You CAN Go Home Again!

Thomas Wolfe, what did he know? Although my job, my cat, and all my physical possessions are in Baltimore, my heart is in Chicago, along with most of my family. One of the joys of the last few years of visits home is going back to my alma mater (now one among three!) and speaking to my friend and former colleague’s Academic Libraries class. He gives me an outline of what he’d like me to discuss, and I prepare my notes and examples, and then something happens. I go to class, get through maybe two of my bullet points, but then, possibly because I’ve opened a website that makes me think of something else or someone asks me a question that makes me go off on another tangent, the outline is cast aside and I’m off, telling true tales of librarianship, criticizing web pages, and making air quotes–then telling the class I hate air quotes. Dr. Stewart always steers me back towards what he wants the class to know from me, but I still end up going off the rails, although the students are continually kind about it. As I did this just last week, and then came back to a pending blog post, I realized I had a place to organize my ideas. So, here goes, Ellen’s thoughts for new librarians (note: I claim no originality, just things I’d like to hear if I was back in library school):

Assessment: In many cases librarianship has been more of an art than a science, especially in public service. We feel we’ve done a good job. The patron has thanked us; we get those warm fuzzies. Real world: your library dean can’t put the warm fuzzies in an annual report. And, what do you know, it IS possible to quantify the value of your service. In 2008, we used the Wisconsin Ohio Reference Evaluation Program (WOREP) to measure what patrons got out of their reference interactions and since 2010, we’ve been using the READ Scale (Reference Effort Assessment Data) to measure the effort expended in reference questions, i.e., did this question need a librarian? Answer: yes! Additionally, many libraries are calling on the skills of User Experience directors. Our own UX Director is fascinated by all the data we have that’s been lying fallow, so he’s teaching me to code, taking the questions and answers we record and categorizing what our patrons are asking us and what we’re using to meet those needs.

Challenges: Declining library budgets is a given, so I focus more on the challenges of public services. In the academic library world, with many larger libraries open 24/7, comes an expectation of 24/7 service. I’m remembering an ALA Midwinter discussion back in 2010 where it came out that some large research university was staffing overnight, but I believe they were the exception, not the norm. We make do with FAQs that include references to our service hours so expectations are clear. Even if students weren’t in the library overnight, they’d still be using our resources at all hours, so remote access is another challenge. We post some common problems that deny access, but often these problems require human intervention to explain. One of the skills I’ve learned on the job is diagnosing a remote access problem–is it the patron’s credentials, is it the proxy service, is it the license terms? Understanding where the problem lies and how to resolve it makes for happier patrons and librarians.

Best Practices: Working within the liaison model is one of our best practices. I was going to do an entire blog post about this but Chris Bourg, the Feral Librarian, beat me to it and did it better than I could. Personalized service is greatly appreciated by our faculty and students. One of the things I emphasize in library instruction is the value of saving time. Students are in more classes than the one I’m talking to, so e-mailing me after 15 minutes of frustrated searching is more productive than 2 hours of fruitless searching. Ditto for the faculty member who needs a loan facilitated with Circulation, a reserve request expedited, or assistance with a literature search. After all, save the time of the reader is one of our 5 laws! And let’s not forget social media. Budding librarians are already using social media but they also need to know why libraries are using it as institutions and the best practices that govern its use. As Adriane spelled this out so clearly, I’ll refer you back to her eloquent post.

There’s more but I’m a fan of the rule of three so I’ll leave it to these for now. A big shout out goes to Dr. Stewart’s LIS 772 classes over the last few years–you’ve been smart and engaged, and I thank you for putting up with me!

This entry was posted in Reference Services by Ellen Keith. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ellen Keith

Director of Research and Access and Chief Librarian at the Chicago History Museum, July 2012 to present. Reference Services Coordinator and Librarian for Sociology and the Program for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at the Sheridan Libraries, Johns Hopkins University, December 2002 to June 2012.

5 thoughts on “You CAN Go Home Again!

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