in ALA2008, Libraries/Info Sci, Tech, UNC

ALA 2008: What is the future of face-to-face reference?

This was another panel presentation, each member spoke for a bit about the topic. I neglected to write down the presenters’ names, unfortunately, but did get their home institutions.

UC Merced’s setup was particularly interesting to me – as a new university, they were able to build their library’s policies and functions from the ground up. They do not have librarians regularly on the reference desk, instead relying on student workers to refer patrons to specialists as needed and emphasizing contact via digital means whenever possible. We’re moving a bit toward this model at UNC, and I liked seeing what a reference department could look like after a full transition to that model.

Appalachian State University has been experimenting with providing service via ActiveWorlds. I’m not sure that virtual worlds are the place to go just yet – I don’t think there’s enough concentrated population of our users there for it to be worth the effort of widespread implementation. But, that said, I’m glad that somebody is experimenting with it. They emphasized that we can’t create and abandon a service point – we must be fully committed to new projects.

Ohio University has experimented with reference service via video chat. Kiosks were placed in the stacks and connected to librarians via skype. They went unused. The kiosk was then moved near the main entrance, where it has generated about 1-2 questions per day. Being close to in-person access points limits its usefulness. They may try to come up with a better location later. The presenter pointed out that video chat is a new technology, just hitting the mainstream, and users may not be ready to use it in a non-personal fashion. This turned out to be a proof of concept project, and not a full success. It’s a very good example of how to develop and revise a new service method, and I’m very glad that ASU was so willing to share about something less than fully successful.