Bustin’ Loose: Providing Reference Service Away from the Reference Desk

RSS- Small and Medium Sized Research Libraries Discussion Group

ALA Midwinter, Philadelphia

Sunday January 6th 10:30 – 12:00

Number attending: 72

Participants were divided into 6 discussion groups, and then each group selected a spokesperson to report back to the group at large.

Services outside of the Reference Desk include not only roving in and beyond the library, but also text referencing (e.g. Meebo, Skype); and web resources with special emphasis on the interactive web.


Staffing Issues:

  • One of the major issues brought out by all groups was the challenge of getting “staff buy in”.
  • Start the program with volunteers since not everyone would be comfortable with providing all the variations in services
  • Eventually others will join in since they might feel “left out”
  • Need to address and re-evaluate job descriptions; services such as roving needs to be included
  • Rebranding – needs to be included in the Mission Statement
  • “Tricking” staff. For example if staff need to go to the stacks for Collection development, they might also be engaged in providing roving reference
  • In one public library, all staff is considered “mobile”, but they still did not have 100% participation rate in roving.
  • After roving was introduced in one library, a survey showed that there was a 20% increase in user satisfaction level.

Training Issues:

  • Retraining has to go hand in hand with any new service
  • Training should be thorough and expectations made clear
  • Allow time for staff to practice on the new technologies privately in their offices
  • Don’t make the assumption the people know, often they do not know
  • Include a “to do” and a “don’t list” on how to approach our users
  • For example, a professor teaching a Reference course, has an assignment which requires students to go to a Retail shop and observe if retail staff are smiling or if they are chatting away with other staff.
  • Create a personal librarian, e.g. where a librarian will travel with the patron


  • Name tags are good, though there might be some resistance
  • When staff is out in the stacks users should know that the librarian is 1. Approachable and 2. Employed by the library
  • In one library, a reference staff member does ½ hour of roving at a time since there is an “aging” staff?
  • Use headphones, walkie - talkies or iPhone for roving staff to communicate with staff members at the desk
  • In a triage situation, one of the computers might be taken away from the desk so staff are required to walk the user to the OPAC terminals of the book stacks
  • Roving can be extended to computer labs, coffee shops


  • Twitter, a free social-networking and micro-blogging service
  • Trililum
  • Meebo can be imbedded in places such as the OPAC, or other library web pages

Course Management System

  • Library needs to have a presence in course management systems such as Blackboard