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From the Steps of Adams Library

Fall 2014

Reference and Research Support – Where the Rubber Meets the Road
by Tish Brennan

When you walk up to the Reference Desk on Level 3 of Adams Library, who is providing reference service to you? Who are those people behind the desk?

Well, if you approach the north side of the desk, you’ll be greeted by one of our 7-10 Reference Student Assistants. They perform a function called triage: they handle simple directional (where is…?) and informational (do you have…?) questions, as well as taking charge of assisting library users with photocopying, printing, and microform scanning services.  They also maintain the stacks for both the Reference and the Periodicals Collections, re-shelving materials that have been used by library patrons.

On the other hand, if you approach the south side of the desk, you are likely to meet one of the three Reference faculty librarians – Tish Brennan, Rachel Carpenter, or Carla Weiss.  Or you might encounter one of our library faculty colleagues who assist the three of us in covering the 68 hours/week that we provide service at the Reference Desk: Jamie Pahigian (Adjunct Reference Librarian), Kieran Ayton (Emerging Technologies Librarian), or Judith Stokes (E-Resources and Serials Librarian).

Faculty librarians handle all the substantive questions which come to the Reference Desk, including any queries referred by our student assistants.

During the time we staff the public desk we are also monitoring the questions coming to us via text and “Ask a Librarian” email.  Over the course of an academic year we answer close to 10,000 questions either face to face, by telephone, or online.  Over 94% of these transactions are in person.

In addition to impromptu, walk-up help, the three Reference faculty encourage students and faculty with more complicated, in-depth needs to meet us for one-on-one or small group consultations in our newly redesigned Research Support office directly behind the Reference Desk.  Students often wish to meet about tools and search strategies for approaching course assignments or research projects.  Faculty may meet with us to discuss assignments that involve searching for or evaluating information for an academic task.  We try to demonstrate how assignments can mesh with particular academic resources, library tools, or databases, or how to improve an assignment’s research fluency impact on students. 

Our classroom colleagues also collaborate with us in creating library instruction sessions to help students meet the information goals of a particular course. 

Preparing and teaching those library instruction sessions, along with creating the instructional materials that go with them such as LibGuides, occupy a big chunk of our time when we are not covering the Reference Desk.  Last academic year 3.3 library faculty taught over 3400 students in the 200 class sessions we prepared.

Each of the Reference librarians acts as library liaison to specific academic departments and programs including the School of Nursing and Communication Dept. (Rachel Carpenter), Feinstein School of Education & Human Development and the Departments of English, Modern Languages, & Political Science (Carla Weiss), and  Biology, History, Music/Theatre/Dance, and Physical Sciences (Tish Brennan). Consulting with fellow faculty about their information needs and those of their students forms part of our work in identifying and purchasing print and digital materials for the Reference and Main collections of Adams Library.  Discussing the resources required by faculty and students also helps inform our teaching, both at the public desk and in instruction classes.

In addition to our teaching and service activities within the library, we also serve the College as faculty on governance committees and special task forces that often relate to our Reference work, such as the Writing Board and the Academic Integrity Board, and we serve our academic field of librarianship through participation in local, state, and national associations.

We are all academic librarians here at Adams Library, but not all of us are Reference librarians.  What makes an outstanding reference librarian?  To excel at this work, you have to have a love for a number of specific attributes:

-true “public service orientation”  - which includes carefully listening to the question, but looking beneath its surface to  understand what’s truly needed and also includes a never-ending desire to solve the problem presented

-a drive to turn every information transaction into a teaching opportunity – teach them to “fish” and the next question they bring to you will be that much more sophisticated and intriguing

-and insatiable curiosity – whether about our own faculty research or about the latest question from a brand-new First-Year.

These qualities continue to shine among the Reference faculty here at Adams Library where a “high touch” and personal regard for the needs of our students and faculty colleagues will always be paramount.