Reference work almost always includes the transmission of information literacy. As head of the online reference service EconDesk of the German National Library of Economics(ZBW), I am very interested in this topic, and I have discussed it at length with many colleagues in New York.
Bonnie Lafazan from Berkeley College is currently doing research on this interesting topic with some colleagues. She is examining chat dialogues to determine if and how the ACRL’s information literacy standards are taught within reference answers and to what extent information provided by reference services impacts information literacy.
I find it fascinating that the reference desks of most academic libraries are staffed by subject librarians. This is quite different than in Germany – there subject librarians also participate in reference services, however generally they are only called in for a consultation in the case of more complex, subject specific queries.
I learned that for online reference queries chat is tremendously popular at both the New York Public Library and New York University’s Bobst Library. Both teams have their hands full with simultaneous chat queries and giving ready reference. Rosa Caballero-Li, manager of the NYPL’s Ask-Services, states that users prefer to communicate with someone directly. A different culture than in Germany?
Chat-teams are generally organized into 1-2 hour shifts and chat services are guaranteed during pre-determined times. NYPL and the Leonard Lief Library of CUNY’s Lehman College also participate in QuestionPoint’s global 24/7 chat cooperation. This means their users can chat with librarians around the clock – either with their own or with other English-speaking librarians in different time zones.
Reference is a lively and growing business in all the libraries I visited. A new development is reference via Facebook and Twitter. Libraries receive many comments and questions that beg to be answered via these sites. Much like the ZBW, the NYPL has created a new position in the field of social media.
No one is complaining about a lack of queries. NYPL currently receives between 8,000 and 10,000 queries a month via telephone, chat, text and email - 9 people are responsible for stemming this tide. The emergence of these types of queries is a byproduct of the teaching style here. Academic libraries speak of 3 educational objectives in the training of first year students:
- making the value of libraries clear to students
- giving students orientation in both the physical building and in the search for books and articles
- impressing upon students that the reference team is there to help.
I observed something interesting during Robert Farrell’s training session at Leonard Lief Library at CUNY’s Lehman College: when Robert asked what a reference query was, not all of the students had a clear answer. I think it’s a good idea to start with the basics during training sessions. Clearly not everyone is familiar with the broad spectrum of questions that may be answered by a library’s reference team.
„Research consultations“ are practically the norm in all the research libraries I visited in New York. They are something between reference and an individual information competency training by appointment. This service, which is generally advertised on the library website, is quite popular. Because of this, Anice Mills of Columbia University’s Butler Library plans to institute regular office hours for consultations, much like those offered by professors.
At the end of my visit at the NYPL today, I made one more fabulous discovery. If you enter the historic Stephen A. Schwarzmann building of NYPL on 42nd Street and enter the children’s library, you come upon a glass display cabinet. Behind the glass you will see 5 treasures of literary history: Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, and Tigger. These are the original stuffed animals that inspired A.A. Milne’s children’s classic Winnie the Pooh. This is a landmark that is mentioned in no travel guides.
Monday, 24. September 2012
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