Reference and other Services at the Library

| March 29, 2013

I’ve started to think about what it means to provide our patrons with excellent service. I first came across the interesting article Library service as theatre that touched on some very interesting issues about the quality of service that librarians provide and the challenges and controversy surrounding retail customer service strategies in libraries.

I recently came across another interesting article, What Will Become of Reference in Academic and Public Libraries? O’Gorman, J., Trott, B. (2009). This article written in 2009 already seems slightly outdated in some ways, but I think certain parts of the article are relevant to our library here at Teachers College and I will explore those areas.

O’Gorman and Trott (2009) state that different libraries see different behavior patterns. At one library mentioned in the article the reference desk was very busy with many questions being asked, while at another library almost no one came to the reference desk. O’Gorman and Trott (2009) stress the importance of thinking locally when thinking about your library. I think that’s essential to any good library, making sure you cater to the needs of the community you are serving. I think we support our community in many ways such as planning relevant talks and events at the library, creating technology tools that support educators, buying the print and online resources our community asks for and providing a wide range of study spaces for our patrons. But, the question is always there…can we do more? Is there a service that our users want that we aren’t providing?

Another point that O’Gorman and Trott (2009) make that I believe is relevant to our library is making sure that patrons know about the services we do provide. I think it’s hard to share with the community all of our services. Whenever I talk to a group of students they seem pleasantly surprised by many of the services we provide like scheduling in person reference consultations, requesting resources for the library to purchase and the many technologies developed to support students and educators. How can we do a better job of sharing these services with the community?

O’Gorman and Trott (2009) also mention that, ‘it becomes a challenge for staff to keep in mind all the different databases when working with users.’ Teachers College students and faculty have access to many different databases and are able to search 4 different online catalogs, EDUCAT the teachers college catalog, Clio the Columbia University’s catalog, Pegasus the Columbia University Law School Library, and Aleph the Jewish Theological Seminary catalog. It can be challenging for staff to understand how to best navigate these catalogs and all of the resources we have access to. We want to make sure that our staff has ongoing training and support to understand how to best use these resources. Staff knowledge is essential to providing excellent reference and service to our patrons and therefor we are looking at new ways of continuing reference training.

Examining the reference desk is something that O’Gorman and Trott (2009) do in their article. They mention alternatives to the traditional desk, such as roving reference, instant messaging, email, and cellphones. I think that our support request system does a great job of addressing questions from patrons who are not in the library and responding to patrons in a timely manner.  I wonder if roving reference would be something that the TC community finds useful or if it’s something that is not relevant to the community we are serving.  How can we best determine if roving reference is something worth considering at TC?

This article stresses that reference is changing and that the most important focus for libraries should be their users and their user’s needs. I think it’s always a good idea to think about the service and reference we provide and to think of ways to help further service the population we are working with.