Studies on the rate of Patron return continue to prove that it's better to be amicable than competent. Don't tell them to do it themselves. If they could, they wouldn't ask you. (Thankfully, this generally happens more in Academic than Public.) Leave a breadcrumb for information literacy after a few repeat visits. Sharing your secrets for search strategy is an art best done over the shoulder and in person, but if this isn't possible, try a series of screen shots - like a podcasted tutorial. Try to relay your search terms so they have the option of picking up where you left off, but as in person, most Patrons will leave before you manage to do this, if you don't sneak it in the middle of the response.
Try harder online than you would in person. After all, your Patron can't see or hear you, so it's harder to convey a welcoming attitude.
Chat is a much better option than email since it allows you to conduct a proper reference interview. Asynchronous methods, such as email, make your job harder. If you receive a local email query, email back and try and get the person to either phone in or chat. The exception to this rule is a vast distance that causes a time zone hurdle.
Folks may not type as quickly as you do; just as you'd adjust your speaking speed for conversation, consider slowing your typing for someone that seems to have trouble. Be aware that a slow typer might lack sight or limbs.
Be a good online listener. Let about 30 seconds pass before you respond in addition to any time you think it might take for their question to reach your eyes. Take a field trip to different parts of Horowhenua to get a feel for network lag in a given neighbourhood. Keep a person's bandwidth in mind.
While all uppercase letters are even more offensive than my slides, do feel free to bring part of yourself to the virtual world. Customise your avatar. Hyperlink your findings and citations to make them easier for a Patron to follow. Do what you have to do to make a patron feel at home when they might feel a little out of place. Try to ensure that you'll not be interrupted if you're staffing the virtual desk. If this isn't possible, type something like “I need to go away from the keyboard for a few minutes to check what's on our shelves. Is that okay?” As a Patron myself, I once encountered two Librarians manning the same Reference Desk. One was wearing an Absolut vodka T-Shirt, the other a full suit. Which do you think I chose? The worst part was the man in the suit kept trying to filch the query, only to find that he couldn't field it at the end of the day, when yer man in the Absolut shirt could.
After all, someone might feel like we have all the answers and they've naught but a stupid query. Try to convey that there is no such thing.
If you can hold your own in a bar or at a party, you're no stranger to the reference interview Just like at the pub, avoid closed questions that will lead to a simple yes or no response early on. Just like chatting someone up, you can never go wrong with &quot;Oh that's fascinating!&quot; provided it's true.
Broken the ice? Time to ask some probing questions! It's hard to talk about what you don't know, so often in the discussion, a Patron will form a clearer picture of their information need. Probing questions will help get to the bottom of things.
(Is it for a presentation, is it for a school project, is it just for fun?) If you've timed this right, the Patron should really start to open up, and you should be able to start forming a clear mental picture of what they're after. The what do you hope to accomplish question is always a bit tricky, so I usually preference it with “I hate to be nosy, but I'd really like to be sure I'm on the right track...”
Close the deal. Just like you'd ask &quot;So are we on for Saturday?&quot; or &quot;May I get your number?&quot; you want to be sure that you're heading in the right direction. Like a well trained parrot, recite as well as you can what they've just told you. Follow it with Did I get that right? Does that make sense? Am I understanding that properly?
Are you talking to the wingman? Forced queries are bad! Just like you want to talk directly to the person that has the information need in person, you want to do this virtually. Watch this with parents and children in especial. If the kid has a school project, do your damndest to speak directly to the child. It's their grade, not Mum or Da's. It also happens regularly with corporations and politicians. However, with those two subsets, it's much harder to get a direct query the first time round. There's nothing wrong with developing a strong rapport with an aide.
Wikipedia is a good starting point. There was a study done in Science quite a while ago that equated wikipedia to other standard print encyclopediae in terms of reliability. (The big exceptions are corporations and politicians. Don't ever trust those to be accurate.) Children's nonfiction - provided it's current - is a good way to get up to speed on a topic. Have an ear and an eye for words that are unique to a given topic or field these will help you pick good search strings
Limiting your search can save substantial time! It also will help lead to more reliable sources if you have an academic term at your disposal. Know how to limit by site : type (.edu, .govt, .org) If a Patron is searching for a picture, look by images, or consult Grove Art if you've a friend with a subscription. Quotation marks are your friend! Google scholar is usually more fruitful than plain google.
Not everyone will have in depth knowledge of every topic, so f all back to bibliographers and uberlibrarians. And I simply won't hear that rural Libraries can't have bibliographers. Mine were volunteer and they all loved doing it. Many were also financial donors. Suppose you get a pottery question that you *know* Rosalie would know the answer to. Unless you've got a rapport with a Patron you don't want to hand off _right away_; that might make them feel uncomfortable or give the impression that you're cold. Instead, walk through the reference interview anyway AND THEN tag Rosalie. Know who you're handing the baton to in advance. Someplace in the Library keep a morbid interest cheat sheet outlining who fields what, and be sure to kindly ask the Patron to wait as you check with your friend. You don't want to waste any of the Patron's time if at all possible.
Doing so will help you, other staff, and Patrons save time later. Doing enough of this sort of thing will provide a valuable content silo, and you'll develop reknown.
Get on with it! Here are some examples. :)
The Queen would surely not steer you wrong, at least not in this case.
Nothing says nerd like “Science.”
Citations and fences are good signs in terms of reliability. Conversely, adverts are generally a sign of poor reliability.
