Monday, October 08, 2007

Article Note: on Onsite Library Services

Citation for the article:

Wagner, A. Ben and Cynthia Tysick. "Onsite Reference and Instruction Services: Setting Up Shop Where Our Patrons Live." Reference and User Services Quarterly 46.4 (2007): 60-65.

Read it in print.

I am always interested in instructional services. I was an Instruction Librarian, and though my title has changed, I still do a good amount of instruction (once an Instruction Librarian, always an Instruction Librarian I guess). Anyhow, this article also seems relevant now because it discusses an outreach model of more personal service. My new role is outreach, so clearly this is of interest to me in that vein as well. The article discusses the model of outreach at the University of Buffalo where librarians have set up office hours in departments as part of their service. One must note that UB is a much bigger campus than we are, but some of the ideas could work here. I don't know if that would be something we could pursue here, but it is worth a look. Plus the article has some other interesting ideas. The significance is in addressing the need for more of a personal touch at a time when a lot of the services are going online.

First, a couple of basic reminders from the article. The authors looked at other outreach techniques as a review and for context:

  • "Contact opportunities included serving on departmental committees, instructional support, and attendance at social functions" (61). These are examples of opportunities to meet people and network.
  • "As a result of dedicating field librarians to specific departments, strong interpersonal ties and interactions between the departments and librarians occurred" (61). This is something I find intriguing and that I would like to try out. In my new setting, the staff is a bit on the small side, so I am not sure how a model of office hours on a different location might be taken. On the other hand, I am thinking there are some opportunities we could explore for this type of outreach. Once I talk to some people, I may have a better sense. If nothing else, I would be willing to use myself as the guinea pig for my liaison area, or some other onsite service.
  • "Most of the successful models report the use of multiple, targeted techniques including invitations to library workshops and other events, creative orientation activities, involvement in as many departmental academic and social events as possible, visits to faculty and administrators in their offices, and participation in curriculum committees" (63).
The authors also list other outreach techniques. I am listing them here mostly as a reminder for myself. I am sure more experienced folks already know this:
  • "attending seminars (especially given by one's own faculty) and other departmental events at least once a month;"
  • "maintaining a list of faculty teaching and research areas;"
  • "exceeding even exceptional customer service standards for the first few requests from any new patron (first impressions count);"
  • "keeping e-mail communications to a minimum, making them as brief and informative as possible;"
  • "targeting graduate student groups, since graduate students teach undergraduate core courses in the departments, conduct their own research, and let other graduate students know where they received good service" (63).

The article goes on to explain how the departments were chosen for the initial project. Librarians also identified their concerns:

"In initial planning, librarians identified visibility, time commitment, scheduling, Internet access, and marketing as key elements. Concerns included sustainability, the time away from the librarian's regular office, and the reliance solely on electronic resources" (62).

Now for me, the issue of being away from an office would not be an issue. I do outreach. I think I mentioned in my interview that if I am out of the office a lot doing the library's good work, then I am doing my job. Sustainability and time commitments could be a concern here for us. I would likely take care of the marketing. But like the authors, I think we won't know for sure until we try it.

The article also provides advice and tips on how to carry out the project. One good piece of advice is to keep the time commitment small at first. As the authors point out, it is always easier to add time later (62). While the authors admit that the project was not perfect, they did find that it was valuable and sustainable. Here is part of what they concluded:

  • "Above all, the pilot program demonstrated that face-to-face encounters have significant advantages over e-mail and virtual interactions" (64).
  • "Onsite departmental reference services are not the complete answer for patron outreach. It works best within the larger context of faculty and student outreach activities that intentionally build long-term relationships with the department, such as attendance at faculty seminars and departmental events. Nor does it replace e-mail, phone consultations, instant messaging, general exceptional customer service, and library-based reference services and appointments" (64).

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