Unfortunately, your access has now expired. But there’s good news—by subscribing today, you will receive 22 issues of Booklist magazine, 4 issues of Book Links, and single-login access to Booklist Online and over 200,000 reviews.
Your access to Booklist Online has expired. If you still subscribe to the print magazine, please proceed to your profile page and check your subscriber number against a current magazine mailing label. (If your print subscription has lapsed, you will need to renew.)
Register or subscribe today
Find more At Your Service: Reference by Appointment
As libraries of all types find themselves increasingly faced with budget cuts, public-perception issues, and the effects of online competition, an interesting new twist on the traditional service desk comes to mind—appointment-based reference service.
Academic libraries are no stranger to office hours for librarians. Jack O’Gorman, reference and instruction librarian and associate professor at the University of Dayton’s Roesch Library, says that he performs reference by appointment in two broad ways. “When introducing the library to students in our classes, I let them know specifically that they can come see me—they can book one-hour appointments. But I also have office hours where they can drop in,” he says. This was a bit of a radical idea. O’Gorman set up an office in the advising center with access to electronic resources, so that he doesn’t need to be physically in the library to assist students (and faculty). “I have an office in the library and in the school of engineering, so I can be wherever it is most convenient for the students.” He holds specific office hours on a consistent basis and finds that he generally makes an additional three appointments per week.
O’Gorman says that this practice really makes him part of the schools he serves—he’s seen around the hallways, and students and faculty know where to find him. The idea is to build relationships. “Much in the same way that public libraries serve their local community, this makes us part of the schoolwide community,” he explains. “It’s very forward-thinking and is really a big part of our school’s Marianist tradition of forming partnerships. Our campus is a community, not just an institution.”
Public libraries are beginning to recognize the usefulness of this approach as well. Barry Trott, digital-services director for the Williamsburg (VA) Regional Library, notes that his library has offered “Book a Librarian” for nearly two years. “We offer 30-minute appointments with professional librarians for research assistance or personalized technology training,” he says. “Some of the typical things patrons book us for include help filling out online job applications, Internet research, and help with our downloadable audiobooks and e-books.”
Emily Borsa, reference librarian at the Hinsdale (IL) Public Library, says “We do not have the space for full-size classes, so we make sure to offer one-on-one sessions for anything that our patrons would be able to learn in a typical class offered by a public library. In addition, we find it can be better for some people to learn in that environment versus a classroom.”
In all of these libraries, patron response has been positive. “Students come to think of me as part of their academic experience,” says O’Gorman. “In our Innovation Center, they are given engineering problems to solve hands-on. Recently, a group I had seen via appointment invited me to their final presentation to acknowledge the assistance I was able to provide. Faculty and other students noted my presence.”
Borsa reiterates that people often learn better one-on-one. “Hands-on learning and the patience of one person make the experience less stressful and intimidating,” she notes. “Patrons can ask all of their questions without worrying they are taking up too much time. In addition, when it comes to technology, they can learn on the specific tools they are interested in or may own.” Trott estimates that an average of about 18 sessions is booked per month.
Starting up appointment-based service isn’t difficult. O’Gorman explains, “In an academic setting, naturally the support of the director of the library and the dean of the school is key. But on a practical level, think about where you will be performing this service. On any campus, there is learning space and there is social space. Respect the students’ social space. And make your office hours a priority in your work schedule. It may take time for students to see you as being available, but it will happen.”
Trott describes easing in to the process. “We started off as a pilot project with interested staff volunteering to respond to the appointment requests. This year we made it a part of the job responsibilities for all adult-services librarians, and it fits in the schedules with no issues.” Borsa says that the service has been offered at Hinsdale for more than five years, explaining “We are there to provide service for the community, and we will rearrange our desk schedules as needed. If there is something that one particular librarian is more qualified to train someone on, we have the patron make an appointment with that librarian. But, generally, we are all equally qualified to train computer skills such as Internet and e-mail, e-books, apps, and mobile devices.”
In both academic and public libraries, appointment-based service can provide an opportunity for librarians to reinforce their role as providers of information for their communities. It might be well worth the effort to see if a program could work at your library. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is marketing your library—this is a way to perform a service, in a manner that patrons need most.
Register or subscribe today