“What’s reference? And other library related questions”

My current job in graduate school is a library supervisor for a residence hall library. Our residence hall library system is unique here at the University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign which gives us the opportunity to interact with undergraduates in their residence halls. Our collection consists of the latest fiction, nonfiction, movies, TV shows, CDs, and magazines. Essentially a public library-like collection in an academic setting. It’s awesome, to be so close and helpful, and students don’t even have to leave their residence hall!

My co-workers and I have tried to provide reference support in the libraries. This past semester I spent eight hours a week doing “Office Hours.” Essentially, come visit me, ask your reference questions. Then, during finals, one of my co-workers did a “Roving Reference” table throughout several residence halls. At a recent staff meeting he shared that when he was roving many undergraduates asked him, “What’s reference?”

This may hurt us as library staff. We hope (and perhaps sometimes assume) that what we take as implicit knowledge (e.g., what reference is) is also implicit to the people we work with.

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30 Days of Innovation #5: Changing Your Point of Reference

I work in an academic library. ‘ We find that the most effective way to encourage students to use the library is to go into their classroom and have bibliographic instruction. ‘ As we’ demonstrate how to access our library virtually from the classroom, we try to expand our students’ perception of the libraries. ‘ A library is not a physical brick and mortar building but a resource ‘ available all day long from anywhere. ‘  Although these sessions are certainly effective, we only go into the classrooms twice a semester. ‘  We are beginning to try new ideas to try to replicate the benefits of our classroom instruction to demonstrate ‘ that library and librarians are not contained within the walls of our building. ‘ To do this we are changing the idea of where and how reference assistance happens.

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The Technical Reference Librarian

Someone once told me that if I planned on becoming a librarian I should brush up on my trouble shooting skills for the copier and printer. Really, the most often questions I get at the reference desk are technical. From my perspective as a college reference librarian, students who are proficient with their handhelds ‘ still need to help with basic computer skills. ‘ Thank goodness, because somedays they are the only questions I get at the desk!’ I found that the basic how to computer questions end up becoming the start of an excellent relationship.

Building Trust’ 

Countless times, I have had students linger in the reference desk waiting for the all clear to whisper (no one whispers in my library) “Can you show me how to print my paper?”. ‘ I have found that getting up and walking to their desk is the best way to help because it communicates that I am going to work with them to fix the problem. Even if it is just to show them where the print tab is. ‘  ‘ In a typical reference transaction, my training would have suggested that I turn my computer to show the patron how to print a paper from my screen. ‘ But technical questions are better handled working at the computer with the student. ‘  I also think that my eliminating the reference desk eliminates any of the “power” implication between a student and ‘ me.

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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. Continue reading

Sharing Computers Without a Footprint

Many libraries have one reference desk, where adult, teen, and youth services work together to provide service for the public. This is a great way to provide consistent access to an expert, but can be disorienting when you are forced to use default computer browsers.

One tool my colleagues and I have been using to fix this is portable USB drives.

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Searching Yahoo!

Last week Yahoo! announced their 2008 top searches. Number 1 on the list is Britney Spears and number 2 is WWE.’  I found out about this list when listening to a couple of podcasts (Net @ Night and Buzz Out Loud). Both of the podcasts were somewhat dismissive of the list, and stated that the top 10 demonstrates that those who use Yahoo! for search are, as one podcaster said, “nudniks.”

However, as I heard these podcasters analyzing the results, I thought something else entirely.’  It seems to me that the list demonstrates the power of teen (and probably tween) searchers.’  Take a look at the list and think about whether or not you agree.’ ‘  Continue reading

Still Thinking About Search – YouTube

Over the past several weeks and months I’ve written a number of posts about the world of search and tools teens use in order to locate information. I’ve talked about Twitter, new search sites like Searchme and TinEye, and social news sites like Social Median.’  What I hadn’t mentioned in the past, but need to now, is YouTube.

Just the other day there was an interesting post on ReadWriteWeb that included these two paragraphs: Continue reading

Thinking About Search, Again

As some blog readers know, I’m a big fan and user of Twitter.’  And, as a result of my constant use of the technology, I find that often I need to search out information that I originally saw posted via Twitter.’  As I’ve become more and more of a Twitter searcher I’ve realized a couple of things.

  • First, Twitter is an amazing resource for locating information on current events. If you, or the teens you work with, are interested in news and views on almost any topic, searching Twitter is likely to not only lead to links to news from major media outlets, but also first-hand accounts from people involved in a particular event.’ ‘  Of course, when reading postings on the site that are personal in nature, as opposed to coming from an established media source, the information might need to be evaluated more stringently than information gathered from library databases.’  However, this need to evaluate provides a perfect opportunity for teaching and discussing evaluation skills with teens. Continue reading

The World of Search

Over the past couple of weeks new web-based search tools have popped up. These tools are worth investigating as a way to help teens expand their research lives. Two of these search sites use images, in two completely different ways, as a way to enhance the search process:

  • Searchme – When someone enters a search term at Searchme the results are displayed visually in a scrollable stack. The result images are screenshots of the sites that match the search terms. For anyone familiar with iTunes and Apple’s cover flow style of display, the results “list” is very similar in look to that.Along with the visual results display, Searchme also filters results into categories. For example, in the image below, when the search term YALSA is entered into the search box, a list of categories appears for that search – libraries, children’s books, etc. A searcher can click on a specific category and see the results for just that category. Or, the searcher can click on all and see everything that Searchme uncovered. Even if just one category is selected, on the results page the other categories are displayed so it’s easy to switch from one to another.

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Serendipity & Information

Last week on the MacBreak Weekly podcast roundtable members briefly discussed a little-known fact about MacBook USB ports. As I listened I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh, this is why L Lee had audio troubles this the semester.) When I had a chance, I emailed L Lee the information I’d heard on the podcast, and he agreed what they talked about could very well have been the problem.

Thinking about this I realized, once again, how serendipitous information gathering and the exchange of information with others can be. I also realized how important it is, as a librarian, to really listen to what others say so that these opportunities for serendipitous information exchange can actually take place.

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