The Wide Angle: Expanding Visions of Reference Services in the 21st Century by Lucy Bungo, Villa Maria College

We’re all well aware of the current trend in reference services to eliminate the massive, imposing reference desks of yore. But what are the other changes taking place in the way that reference services are configured and delivered? How are we utilizing and streamlining our ever-shrinking resources to fully address the needs of our users? WNYLRC’s The Wide Angle: Expanding Visions of Reference Services in the 21st Century conference dealt with these issues in new and innovative ways.

Lisa Forrest
Lisa Forrest

The conference, held in WNYLRC’s headquarters on March 4th, opened with Lisa Forrest’s “Partners in Teaching and Learning: Peer Research Tutors at the Desk, in the Classroom, and Across Campus” presentation. Hamilton College has a unique campus culture of peer tutoring and assistance, and Lisa and her staff saw an opportunity for the library to participate in that culture. They developed an extensive training program to create a new type of student assistant on campus. Known as Research Tutors or RTs, these students are recommended by faculty and trained by librarians to assist their peers by answering all kinds of reference questions. The RTs are seen as more approachable by regular students, and allow for the library to extend the provision of reference service in the evenings. RTs even assist other students outside of the library, formally in class and informally in other spaces on campus. This program has expanded the library’s ability to reach and assist students who need it.

The Lightning Rounds that followed were equally informative. Keri Thomas-Whiteside and Joe Riggie gave us an overview of the LibAnalytics data tracking tool, and they also shared how they tracked reference questions and showed how that data can influence decisions regarding the reference services at their libraries. Mary Jean Jakubowski outlined how reference services have dramatically changed within the BECPL system; Catherine Cooper reported on the Lee-Whedon Memorial Library’s switch from Dewey classification to a system called Glades, and how that conversion had a very positive impact on patron satisfaction. Becca Bley and one of her work study students, Amy Eisenhut, presented on how Daemen College is using work study students to provide reference service at the unified service desk, and how that initiative has resulted in an increase in both the number of reference questions and of student satisfaction. Amy VanScoy illustrated the ways in which she is educating new librarians how to provide reference services with empathy, creativity, and adaptability, all to a diverse range of users.

Craig MacDonald

The third session, Craig MacDonald’s ““UX – Creating an Experienced-Centered Library” highlighted the major differences between true user experience and usability. He also showed us that whether we intend to or not, we are already doing user experience at our own libraries; what we should focus on is whether or not we are providing a great user experience. He also outlined a model for how we can integrate user experience concerns into the overall workflow and culture of our own libraries, and gave us useful strategies for easing that potentially difficult transition.

Marie Radford
Marie Radford

After a very tasty lunch, we then heard about Marie Radford’s recent research into the differences between virtual reference services (VRS) and social question and answer (SQA) platforms. There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to each system; one of the advantages of SQA is that it allows for a greater number of potential experts to answer a question. Librarians, however, are more used to working alone or perhaps reaching out to a professor for assistance when needed. Her research idea focused on a potential solution to these silos and she called it a community of practice (CoP). Essentially, librarians who are part of the CoP will interact frequently, sharing expertise and developing relationships with those whose expertise differs, so that when difficult reference questions arise, the librarian will have a large and reliable crowd from which to source an answer.

Jaclyn McKewan
Jaclyn McKewan

WNYLRC’s own Jaclyn McKewan gave the final presentation, on “Virtual Reference Platform Options.” WNYRLC has been using QuestionPoint software for its AskUs24/7 services for over a decade, with an excellent record of serving patrons within and outside of the WNY region. However, due to various technological advances, it was time to reevaluate the QuestionPoint software to see if other virtual reference platforms existed that offered new or improved functions. Jaclyn and several other librarians currently participating in AskUs24/7 reviewed SpringShare’s LibChat product and the LibraryH3lp tool to see if making a change would be worthwhile. For a variety of reasons, including roll-up and 24 hour backup access, QuestionPoint is still the platform that best suits the needs of the AskUs 24/7 program. The other platforms have some benefits above QuestionPoint, but these were not enough to justify a change in platforms.

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The conference ended with a lively facilitated discussion on students at the reference desk and user experience. Many of us returned to our libraries with a large number of new ideas, and we are looking forward to putting them in practice (and possibly sharing our own new experiences at the next reference conference)!

Visit the conference photo album.