Science Library Reference Librarian Interview and Observation
I visited the University at Albany’s Science Library on September 14 at three o’clock. The Library is made up of four floors, basement, second, third, and fourth floor. The Science Library mainly consists of bound periodicals and special collections archives. The second floor is where the Reference desk along with the reference materials are located. The basement, I learned, is where all the old reference material from the main University Library is stored.
The reference desk, identified by the sign, “Reference and Technical Assistance,” is located in a large room called the “Information Commons.” This room is filled with computer terminals. The reference desk is “manned” by a Reference Librarian and an Information Technology Specialist (ITS). The desk as well as the library is wheelchair accessible; there is a dip in the desk and there are several elevators.While at the library I noticed it was moderately busy at the reference desk and students where greeted warmly and questions were answered easily by the IT and Reference Librarian.
After introducing myself to Greg at the reference desk, he was happy to answer the questions I had.
H: “How busy is the Reference desk here?”
G: “Right now, at this point in the semester not too busy. Professors haven’t yet assigned the first assignments.”
H: “Are there peak times?”
G: “Mid-term and toward the end of the semester.”
H: “Have you noticed any increase or decrease in the past few years of reference desk use?”
G: “Yes. The past four to five years technology has replaced a lot. Everything can be handled online. Computers have taken over.”
H: “What questions are asked most often?”
G: “There are a lot of Tech questions and that’s why we have a ITS person on our desk. Otherwise, the questions are mostly “where is this…” or “how do I find…” So it is more practical and directional.”
H: “What services are offered? Email? Phone? IM? And what services are used most often?”
G: “We have all three, and IM is most popular. The Science Library handles IM, while the Dewey Library handles Reference emails. The demand for IM has definitely increased because it provides instant answers to the questions, there is no waiting.”
H: “What type of questions are challenging?”
G: “Technology related. It’s hard to keep up with all the changes in technology. I’m thankful the IT people are here to help with those questions.”
H: “How often are print periodicals or reference material used compared to web-based databases?”
G: “It’s not worth the cost for the library to order print periodicals or reference material when it is easily accessed online. More and more publishers are putting their publications online anyway.”
My overall impression of reference desks and Reference Librarians has changed since I completed my interview with Greg. Now I see that it???s there to help us when we need it and that Reference librarians are there because that is what they like to do: help. Part of their job is to help navigate data and hunt down information for users.
After this interview, the mindset I had going into a library with questions was “Reference Librarians are busy. I don’t know if they can help me. or where is someone that can help me?” And now I wonder after talking to Greg if other patrons visiting libraries think the same thing. Do they know who to ask? In most libraries the sign doesn’t say ” Do you have questions? Come here, ask us!” The signs usually say “Information” or “Reference,” which may not be that clear if the patron doesn’t know which he or she has.
Furthermore, the folks behind the counter, to no fault of their own, look busy. It’s hard to approach someone who looks hard at work and interrupt them. Only after this interview am I informed that Greg and other Reference Librarians love to help answer questions patrons have. I wonder then, why patrons are not informed or guided toward reference desk/ Reference Librarian use in libraries?