Services in a
Reflections on My Observation Experience
Wayne State University, LIS 6120
Historically, libraries have served as vital institutions for preserving
important social records, organizing various types of information,
providing equitable access to literature and educational
materials, and promoting the pursuit of knowledge in the spirit of
intellectual freedom and equal learning opportunities for all.
Today, while the traditional ideals have remained intact, libraries
have evolved significantly to keep pace with the changing
needs and interests of a mobile, tech-savvy clientele. The
reference librarian, in particular, has had to adapt and to grow
as information becomes increasingly available electronically.
The Reference Librarian’s Evolving Role
The digital age has inspired questions about the continuing need for
library services. As more people are able to access information on their
own, will reference assistance become obsolete? In an article from the
Chicago Tribune chronicling last year’s ALA conference, reporter Chris
“Yes, the neighborhood reference desk lives.
But not how you remember it.”
Based on my observations for this assignment, I would have to agree.
Reference services continue to play an essential role in the overall
effectiveness of the library environment. How they are delivered,
however, has evolved.
Description of Library
The library at which I spent time for my observation is located in a
small town with a population of about 4,000 people. It serves a
district comprised of five municipalities and nearly 20,000
residents, of whom almost 13,000 are active library cardholders.
There are over 117,000 items in the collection, and about 41,000
materials checked out each month. In addition to various print
and electronic resources, the library offers a technology center,
public meeting rooms, and numerous programs and special
events for children, teens and adults throughout the year. The
adult reference staff is comprised of the department head,
“Beth,” and four part-time staff members, all of whom are
I was able to observe the adult reference services desk at
different times of day on both weekdays and weekends. I
discovered that regardless of day or time, the reference desk is a
well-utilized resource in the community. While not intensely busy
the way a public library in a large city might be, the librarians I
observed were consistently assisting patrons throughout the day,
either by telephone, in the technology area, or via the
computers at the desk. A steady stream of library users consulted
the staff with a variety of concerns; it was obvious that patrons
felt comfortable approaching the desk, and that they held a
sense of confidence in the skills of the librarians. This library has a
reputable and meaningful presence in the community, which
has much to do with the helpful attitude of the reference staff.
Common Requests for Assistance
• Help in locating specific books (sometimes with only minimal
info about the story or characters)
• Help in finding titles by favorite authors
• Recommendations for books
• Requests for “holds” on items to be picked up later
• Guiding older students in researching topics (and conducting
reference interviews to narrow the scope of info needed)
• Assistance with technology (help w/ printers/scanners, help
navigating different browsers, retrieving login info, providing
guest passes for internet use)
• Reserving meeting/study rooms
• Help in locating specific resources (Consumer Reports,
archived periodicals, etc.)
• The reference staff develops a summer reading program for
adults each year, with interesting themes and opportunities for
prizes for participants. They use requests for reading
recommendations to promote the program and to generate
excitement among patrons about the library’s collection.
• The reference staff has put together a “Browsing Area”—solely
comprised of paperbacks (older, popular titles previously
weeded, donated materials); easy, light-weight books for
patrons to casually pick up for a trip or day at the beach.
• The reference staff has a group of “regulars” who spend hours
per day, several days per week at the library. Harmless, but
sometimes quirky, the regulars often want to “help” the staff
with various duties, and feel a sort of kinship toward them.
In an article entitled “So Now What? The Future of Librarians,” Steve
Coffman, Vice President of Library Support Services at Library Systems
and Services, wrote of reference librarians, ““There's a lot we can bring
to the table. First, we work on behalf of the patron . . . Second, we offer
years of knowledge and experience. We know the sources, how to
evaluate them . . . Finally, we've got the reputation. Although some of us
have been trying to shake it for years, the word librarian and the image
associated with it are inextricably bound up with books, reading, the
pursuit of knowledge, and the life of the mind.” (Coffman, 2013).
Today’s reference librarian is the human connection between the
community and all that the library has to offer. It’s an essential role in the
information landscape, and with a sense of commitment toward
professional growth and welcoming technology into the library, one that
will enable the neighborhood reference desk to continue to thrive.
Borrelli, Christopher. (2013, June 22). Reference lives on, no
question. Chicago Tribune, Arts & Entertainment.
Bopp, Richard E. and Smith, Linda C. (2011). Reference and
Information Services: An Introduction. Santa
Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, LLC.
Coffman, Steve. (2013, January/February). So Now What?: The
Future of Librarians. Online Searcher, p. 41.