Monday, October 10, 2005

What I do as a librarian? Part Two

Previously, I looked at what I do as a librarian in terms of instruction. My official title of Reference/Instruction Librarian means I do more than just teach.

I am a reference librarian. This means I work at the Information Desk (what we call the "Reference Desk" and some places just call information). I see my job as making life easier for people. I see my job as helping people find the information they need and assist them in making the best use of that information. I empower people. I touch lives (ok, that was a touch of drama, but hey, it is true). Since I am an academic librarian, I work at a university. My primary patrons are college students, followed by faculty. I answer all sorts of questions from quick informational items to longer research questions. Like any other reference librarian, I struggle with issues like how long to work with a patron that has an extended question while there is a line of patrons behind him or her. We have a small computer lab, so I answer some questions related to that. At the moment, we do not have productivity software on our computers, and I happen to think that is great. I know some librarians out there may be thinking I am luddite for saying such. I will clarify that before coming here I used to work at an Information Commons at a large research university. They could afford hundreds of computers, but they could also afford to have technology consultants to answer the "how do I make a Powerpoint?" questions. Where I work now, we have a small staff, so having productivity software would likely mean a burden that at the moment we just are not able to support. In my philosophy, I am all for service, but you better be able to support it fully. No sense offering service in a mediocre way just to have it. Anyways, we have excellent computer labs in other parts of the campus for productivity stuff. What we provide are research terminals (internet access). They do get very heavy use. I will also note we have wireless access, so students can also bring their own laptops, and a good number do.

At the Information Desk, I am very mobile, so I often leave the desk to help students at their computers. I also do reference work over the phone, and we have an "e-mail a librarian" system where patrons can send and e-mail to a librarian to get reference help. These e-mails go to a listserv we keep for the librarians, and then we take turns answering them. Basically, it is whoever sees it first and picks it up. If it is a more specialized question, odds are a subject specialist may answer it. We have advertise a 24 hour turnaround, but usually it is within a few hours tops of being received. I have given consideration to the idea of using IM to do a form of virtual reference. Again, it does boil down to support, but I think that idea is not totally gone. On a personal note, I have given thought to making one of my personal IM usernames public for my students to contact me. I was thinking in terms of being available that way for certain times. I may be ready psychologically (the gung-ho attitude), but I am not sure if I can keep up given my other tasks. For now, another idea to work on. My library is working on implementation of JYBE, so I will let readers know how that goes once the toolbar is in place on our site. JYBE is software that allows users to share internet browsing. The basic form is actually a free download, but we are looking at making a customized toolbar to add to our webpage for patrons to have access to a librarian.

In addition to the Information Desk, I do some research consultations. Most of it relates to students who may have taken a BI class with me, but I do get students who simply show up asking for help. A common observation they make is "my teacher told me to contact you about . . . ." I mentioned some of this when I posted about instruction, but you see, there is the catch. Instruction and reference are closely linked. Every reference librarian, at least every good one, is also an instruction librarian. At the desk or in consultations, they educate and teach. Some of us just happen to be more active in the teaching part. I also do research consultations for faculty members if they request it, whether at our Reference Office or over at their office.

Next, the rest.


Chad said...

Hi Angel. I think giving your personal IM screen name(s) to your students is a great idea. If you're worried about being bombarded (or by getting IM's when you're at home), create a screen name that you hand out to students, then use Trillian to connect to that account during your times of availability.

Each quarter I have several wonderful opportunities to meet with ~400 business students in library instruction classes. At the end of each class, I make sure they have my contact information which includes my IM profiles. Since January I've had about 25 IM exchanges with students. That number has not been overwhelming when compared to the amount of email I get, but each IM transaction has been particularly rewarding. IM is a synchronous method of communication, which lends itself nicely in instructing users how to find information. Many of the email requests I get are very unclear, and often need clarification before I can point students to the right resource. IM can save you time, because you can get a clearer picture of the information need through an IM transaction. I think if you lead the way and show others how powerful IM can be, your colleagues may be willing to adopt an IM as a virtual reference service. We've been using IM for virtual reference since July, and I'll be posting an update of the service on my blog soon.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

It is reassuring to hear from other people that have tried this out, and they find it works for them. It certainly sounds like something my director can be doing, in the sense she teaches a lot of business classes and likely comes into contact with a few hundred students. I did create a separate IM just for my instruction/reference needs. It sounds like the ratio in terms of students using it is not overwhelming. Definitely something to move toward implementing. Thank you for stopping by. Best.