Jodi Lee and Christopher Korenowsky of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, Ohio, confused an audience of librarians at the Public Library Association today. It was not that their proposal was misunderstood. It was very clear that they are eliminating their reference desks and having their librarians roam, float, wander, hover, whatever. What was confusing was their presentation. At moments they seemed to be saying that the action is a very radical idea, but at other moments they reassured the audience that they are not really changing that much.
Korenowsky also lost many of us with his "three-tiered research phase" portion of the talk. He did not tell us any of the research findings. What did "knowledge vs data" refer to? How are Starbucks, Blockbuster, and Nordstroms relevant? I know I've had lackluster service at each of these stores, and they still have big service desks.
I think the duo make a mistake in organizing their program around dispelling myths. We now know a lot about what they are not doing and not really that much about what they are.
I am sounding very cranky, but I am actually very sympathetic to the idea. Our library has a huge desk that separates the librarians from the clients. I want our reference librarians up and about helping people when there are people to help. I wish they would have given me more solid arguments for redesigning service areas and changing working procedures. They could have talked more about the smaller desk designs and the working of the headsets. I think they missed an opportunity to be really helpful.
Also, the mantra "stop doing things that don't need to be done" to address the work that librarians do at service desks when not assisting clients is not realistic in small libraries where there are not centralized services to do all the non-client assistance work. Lee and Korenowsky are limiting their ideas to larger libraries unnecessarily with this approach. I hope they revisit and revise what can be a liberating idea.