Archive for the ‘Reference’ Category

Reference Discussion Group at Midwinter

Monday, December 7th, 2009

About Timothy Hackman

Librarian for English & Linguistics, University of Maryland Libraries. Member of LES since 2006.

The Midwinter Reference Discussion Group is scheduled for:

Sunday, January 17, 2010
8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Hilton Boston Financial District (HIL), Commerce Room

The discussion group planners would love to have your suggestions for topics on literary reference or instruction. Past topics have included:

  • assessing reference services
  • solutions for budget restrictions
  • interdisciplinary reference workspace
  • research competency guidelines
  • training students for literary reference
  • staying on top of literature reference sources
  • online modules or learning objects
  • the future of bibliographic control
  • departmental office hours

Please send any topics you want to discuss to Chad Curtis ( or Jaena Hollingsworth ( Thanks!

Reference Staffing: A Discussion for Midwinter

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

The reference model at my institution is in a state of flux: our newly built science library is based on a learning commons model while our older, humanities and social sciences library uses a traditional reference service model. One of the biggest differences between the two service models is how the desks are staffed.  Students and paraprofessionals staff the science library’s learning commons, while professional librarians, paraprofessionals, and students staff the reference desk at the humanities and social sciences library.The thought behind the staffing plan at the new library is that students and paraprofessionals can answer most questions and can refer more difficult questions to the proper liaison librarian.  Professional librarians do not staff this desk regularly. Plans are in the works to transition the old library to a learning commons model similar to the one used at the new library. The lingering, unanswered question remains: will professional librarians still staff the old reference desk or will the staffing duties fall to paraprofessionals and students?

I know that ours is not the only academic library wrestling with this particular issue.  True reference questions are on the decline, and the argument could easily be made that there are better uses of trained professionals’ time than filling paper trays in the printer and directing students to the nearest restroom.  The literature certainly speaks to that point (see examples of the debate in the list of further readings below).

As I write this, I don’t claim to know the answer to the question of how should we staff our reference desks. In the end, I guess the real challenge is determining how to we can best provide reference services to our users.  So I’d like to turn the question to you.

How does your institution staff its reference service points?  Do low reference question statistics indicate that librarians aren’t needed on the desk or that the service needs better marketing?  Has your library tried any innovative methods of offering and/or promoting reference services?

Feel free to answer these questions as a comment on this post or bring your thoughts to the LES Reference Discussion Group this Sunday from 8 to 10 a.m. in the Colorado BR E in the Marriott City Center hotel in downtown Denver, CO.

For further reading:

Banks, Julie, and Carl Pracht. “Reference Desk Staffing Trends: A Survey.” Reference & User Services Quarterly 48.1 (2008): 54-59.

Fitzpatrick, Elizabeth B., Anne C. Moore, and Beth W. Lang. “Reference Librarians at the Reference Desk in a Learning Commons: A Mixed Methods Evaluation.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 34.3 (2008): 231-238.

Ryan, Susan M. “Reference Transactions Analysis: The Cost-Effectiveness of Staffing a Traditional Academic Reference Desk.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 34.5 (2008): 389-399.

Hot Topics for Annual: Librarian Office Hours

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

About Timothy Hackman

Librarian for English & Linguistics, University of Maryland Libraries. Member of LES since 2006.

The subject of librarians holding “office hours” in their academic departments seems to be a popular one of late. Over at ACRLog, Stephanie Willen Brown discusses her experience this past semester, and concludes: “The office hour was definitely a success – especially combining the actual work with the PR value of being in the building on a regular basis.” The folks at the Chronicle of Higher Ed’s “Wired Campus” column picked up on Stephanie’s post; both posts have received numerous comments from librarians around the Web who have tried this strategy for reaching out to faculty and grad students. And LES’s own Mary Claire Vandenburg writes in the latest issue of BiblioNotes [PDF, the article is on page 6] about simultaneously starting a new “librarian in residence” service while learning her way around a new discipline (Classics). Mary Claire found that her “complex email reference questions from students have gone up as a result of office hours, as have special requests from faculty for hard to find items.”

