Roving Versus Desk Reference

I recently moved from the Teen Services Librarian position at Red Deer Public Library to the teen job at the downtown branch of Edmonton Public Library, and while the two cities are only 1.5 hours from each other, they feel a universe apart to me. The teen area at the downtown branch has been without a librarian for the past few months (and in the 2 years before that, there was much turnover in the position). The space has been heavily used by street/at-risk/ inner city youth roughly aged 15-25, making younger teens and tweens feel intimidated to use the area to find library materials, let alone spend time there hanging out.

There was previously a reference desk near the teen area that was closed down (due to staffing constraints, but also because EPL made the move to roving/roaming reference). I am a relatively young librarian but old school in the sense that I generally find a stationary reference desk to be more ideal than roving reference, especially in the teen area. It has been my experience that unless all the staff members are equally committed to working with and engaging teens, they may as well not rove in the first place. That being said, roving has become the trend of public service at EPL, so I may just have to adapt to that.

What has been the experience at your libraries – do reference desks or roving prove more effective, or a combination of the two? It is my goal to engage with the older and inner city youth so they know that they are still welcome, but must abide by the rules like all of the other library patrons. I’d also like to make the space more welcoming to the younger teens, who currently use the children’s library. I am open to any thoughts or suggestions on this topic!

About Jen Waters

Jen is the Teen Services Librarian at Edmonton Public Library in Alberta, Canada, where she happily spends her time ordering controversial teen novels, planning crazy programs and being insulted by teens on a daily basis.
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5 Comments

  1. roving reference librarians is a great idea – but in the proper context. with teen spaces, a roving librarian i think would too often be seen as another attempt to control teens, aka another security guard checking up on them. as much as we don’t want to see it, sometimes what teens need most is to be left alone and have some privacy. not complete privacy of course 😉 but if they know where the librarians are, they’ll come to us more often than not.

    and i agree with you, also as a young librarian, that i like a stationary desk in general especially if all the staff isn’t equally committed to a roving reference plan. i found anyhow when i worked on the desk that i would be up and moving around a large percentage of the time anyhow!

  2. I think a desk can be great for working with teens because then they know where to find you when they are ready for help.

    That said, roaming can be very good for keeping an eye on what is going on in your teen area and for more casually getting to know your patrons. It might also make it easier to pro-actively greet younger teen and tween patrons thinking about/just coming into the teen area.

  3. Thanks for your comments! I think the large groups of street kids who frequent the library need to have a little less privacy, and maybe earn that right back once they start behaving a little better. And yes roaming might be a good way to see the tweens that are cowering in the corners!

  4. I worked at a branch library where we had roving librarians – not just reference librarians. I, too, found that not all the staff was commited to roving the entire library. In fact, a few of them sat at the information desk and waited for people to come to them. I’ve noticed that many teen and adults are intimidated by a desk and usually ask a page for help because she seems to be more accessible.

  5. We have On call/Roving (OCR) at our library. It works ok, Librarian’s should be walking around and also helping to cover desks as needed. It is difficult at times, because the library has become so busy and also because our professional staff is cut so thin now.

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