The Future of the Reference Desk Revisited…12.04.08

4 12 2008

The following is a interesting post [] from Lauren Pressley’s blog with forward thinking on “The Future of the Reference Desk“:

I’m not sure the reference desk makes the most sense anymore. I say that, though, based entirely on my own experiences at my own institution. Most of the questions I get are either way out of my league and something for a subject specialist, or they are super simple ‘how do I print’ or ‘where is the restroom’types of questions. Rarely am I asked something that is challenging enough that I’m glad to be there but also isn’t a four hour long, in-depth issue.

So I think about what reference should be like. I work on strategies to make it easier to automate parts of reference. I try to focus on really, really good instruction. I look for ways to help students help themselves.

I’m not sure what the right answer is. I know it’s not one-size fits all. (I have a friend who has reference shifts so busy that she never takes work to the desk, and I know there are a lot of other places like this.) I wonder if there should be more help on the website, clearer interfaces, information literacy marketing campaigns.

So, I did some digging and found a bunch of articles, blog posts, and conference presentations on the topic. Here is a random sample (I’ll get around to the rest later) in date order:

2007, March 26: Debating the Future of the Reference Desk by Steven Bell and Sarah Watstein

Arguments for getting rid of the desk:

  • Wireless technology enables a different type of reference model
  • Students and library staff can answer questions, librarians can sometimes make mistakes
  • Triage technologies allow librarians to focus more time on other work
  • The real time consuming questions should be addressed away from the desk
  • “Getting rid of the [symbol] does not mean getting rid of the service”
  • Human touch of reference can move to other areas such as instruction, residence halls, academic departments, etc.

Arguments for keeping the desk:

  • Desk is tied to history and culture
  • Personal service is more important due to technology
  • Searching gets more complicated due to fancy new tools
  • In person reference allows for more meaningful teachable moments

2007, April 10: Whither Reference? At ACRL, Skepticism Persists from Library Journal Academic Newswire

  • (At least some) reference departments are seeing a serious decline in numbers no matter how they adapt their services
  • chat, roaming, deskless, and walkie-talkie reference
  • IM, MySpace, Friendster, Second Life
  • Terminology might be a problem. “Reference” is a librarian’s term.

2007, April 20: Are Reference Desks Dying Out? by Scott Carlson

  • The University of California at Merced does not have a reference desk (and never did)
  • Adapting reference means librarians can provide the service even when away (at a conference, etc)
  • Reference traffic has dropped 48% since 1991
  • Using technology and spaces that students are comfortable with, librarians can provide reference without the desk”



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