April 17, 2007
The Future of the Reference Desk
No-one I know questions the value that librarians bring to the "search" experience - an information professional can be an invaluable asset to a student, scholar, or community member with a need for in-depth information, or for assistance in locating quality information on an esoteric topic.
Many people I know, however, do question the value of the reference desk as a service model.
The problematizing of the reference desk and the call to bring librarian expertise more into the flow of the way our users actually conduct their academic work were definitely themes abroad at the recent ACRL National Conference. In those presentations, I heard many echoes of the debates that we had at the University of Kansas when we adopted a tiered service model for the reference desk (which we simultaneously combined with the circulation desk to support user desires for "one-stop-shopping" for library service). Those themes appear again in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education in an article that we should all read and be ready to discuss, Are Reference Desks Dying Out?
Is the desk, staffed by professional librarians, the best way to stay "in the flow" of academic work? Is it the best way to allocate professional human resources? Are there service models that allow users with a need for professional assistance to have access to it at the point of need, rather than ones built on a "just in case" basis?
The answer to these questions is, "Yes, but they take a lot of work to design and a Library-wide commitment to implement." And, as with other emergent service models, we will have to be careful to remember that one size does not fit all, and that the best model for one institution may not be the best model for all. These are serious questions about the future of reference services, though, and they are worth looking at carefully.
Posted by swalter at April 17, 2007 6:09 AM
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"one size does not fit all, and that the best model for one institution may not be the best model for all."
A statement that reads true and which underscores the need for assessment and decisions based on data and metrics.
Posted by: Kathleen Kern at April 17, 2007 10:43 AM