What has been your experience with office hours at your institution? Have you tried them and been successful? Tried them and been unsuccessful? Wanted to try them but couldn’t get support from your administration or department? This topic is on the agenda for the LES Reference Discussion Group at ALA Annual in Anaheim. This will be a great opportunity to share your experiences with your colleagues, or to ask questions about getting started with your own “Librarian in Residence” program. If you can’t attend, feel free to leave a comment or question here; we’ll use the blog to report back about any good ideas shared during the session!

LES Reference Discussion Group: Sunday, 6/29, 10:30a-12:00p, Grand Hyatt Regency, Orange County Salon III


Thursday, April 24th, 2008

HarnerIt has arrived from Amazon (on pre-order since February)! The fifth edition of James Harner’s Literary Research Guide. Woot! I should have shot an unboxing video! Sure, get one for your reference collection, but you gotta have one sitting on your desk too! Essentially brain food for librarians of literatures in English (LLE).

The LES Bibliography and You

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

About Timothy Hackman

Librarian for English & Linguistics, University of Maryland Libraries. Member of LES since 2006.

One of the tasks of the Publications Committee is to maintain the bibliography of Studies of Interest for Literatures in English Librarians. Currently the bibliography “resides” at the Central Michigan University Libraries and is cared for by Publications members Aparna Zambare and Michaelyn Burnette.

According to Michaelyn, “This bibliography was started by an LES member some years ago as a way of drawing together journals and books of interest to our section; its origin pre-dated many of the widely available resources which ease the strains of research.” Currently it includes several hundred items in four categories: English in Higher Education; Reference, Research and Instruction; Technical Services; and Collections.

As we consider how best to update this list and make it available to LES members, we thought perhaps it would be best to take an informal poll first. Do you use (or have you ever used) the bibliography? Are the kinds of items listed “of interest for Literatures in English librarians?” Does it foster research being done by LES members? Are there categories we could add or delete from the list? If you have opinions or experiences of the usefulness of this resource, leave us a comment! Your feedback will be valuable in helping us re-shape the professional bibliography for the 21st century.

The Care and Feeding of Student Assistants

Monday, February 25th, 2008

About Timothy Hackman

Librarian for English & Linguistics, University of Maryland Libraries. Member of LES since 2006.

So another semester is under way, and with it comes the first few weeks of very…um, uneven service from the new student assistants at our reference desk. While they are learning the ins and outs of photocopy cards, printer servers, food and drink policies and the like, the student assistants expect to turn to their supervisors and peers for help with questions to which they don’t know the answers. But when it comes to reference and research questions, it seems to be a different story. With some exceptions, it seems that students are almost physiologically averse to referring questions to a librarian, even when one is sitting at the same desk! I have witnessed the following exchange innumerable times:

Patron: Do you have any books on my obscure English 101 topic?

Student (typing a few keywords in the Catalog): No, we don’t. Sorry.

Patron: Oh, ok. (Goes back to the dorm to cut and paste from Google results)

Granted, you’d think the patron would ask to speak to someone else about their question, but maybe they’re in a rush, or maybe they don’t want to hurt their fellow student’s feelings. (Graduate students and faculty seem to be less shy about asking for someone else’s help when their needs haven’t been met.) The ideal situation would be for our student assistants to know when a referral is needed, and to follow through appropriately.

Short of shock collars or Facebook-deprivation chambers, how can we better train our students to make referrals? One approach we’re considering at my institution is to employ more graduate students from the library school, who are a little more motivated to learn “the business” and to provide good service. But this can stretch the budget, and obviously isn’t much help for those universities without library schools. So what other suggestions do you have for approaching this problem? What sorts of training or guidelines have you implemented? What has worked well (or even not well, but maybe could be improved with some tinkering?) If you use a tiered (aka “Brandeis Model”) reference system, do employees at the first tier really make referrals like they’re supposed to?