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Librarians On the Go!

October 9, 2015

As part of our outreach initiatives, we have offered roving reference services since 2012, stationing librarians in various locations such as computer labs on campus, study areas in other buildings, and high-traffic areas, such as the lobby of the student center. We also offer roving reference services at a campus building that is down the street from our main campus and houses our health sciences departments. Over three years, we’ve come to fine-tune our approaches to these services. We call the service Reference On-the-Go when we are aiming to assist students with research and library-related questions outside of the building, especially in study areas of other buildings and in computer labs. For this approach, one librarian usually goes to another campus location with a sign and an iPad and/or laptop, and this is more suited to places where studying and writing take place. We call it Pop-Up Library when we are in busy, high-traffic areas, such as the campus student center, and usually two library staff members (or a staff member and one of our student workers) attend, bringing library giveaways, an iPad and/or laptop, and sometimes coffee and donuts! This is more for general outreach and visibility and not as focused on reference or user instruction.

This year, we are trying to visit all of the campus buildings that house our various liaison departments, so each librarian has scheduled multiple one-hour time frames throughout October and November to visit the main department areas or the computer labs close to her liaison departments. We find that Reference On-the-Go has typically been more successful, drawing more reference and citation questions, in the building that is down the street from the main campus and the library, which seems to make sense! It’s a wonderful service for busy health sciences students who are a short drive (or a longer walk) away from the library; they can stop between classes at the cafe in the building to speak to their liaison librarian. The other buildings closer to the library on campus have had fewer occurrences of reference questions, but the program has still initiated conversation and interaction with students outside of the library, so we find it valuable nonetheless. We have also tried holding Reference On-the-Go in the Writing Center. It never hurts to remind students — wherever they are — that they can ask us questions and approach us for help.

There is a host of library literature on this topic; I’ve listed just a few articles below that have been helpful to me in the planning of these services:

  • Lotts, M., & Graves, S. (2011). Using the iPad for reference services: Librarians go mobile. College & Research Libraries News, 72(4), 217-220.
  • Kuchi, T., Mullen, L. B., & Tama-Bartels, S. (2004). Librarians without borders: Reaching out to students at a campus center. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 43(4), 310-317.
  • Holmes, C., & Woznicki, L. (2010). Librarians at your doorstep: Roving reference at Towson University. College & Research Libraries News, 71(11), 582-585.
  • Hines, S. S. (2007). Outpost reference: Meeting patrons on their own ground. PNLA Quarterly, 72(1), 12-13, 26.

Have you tried any versions of this type of outreach at your library and on your campus?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Christina Steffy permalink
    October 9, 2015 3:22 pm

    Hilary, I love this idea. My undergraduate school trialed roving reference, but quickly gave it up. I’ve heard other places say it was a success and others say it was a failure. But I’ve found some places are too quick to say it’s a failure – you have to give something time. I was a college tutor while completing my MLIS, and we were encouraged to “rove” around the room because students seemed to feel more comfortable asking us questions. Even though we were in the same room, being seated a few feet away from someone at a computer still seemed to be a barrier. Walking right by them almost seemed to remind them that we can ask for help, and no, they weren’t bothering us. So I am of the mindset that a roving model can in fact work, especially when someone is at a computer and doesn’t want to move (that’s often the case when people are in a place where the number of students in need of computer access far outnumbers the available computers). And it is part of being not just visible but inviting. When we sit at a desk and no one approaches us, our natural inclination is to do something rather than stare off into space. Once we start doing something, then someone thinks, “I will be interrupting.” And it’s like this cycle starts. Being visible and available to answer questions so people don’t have the mindset of “I don’t want to interrupt” goes a long way. And moving it off campus or outside of the library is exactly what we need to do to show people you can access the library, the library resources, and library help ANYWHERE.

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