I’m not sure the reference desk makes the most sense anymore. I say that, though, based entirely on my own experiences at my own institution. Most of the questions I get are either way out of my league and something for a subject specialist, or they are super simple “how do I print” or “where is the restroom” types of questions. Rarely am I asked something that is challenging enough that I’m glad to be there but also isn’t a four hour long, in-depth issue.
So I think about what reference should be like. I work on strategies to make it easier to automate parts of reference. I try to focus on really, really good instruction. I look for ways to help students help themselves.
I’m not sure what the right answer is. I know it’s not one-size fits all. (I have a friend who has reference shifts so busy that she never takes work to the desk, and I know there are a lot of other places like this.) I wonder if there should be more help on the website, clearer interfaces, information literacy marketing campaigns.
So, I did some digging and found a bunch of articles, blog posts, and conference presentations on the topic. Here is a random sample (I’ll get around to the rest later) in date order:
2007, March 26: Debating the Future of the Reference Desk by Steven Bell and Sarah Watstein
Arguments for getting rid of the desk:
- Wireless technology enables a different type of reference model
- Students and library staff can answer questions, librarians can sometimes make mistakes
- Triage technologies allow librarians to focus more time on other work
- The real time consuming questions should be addressed away from the desk
- “Getting rid of the [symbol] does not mean getting rid of the service”
- Human touch of reference can move to other areas such as instruction, residence halls, academic departments, etc.
Arguments for keeping the desk:
- Desk is tied to history and culture
- Personal service is more important due to technology
- Searching gets more complicated due to fancy new tools
- In person reference allows for more meaningful teachable moments
2007, April 10: Whither Reference? At ACRL, Skepticism Persists from Library Journal Academic Newswire
- (At least some) reference departments are seeing a serious decline in numbers no matter how they adapt their services
- chat, roaming, deskless, and walkie-talkie reference
- IM, MySpace, Friendster, Second Life
- Terminology might be a problem. “Reference” is a librarian’s term.
2007, April 20: Are Reference Desks Dying Out? by Scott Carlson
- The University of California at Merced does not have a reference desk (and never did)
- Adapting reference means librarians can provide the service even when away (at a conference, etc)
- Reference traffic has dropped 48% since 1991
- Using technology and spaces that students are comfortable with, librarians can provide reference without the desk