These are actually quite interesting as a set of partnered sites, or ring. They're a sort of push back for free government information in contrast to West. While they aren't usually the official sanctioned version of the Law, they are reliable. Explore the icons at the bottom to see how things link up worldwide. Since most Lawyers are dinosaurs, look for black and blue on white as in web 1.0, and it'll generally steer you in the right.
Adverts again! If that wasn't enough of a hint, they all but admit that they're brokering in rumour if you examine the disclaimer in the lower left. Informal diction in the domain name choice is another nail in the reliability coffin.
The more localised you can go for botanical information while staying authoritative, the better. If you're assisting a Patron with a gardening query, this increases the likelihood that their crops will grow properly.
Lingua Latina Est Optime! At least for plant information. Big sciency words, like ecosystems are also a happy indicator of a sound site.
At first glance, this might not seem so bad. It's a flash layout very similar to my alma mater's horticultural extension. Indeed, if a Patron is just looking for some pictures, or is in search of a source for their purchasing plants for their garden, this could be appropriate. However, as an information source, it's commercial in nature, and closer scrutiny of their diction and citation work leaves a lot to be desired. Again, we've a small print disclaimer to back up our hunch that we might be traipsing down the primrose path.
When in doubt, ask Ema, ask Ema, ask Ema! Don't be afraid to hand off, rather than make a mistake. It should be noted that this is one of very few sites I'd consider both reliable and widely accessible. It's written for a general audience, but it's authenticity is wonderful, and one doesn't feel as though the content is dumbed down.
While there are certainly some blogs worth reading for information purposes, the lion's share of the lot wouldn't pass muster. I used this as an example of what could come up on a search for “Te Reo”. Note that for North America, there are many reliable sites that aren't the “definitive” tribal site thanks to a sticky recognition process. Tribal affairs are super sticky, but that shouldn't stop you or a Patron from learning. Did I tell you to ask Ema?
As with everything, you'll get better as Patrons lie to you and tell you how bril you are. As long as you don't introduce them to Nancy Pearl, Linda Smith, or Sue Searing, none will be the wiser. Excepting the case of jr's paper being due tomorrow morning at 8AM when it's 5 past close, you always have more time than you think. [Even in that case, if your Head of Libraries is smart enough not to shut the door on a Patron's fingers, they come back to help you when funding is shy since I guarantee they'll remember the favour and return it.] Defer in depth questions. Give the Patron a time frame and then be sure to get back to them. If you suspect it'll take longer than your initial aestimate, fess up straight away. Don't push it off too far no matter what. In general, I'd not do it any more than one delay, since you stand to irritate your Patron into not returning.
It is the “Would you like chips with that?” of Reference. Unfortunately, unlike “Would you like chips with that?” not enough of us ask it. This accomplishes three things: it demonstrates that you care about your Patron, if they say “No” it leaves the door open to further exploration or another query, and that if they say “Yes.” it signals the end of the transaction. Without these words, you'll never know if you gave this particular person too much or too little information.
This is the path of Reference. You start not knowing a thing at all, and you beat round the bush until you're bloody specific. Archiving your searches is key, in particular for visual or musical references, since they're so difficult to dredge up a second time. Bookmark, bookmark, bookmark. Following the path is particularly vital in honing queries for localisation. Often general information just won't do – it has to be relevant to the Patron, and a lot of times that begs that the information be local. Familiarisation saves steps!
The more of a game you make of reference, the better you'll become at it.
Sorry, can't get the last three to link properly, and I'm tired of wrestling with Impress.
USE THIS NOT THAT! Concept Adapted from Author David Zinczenko of Eat This and Not That! Fame. Online Reference's Finest Hour!
Ngaryawahia Regatta by Craig Peihopa Copyright Craig Peihopa, used with permission. Great stuff at www.timelinephoto.com Manaakitanga matters. Photo used with permission. Http://www.timelinephoto.com
Nice > Accurate “ Whither reference services? Views of some Ghanaian library school students” http://www.emeraldinsight.com/journals.htm?articleid=1770600&show=html ...and many others
Photo from Wikimedia Commons, artist Uta Wollf
<ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>How does that work? </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Please tell me more about X! </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Would you be so kind as to explain that? </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>What do you hope to accomplish by gathering this information? </li></ul></ul></ul></ul></ul>
Would you like me to deliver that to your office? </li></ul>
To Sum Up <ul><li>Fuzzy Concepts lead to </li><ul><li>“ leaf” “tree” “shape” “identification” </li></ul><li>Big Words and Terms, which lead to </li><ul><li>“ dendrology” “conifer” “dicot” </li></ul><li>A Reliable Source, which leads to </li><ul><li>http://dendro.cnre.vt.edu/DENDROLOGY/idit.htm </li></ul><li>Yet Another Reliable Source </li><ul><li>http://www.rnzih.org.nz/ </li></ul></ul>
But Wait, There's More! <ul><li>Play trivial pursuit and other trivia games off desk (Or better, have a trivial pursuit fundraiser for Te Takere.)
Join a stumpers listserv ( http://www.project-wombat.org/ )
Watch random TED talks ( http://www.ted.com/ )
Boot about on the World Wide Web trawling for reliable sites. </li></ul>
The Slide You Probably Don't Give a Fig About <ul><li>The Golden Ticket search term for continuing education on this topic for me was "Virtual Reference Service' librarian training"