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IST Fall Conference - Trends in Reference Service

December 4, 2011 | Diana | Comments (1)

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(Conference speakers left to right: Rebecca Raven, Director, Public Service, Hamilton Public Library; Debbie Green, Head, Research and Reference Services, Robarts Library, University of Toronto; and Gail Richardson, Consultant, Libraries Moving Forward)

The annual fall conference was held on November 22 and the first guest speaker of the programme was Debbie Green, Head of Reference and Research Services, Robarts Library, University of Toronto.  Green's presentation was titled 'Watching Trends in Academic Reference Service'. She covered a lot of ground in her talk- including  service innovations at Robarts Library, the need to measure the value of reference service as opposed to simply assessing the needs of users, the role of mobile devices and pilot projects in providing reference services, and much more.

Not surprisingly, reference service at Robarts Library shares some trends we see in TPL.  In-person reference questions have shown a continous and significant deline over the last 15 years.  The demand for virtual reference services however, increases with each year. There is a high demand for remote access and users at Robarts want maximum self service.  Ask a Librarian Chat use is very high and is rated as an excellent use of staff resources.

We heard about the embedded instruction model used for teaching information literacy at the University of Toronto, where library instruction is a part of a course requirement and tailored to the course.  Pilot projects launched using smartphones, Kobos and iPads were popular with students and helped staff to gain a lot more expertise with the devices.  QR codes were employed to get users to contact the Chat service.  Some services such as the opportunity for a student to have an hour long consultation with a librarian were not so successful.  Students wanted a shorter version and this effort proved to be a poor use of professional time.

Several other pilot projects were highlighted by Green such as Librarian with a Laptop, Librarian on Location and Feedback Fridays- all designed to get library staff out from behind the reference desk and interacting directly with library users.  Green reported that students did not always catch on to the purpose of these pilots, though they generated a lot of excellent press. All in all, the pilots were a good learning experience, easily foldable if they did not reach their full potential and a lot of fun for staff.  All food for thought in any library environment.  Stay tuned for further blog posts on the fall conference in upcoming weeks.

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