discuss this at annual. Smith thought the time had already been set but she would see if we could change it. Fresno returned to the subject of staffing the reference desk. Staff complains that they have too many hours on the desk but in fact they have fewer. ND mentioned that some people see reference as secondary to other duties. Some see themselves as subject specialist. What is the priority? Smith said that staff seemed tired. Both ND and Smith expressed how happy they were to see recent graduates and younger staff members hired. Gallaudet discussed what is the priority for staff. Some staff feel that the day-to-day operations count very little in their evaluations and therefore it isn't important. Rewards are given for big projects that involve technology. Also, some staff will bring work for them to do while on the desk. What message does this send to our patrons? What is the priority? UP said the reference service is invisible and it's difficult to measure. We need to do assessments to show how valuable the service is to students. USF said that his school is working on an assessment of learning outcomes. The dean of the school is very service oriented. The department won a campus service award for service. Fresno said that assessment is part of accreditation. Texas mentioned that is important for administration to be involved in services. They shape the service attitude. Smith wanted to know if anyone was doing assessment. Texas discussed survey forms and the difficulty of qualitative studies. Fresno asked how do we measure the outcome for the student? SF Probably do a focus group. At SF, anyone who wants training needs to a get a proxy and has to attend a ½ hour session for training. Good feedback. Smith asked has anyone done a focus group? UP explained that they did two: one faculty and one student. As a result we remodeled and added study rooms. That's what everyone wanted. We also wired rooms. ND mentioned that they did a focus group for interface for OPAC. Got good input. Focus groups good for ideas. Change did bring complaints though. UP mentioned that you need to be careful how you use these focus groups. It is easy to get a poor sample for your group. UF used focus groups for web design. Fresno discussed ways you could measure service by using the Yale survey tool ("Measuring service Quality at Yale University's libraries" Journal of Academic Librarianship. v. 26 no4, July 2000, p. 259-73 & "Reliability and Validity of SERVQUAL Scores Used to Evaluate Perceptions of Library Service Quality" Journal of Academic Librarianship. v. 26 no4, July 2000, p.248-258). UP explained how they designed their focus groups and the importance of a random sample. Don't forget to include staff in your Study.

The topic changed to Intellectual Freedom.

ND has open access to community so anyone can come and use the computers. Solution move machines, added filters and define behaviors that are not acceptable. Smith most people don't seem to care. A few are vocal. Biggest problem is too many people at a machine. Fresno: We are a public institution. Student has priority but anyone can use. If you view only that is okay. But if you invite others to view that is wrong. ND need to identify behavior that is inappropriate. USF: We have restricted access but it is not an issue. Because we are in San Francisco, people can easily go other places. Gallaudet open access leads to word processing, e-mail, etc…what is the priority? Texas: E-mail okay but not word. Enforcement only if all terminals are full. Posted on terminal of library research. Open to public. High school students can come in. Databases password. We have program in local high school. Not really problem. No staff member wants to be the police. Gallaudet mentioned that their recent program review said that the library should start offering word and other applications on computers throughout the library. UP said they had successfully established an Information commons in the library (65 computers) and they had hired 20 technology oriented students assistants to help with questions. This has been successful in part due to their student assistants. Smith, Texas and UP all emphasized that student assistant are important but need to be well trained. Duties and responsbilitrs need to be made very clear and when the work fails to meet expectations or live up to standards needs to be dismissed.

Fresno discussed how the library had successfully brought in wireless technology into the building. Antennas were installed in the building in such a way that there were very few dead spaces (such as elevators) and that enabled students to use computers just about anywhere. Laptops are available for checkout at the Circulation Desk (batteries need to be recharged every 2 hours or so) and students can take them anywhere in the building they want. Response has been very positive.

UF, Texas, and Fresno all discussed the use of media libraries today. Who is responsible for viewing areas? What will the influence of streaming video be on more traditional media services (such as videotapes that are checked out at a service point). New technology is changing how we deliver this service and how patrons can access it. The meeting adjourned about 11:30am

Respectfully submitted,

Patrick Oberholtzer Secretary