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Librarians at the Desk: Yes or No?. Michelle Lake, Carleton University Donna Millard, McMaster University . Agenda. The Debate Librarians on Desk? NO: Donna Millard Librarians on Desk? YES: Michelle Lake The Discussion What do you think?. Librarians on Desk? NO. Focus on Facts

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Librarians at the Desk: Yes or No?

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Librarians at the Desk:Yes or No?

Michelle Lake, Carleton University

Donna Millard, McMaster University


  • The Debate

    • Librarians on Desk? NO: Donna Millard

    • Librarians on Desk? YES: Michelle Lake

  • The Discussion

    What do you think?

Librarians on Desk? NO

  • Focus on Facts

    • Reference Statistics are declining and have been so for DECADES

Getting to Reference 2.0

ARL Statistics, 2007

Librarians on Desk? NO

  • Focus on facts:

    • Types of questions being asked do not require, on the most part, an Academic Librarian

Librarians on Desk? NO

Librarians on Desk? NO

  • Focus on Facts:

    • Trend in academic libraries to remove librarians from desk or keep them on for minimal hours

      • McMaster is currently working on new Blended Service desks

      • University of Western Ontario Science Library has already done so

      • St. Michael’s College at University of Toronto is now moving to this staffing model

Librarians on Desk? NO

  • Focus on Facts:

    • Academic Librarians are involved with many other activities; not enough time to do it all properly

    • David Lewis proposes a new focus for Academic Libraries from Library 1.0 to Library 2.0

Librarians on Desk? NO

  • David W. Lewis A Strategy for Academic Libraries in the First Quarter of the 21st Century, 2007

What is the literature saying?

  • “Reference librarians were moved to “on call” status…

    • Murphy, B. et al. Revolution at the Library Service Desk, Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 27(4), Winter 2008

  • “[Steven] Bell argued for the abolition of the reference desk by the year 2012.”

  • Dagger, J. Brave New World: Reference librarians in the age of Google, Duke Magazine, Sept-Oct 2008.

  • “…as long as there is reference activity in a library building, non-ALA accredited personnel will be a part of it and in the future may play an even greater role.”

  • Banks, J. and C. Pracht. Reference Desk Staffing Trends: A survey, Reference & User Services Quarterly, 48(1), Fall 2008, 54-59.

Librarians on Desk? YES

  • The number of questions being asked is declining, but the complexity and difficulty in the questions is increasing

Librarians on Desk? YES

  • The decline in reference statistics is caused by a number of different factors, including:

    • persistent library anxiety

    • an increasing belief that searching is simple

Librarians on Desk? YES

  • Massive amounts of information available online makes the role of a librarian even more key

  • As subjects become more interdisciplinary, the need for expert voices in search becomes an essential role for the library

Librarian on Desk? YES

  • The nature of the questions has shifted and although many inquires appear to be simple, a reference interview can uncover a misunderstanding of the research process…

Librarian on Desk? YES

  • What about the numbers?

Applegate, Rachel. “Whose Decline? Which Academic Libraries are ‘Deserted’ in Terms of Reference Transactions?” Reference & User Quarterly, 48.2 (Winter 2008) pp. 176-189.

Librarians on Desk? YES

  • The ‘Millennial students’ have changed the nature of the academic environment and can Google with ease, but this does not mean that there is a greater depth of knowledge in research

    • Perhaps the questions shouldn’t be ‘librarians on the desk?’ but ‘how can the librarians on the desk reach more users?’

Librarians on Desk? YES

  • Not every student is a tech-savvy millennial

    • Diversity in the student population, in terms of educational background, age, and economic strata will effect their interaction with the library and the technology therein

Librarians on Desk? YES

  • In Person vs. Email vs. IM/Chat vs. 2.0 and beyond..

  • How does tiered service function?

Librarians on Desk? YES

  • Library-As-Place

  • The Reference Desk as a Hub

Librarians on Desk? YES

  • Connection…

    • To the students

    • To the community

    • To the current concerns/assignments/subjects

  • Librarians need to be in the classroom, they need to be in the departments, however, with out the desk, they may lose connection & context with the students

Librarians on Desk? YES

  • Lessons in social interaction?

  • Lessons in seeking assistance?

  • What about a different kind of ‘desk’?

    • Virtual and physical space

    • Mobile Desk

The Debate is over!

  • What do you think?

  • Show of hands for No, Librarians off the desk

  • Show of hands for Yes, Librarians on the desk

The count is in…

  • Now we want to know why!

  • Please feel free to comment on the debate

Your comments: Off the desk

  • Understanding the community is more important

  • Mixed service has already been proven

  • Librarians on-call can stay in touch

  • Going out into the community will allow librarians to keep in contact

  • Funding issues

  • Fewer deep reference questions

  • Students don’t know/care about different desks/staff

  • Combining the desks can be effective

  • Good Library Technician support

  • How much expertise can a librarian apply to an undergrad?

  • Formally trained library staff is good enough

Your comments: On the desk

  • Don’t want to lose touch with the user

  • Statistics can lie

  • First impressions are important and lasting

  • Get contact with users

  • Librarians should be providing leadership and expertise at the desk as well as elsewhere

  • Referrals don’t always work—time issues

  • Librarians save time

  • Use desk time as a reality check (comment from administrator)

  • Get the student’s perspective

  • Connection developed with library staff

  • If on call, does staff on desk know when to call on duty librarian?

  • Experience is invaluable

  • How else do you truly keep up to date?

  • Formal library education is very important and applicable to desk

  • Use as a collection development tool as well

Thanks for your participation

  • Feel free to continue the conversation with us

    • Donna Millard [email protected]

    • Michelle Lake [email protected]

      Our slides will be posted on the Conference site.

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