Let me tell you a story about a group of third-year marketing students who came in a few weeks ago, looking for help finding consumer attitudes and market information pertaining to smart phones and wireless chargers (yes, wireless chargers, specifically this one). I was able to help the students find some pretty great resources, created and sent an e-mail with a few links, and sent them happily down the path of successful research.
However shortly after they left my office, I stumbled on some Internet-based gems that I thought might further help their research. I got an e-mail back with a huge thank you and a smilie. And then, just last week I was scouring the Ipsos website and saw that Ipsos had done a big study about how much people want to be able to charge their handhelds without the nusance of cords. I zipped that link off to the students, and once again got back a big thank you and the line, “Thank you so much for your great work! I can’t even explain how much we appreciate it.”
Of course I am not sharing this story on the Internet because I want to show off my lie-berry skillz (*ahem* but did you read the part where the student could not even EXPLAIN their gratitude? It’s just in the previous paragraph, in case you missed it). What this delightful, ego-boosting exchange makes me think about is the average academic librarians ability to manage students’ research needs comprehensively, and throughout their time at school. This was an example of where I did good… there are several more exchanges where I probably just really sucked at being a librarian, and basically screwed the student over in the process. How can I ensure that every exchange is like the one above? Is there a process by which we can continue to work with students even after they’ve left the reference desk?
I’ve toyed with the idea of having something simple and old school like a reference interview form, or simply with some sort of comprehensive documentation of students’ research needs in case I need to follow up with them post-reference session. Of course, where I might find the time to review the library’s 10,000 journals, newspapers, government news releases, industry reports, etc. is another question.
But what about something more comprehensive than just me, in my office, with some reference best-practices rattling around in my head? A hip trend going on in library land is the concept of a “Personal Librarian,” first implemented at Yale University. Here’s how it is described to students:
Your PL serves as a single point of contact for the Library – a resource person for all of your research needs. He or she will contact you occasionally throughout the year to let you know about new databases and tools, upcoming tours of collections, or research methods strategies. You are also encouraged to contact your PL with any questions you have about your research or the Library. How often you choose to avail yourself of your PL is entirely up to you.
It sounds like a great initiative, and one which will more closely align the library with the needs of undergraduate students (something I think is sometimes a hard sell; I mean, for faculty and grad students, I get it — I see how we’re of value to them. But undergrads are such a wily, other-worldly group of users, and it is hard to hold their attention for more than a nano-second). This type of outreach might allow librarians to forge long-term relationships with students so that they become better attune to the students research needs over time. It also focuses the role of the library for undergraduate students, right from the get-go, and gets at what I think is the best marketing tool for libraries ever: personal relationships. And it would cure my fear of crappy reference services, since I could get in touch with the student afterwards with any follow-up! There by patching up my shoddy on-the-spot performance. PHEW.
Of course, there are also some sound arguments to be made about the fact that:
a) We are not special librarians and therefore should not be doing the research for our students;
b) We should instead be focusing on teaching them the skillz to become their own researchers, so that they can monitor resources and utilize the library’s collection as much or as little as they see fit;
c) Of course — haha! — we’re talking about Yale here. Most universities do not have that number of librarians, or perhaps the time and resources to take on such an ambitious project. I had a line-up out my door for the better part of last week because of our “highly successful outreach” with the first-year management students. I am drowning in our success. Please, no more success…
I’m sure reference service delivery has been beater to death within the lie-berry literature, but I can see why — it’s such a huge part of our jobs, and so important to student success, but still so far from being reviewed and improved in a comprehensive, holistic way.