Sunday, March 06, 2011

What Do Reference Librarians Do? Instruct!

What do reference librarians do? We instruct library users in the use of the library, its tools, and its resources.

Saturday was a big day for instruction. As I expected, I had a client come for help with our new downloadable ebooks and audiobooks service. She had done a good job of downloading software on her computer and an ap for her iPad. We went through the steps to actually check out and download ebooks, registering her with Adobe in the process. I spent about ten minutes helping her learn the Overdrive ap and the website for finding and borrowing the books. It was probably the longest exchange that I had all day. She left empowered.

Civics was a theme in my Saturday instructions. One prospective resident needed to know how he could study the size of lots in various neighborhoods. I showed him our lot map from the Village that we keep in a drawer at the reference desk, and I told him about the website from the Cook County Assessor's Office. Around the same time, a current resident came in wanting to know whether the library kept records of property assessments, and I showed her how to use the assessor's website, too. Another client wanted to see minutes from village council meetings, and I showed how to find them on the village's website.

I directed a man who is preparing his taxes to the pages with forms on the IRS website. I guided a woman through the pages of our new website. I showed a man who had not been in the library for years how to use the online catalog station. I discussed with another client how to move documents from an old PC to a new PC. I showed another how to move a photo from his email onto the desktop so he could then post it on a social networking site.

The most interesting conversation of the day may have been about the dates on the covers of magazines. A client was confused by our having some April issues of magazines when it is still March. I do not completely understand magazine dating myself. Ultimately the client wanted to know how to check that an issue was the latest. I explained our processing and displaying of issues, what may be borrowed when, and our willingness to reserve issues once a new issue arrives. She seemed willing to trust we will have the latest issues available as soon as possible.

We recognized several years ago that we were often teaching clients new skills. They must have passed on to others that we teach because I often get calls asking for such help. We even began promoting our willingness to do so with our Book A Librarian Service (an idea we borrowed from Indian Prairie Library District). Many of the inquiries turn out to be simple enough to teach on the spot and not actually result in an appointment to sit down with a librarian for thirty minutes or an hour. At the reference desk, we tally instruction along with reference questions and readers advisory.


All of Saturday's reference questions were relatively easy. I had three requests for broad subjects, for which I knew the Dewey numbers by heart. I located five requested titles (for four clients total), pulling two from the shelves and placing holds on the other three. I found driving instructions for two library users. I also found instructions for caring for azaleas. None of these requests took more than three minutes.

Other easy tasks included handing out the day's newspapers, handing out headphones, assigning people to public computers, and registering people to attend programs.


Much of the work I did during the day was not direct client assistance. Here is a list.

  • Turn on eleven computers.
  • Gather the day's newspapers.
  • Stock the staff picks book cart.
  • Check library and individual email (longest task of the day) (little bit direct client assistance).
  • Discuss computer with virus with staff member.
  • Discuss mentoring library school student.
  • Update weeding statistics.
  • Put six books into online shopping cart after looking at Library Journal starred reviews.
  • Write part of the department's monthly report.
  • Put three TOEFL books into online shopping cart to replace aging guidebooks.
  • Open meeting room for study group. (I guess that this is direct client interaction.)
  • Initial invoices and enter on spreadsheets.
  • Discuss Friday at the Ford concert with next week's performer.
  • Post announcement to Friday at the Ford on Facebook.
  • Lock the meeting room.
  • Tally February's reference statistics.
  • Tally February's public use of Internet computers.
  • Sort the incoming mail.
  • Email staff to get hours spent on website design and posting for monthly report.
  • Tally February's materials acquisitions.
  • Turn off computers.

I did not use a stopwatch to check, but I would guess the day was spent about 50 percent in client interaction and 50 percent support work. I work Sunday, too. I'll probably report that on Tuesday.


Heather said...

Sounds like a busy Saturday.

I read the rationale for magazine dating on another librarian blog not too long ago:

____Maggie said...

We are going to start teaching at our library, Rick! I am so excited!!! We start with an online info lit class in the fall! It is true. We teach! ;D

ricklibrarian said...

Thanks, Heather. I will read Swiss Army's report.

Maggie, I forgot to even mention that we do occasion classes for the public. So obvious, how could I?

Cris said...

Cool to see you're doing the "book a librarian" service. Saw this post by using Google alerts. I think this is the first blog post it's pulled up!

Claire said...

Hello, Rick,
Here in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, I’m visiting all the public libraries (55+ since a recent amalgamation) for a blog project. Recently I interviewed an “information services librarian”. This seems to describe the role better than “reference librarian”. My post doesn’t detail the job (I focus on the branch and community), but I know she initiated ‘book a librarian’, did non-fiction collection management, ran ‘book chat’ sessions, helped patrons with anything computery - a very wide-ranging role.

I’m interested to discover your blog!

ricklibrarian said...

Cris and Claire, I am happy that you found the post and also like "book a librarian" services. I enjoy the scheduled one-on-one consultations.

Claire, I am glad to hear from New Zealand. My family went to the south island in fall 2009. We are so sad about the earthquake deaths and damage in Christchurch. Our dream is to return when we can, see the north island and maybe go to a rugby game.

I have been thinking that "public services librarian" might better stretch to the reality of our positions.

ricklibrarian said...

Heather, I finally read the Swiss Army Librarian post. How did I not already know this. It makes such sense. Thanks, Rick