I am rather new in the field and possibly I'm too green for my own good, but I have heard from my colleagues where I work, that it is a waste of time for a librarian to sit at the reference desk. Several feel that most of their questions are related to technical issues students have on our computers and it is not their job to have to answer these questions (yet they see no problem in coming to my office and asking me to answer these questions for them).

When I was hired, I was hired because of my technical skills and because of my strong background in media arts. I was asked to create an information commons and to bring a fresh look to the library. Now they are asking me to train students to man the reference area so they do not have to answer "printing problem" questions or assist students with software problems. .

Does anyone else feel the reference desk has become more of an IT help desk?
Do we still need to have a reference desk?
Is it our duty to be there to answer these questions?

I feel it is but maybe I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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yes, it's more IT. yes, we are still needed and yes, it's our duty to offer help.
It starts with a printing question (computer lab question), then a citation style question (writing center question), then a research question (library question).

What I would like would be an IT student with me at the desk, to answer those questions that I can't answer about the IT system (and maybe they can fill the printer, too!) I don't want to get rid of the Reference Desk, but I don't want to tie myself to it with printer cables either. It's frustrating to cut off a library research question to fill the printer or discuss how to double space a Word document.

I have been in places that have "information desks" manned by students who can look up books, direct patrons to appropriate sections of the library (including bathrooms), and help with printing. The librarian is "on call", sometimes in an office and sometimes just further back behind the desk. I have to admit that after 2 hours of "what's my password" (a perfectly legitimate question, given that they have to log in to do anything), an Information Desk starts to sound really good.
I would hate to see librarians avoid IT-related computer help questions by disappearing from the users. Sure, it's annoying when we feel like we are shortchanging "real" reference work to unjam printers, etc. But if that means librarians disappear into some back office, I think that's a real mistake. I guess in a perfect world there would be someone around to man the computer area who have some idea of how to deal with those problems efficiently AND people there to handle reference. But if that's not possible and one or the other has to go, I'd rather see the reference librarian stay and have to do a little double duty. After all, the bottom line is about helping people get what they need out of the library - whether that is citation help or a double-spaced paper. Both are legitimate needs.

As for the reference desk itself, I think there is a lot to say for encouraging librarians to get up and walk around more. Maybe eliminating the desk entirely isn't the right answer either, but I hate going into libraries and being ignored or feeling like I'm interrupting the librarian. Maybe roaming around makes you feel like you work at Best Buy (David!) but as a customer at least at Best Buy I feel like I can ask the employee a question. :)
Wow that really sounds like a success story! I agree that the reference desk can be really intimidating. I also think placing librarians behind a desk encourages them to sort of "hide." It's way too easy to ignore patrons that way. I love the dual screen idea - a good way to "teach a man to fish," I think!
We absolutely need a reference desk. There are still many patrons who can't easily navigate many electronic resources (and even a generati. Further, I've noticed that patrons have begun to ask much more sophisticated questions, the result of having done their preliminary research at home.
Thanks everyone for taking the time to respond to my question. I love the idea of the roaming librarian as well as the dual monitor. Our next departmental meeting we will be addressing this issue and I think I will address our need to be more proactive in approaching our students.
We tried a trial roaming (we called it "roving") librarian project, and it worked extremely well. Unlike a passive librarian at a desk, the roaming librarian was encouraged to be proactive, step up to individuals and ask questions like "are you finding what you're looking for?"

This roaming librarian was positioned in an area of about 30 computer stations. We found that more people asked for help when they saw the librarian helping others in this area.

As a result, we plan to institute a permanent roaming librarian position soon.
I know of several libraries in our area who have had success with "roving" librarians using tablet PCs connecting to their wireless.
Do you know any specifics about the types of tablets they are using? My system is looking into the using them as well.
Mark, did you see Scott Carlson's article, "Are Reference Desks Dying out?", from the April 20th, 2007 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education? If not, check it out at [http://chronicle.com/weekly/v53/i33/33a03701.htm]; it's a really balanced report on the issue, I think.

And I agree, the answers to your 3 questions are all Yes. We still need reference desks obviously; but just as obviously, we need more and alternate means of meeting reference needs.
Greg -

Very good article. Thanks for the link.

I don't know what made me think so, but it seemed to me that all the problems, that Russian librarians have been facing recently, had already been solved by our western colleagues. But, to my sincere surprise, it not absolutely true. most of the thing we worry about, are still actual abroad.
For example, my elder colleagues are completely upset that the amount of the reference questions asked, falls every year. And what upsets them much more - most of the questions have nothing to do with real reference, the questions are - "Where can I make copies?", "How long can I work on PC?". Questions like "Where can I find this book?" or "Do you have this books in the library?" are very seldom.
We have to answer lots of questions on computers and information retrieval, but still the questions are simple to the limit "How to save files?", "How to switch languages?", "How to spell "yandex" or "google"?"
It's become a great pleasure to me to tell a rare student how to search and work with databases that our library has access to.
But still i have a question:
Do our patrons still need face to face communication with librarians or they are completely virtualized.



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