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Working the desk. Thoughts on Being Helpful While Enjoying the Process. Useful mindsets And principles Or It’s pretty hard to go wrong With these. Your problem is my problem. Jan. ‘12 -- Matt Burrell, FSU Libraries.

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working the desk

Working thedesk

Thoughts on Being Helpful


Enjoying the Process


Useful mindsets

And principles


It’s pretty hard

to go wrong

With these


Your problem

  • is my problem.

Jan. ‘12 -- Matt Burrell, FSU Libraries


“Looking things up and finding things out” is fundamentally a pleasurable activity.

Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.- Samuel Johnson


A chat is a conversation.

October, ‘11 -- Brian Walton, Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library System


Good will and a sense of humor

  • can foster cooperation and set an optimistic tone.

Feb., ‘12 -- John Meirose, Orange County Library System


As a librarian, you have the ability—and the responsibility—to keep the chat moving with clarity and focus.

  • Pleasantly guide the chat in the
  • direction of answering the core questions, even if the patron “wanders” a bit.

But remember:

Engaging in cordial exchanges to establish rapport and foster comfort in the session is often a big plus! Relax, be yourself, and connect with the patron.


You don’t have to be a technology genius.

  • Make the best use you can of the software, but don’t think
  • you must use every feature
  • in order to be of help.

Some chats will teach you something new, either factual

  • or procedural.
  • Enjoy the adventure
  • and share your enthusiasm
  • with the patron.

Feb., ’12 – Bianca Rodriguez, Valencia College Libraries


It isn’t over when it’s over.

  • In some way, try to prepare the patron for his future information gathering.
  • “Power to the patron!”

May, ’12 – Mary Kuipers, Leon County


Just do the best you can.

    • You won’t always be able to find the answer.
    • You won’t always think of the most efficient
  • strategies.
    • You won’t always make best use of the service’s
  • software and capabilities.
  • You can always make a reasonable effort.

Practical advice

You’ve probably


thought of


“There’s no mystery to this!”


Keep AAL materials at hand.

  • Also good to have on hand: a list of the FEL databases; lists and links for favorite websites; and frequently used ready reference print sources.

Be informed about AAL days, hours, etc.

  • Be able to explain and to discuss
  • the service.

Open an extra Web browser to a search engine, so it’s ready to use in an instant.

You may also want to open a browser window to your library’s databases. This can be useful for checking on the inclusion of information about the patron’s question or topic; then you know which databases to recommend to the patron.


Try to make contact with other librarians on the desk. If you can learn something about their special subject areas and strengths, do so.

  • (We can all help each other.)

This is a strategy to consider. Not every AAL practitioner does this, but some of us find it helpful.

  • Read the question before accepting the patron.
  • It takes only a few seconds to read, take a deep breath, and “center yourself.” This can help you move confidently and pleasurably into the chat.

Some things

I’ve learned


“You call these



Be familiar with the AAL folders.

Some folder contents may become

your new best friends.

Text Library (scripts to copy and paste to the chat box; modify as needed)

URLs (You’ll identify your favorites.)


Make the most of your own knowledge and strengths.

March ‘12 -- Tim Bishop, Edison State College


Clarify the question.

Use your experience and intuition to tease out the patron’s actual meaning.


Ascertain relevant circumstances and limitations.

  • Examples may include:
  • If this is a school assignment, what grade level is it for? Are there teacher imposed restrictions (e.g. “no websites,” “peer reviewed journal articles only”)?
  • Does the patron have access to library databases? Know how to use them?
  • Is the patron familiar with FEL, including the databases there?

The more you know when you begin, the more efficient your chat will be.


Be yourself and be honest.

Nov., ‘11 – Carlos Fernandez, Miami Dade College


Promote Ask A Librarian

  • and participating libraries,
  • especially the patron’s local
  • public or academic library.