I’m reading Foundations of Library and Information Science, 3rd ed, by Rubin, and in one section he treats the subject of roving reference librarians, which sparked my thinking.
First off, I love the idea of roving librarians. Many libraries aren’t doing enough in this area, I think, because of many reasons. One of the problems include staffing levels, because it means someone else has to cover the reference desk when the other staff member is out roving the stacks, especially if the desk is in a public place. Otherwise people who seek out the reference librarian won’t be able to find him/her, because the librarian is seeking out people who need help. But in larger or academic libraries, where some librarians’ offices are out of the public way, librarians are easier to spare.
Another problem is that many librarians are really busy with other projects. This is understandable. However, they should still make an effort to “rove” around, because there’s nothing better than helping somebody out–especially if they’re a bit timid to come to the desk to ask for help. Remember how scary and crabby librarians seemed, when you were little? Roving librarians look like normal people, without that huge desk in front of them. It makes visiting the library more personable, they will be less likely to be scared by that huge desk. We’re not chained to the desk every day!
We are chained metaphorically to our desks, still, because of the computer. Without a computer, we can’t provide ALL the help people need–we still need to drag them halfway across the library back to our scary, messy desks in order to look something up on the catalog or the Internet. People will walk a long way from their car to a Elton John concert, but the distance between where they are and the librarian’s computer seems insurmountable. Weird. According to Rubin, some libraries have solved that problem through tablet computers. Plus it just looks plain AWESOME when librarians carry around iPads. (however, patrons may forget their reference question and ask a ton of questions about the iPad. And beware of menstrual jokes.)
Speaking of timid–some librarians are afraid they’ll come across like that salesperson in Younkers who never leaves people alone. Having the sensation that you’re being watched or followed by a staff member or employee is creepy to say the least. But you know what else is creepy? Having no staff around. It’s like the Twilight Zone. *cue ghost town sounds* People start having the feeling that you’ll be locked in the library by themselves, and they start to panic. The best way to avoid that is to do at least some roving. The friendliest libraries have mobile staff.
Here’s some tips for library roving:
- Wear your name tag–look like a librarian.
- Walk casually–give people time to notice your presence, and time to realize they have a question.
- Straighten up some things as you walk by. It makes you look less imposing if you have some purpose.
- Pay attention to body language. If they look bewildered or lost, they probably are.
- Open up with a friendly smile and say, “Hi!” Wait for them to reply, and then ask if they need any help. Chances are, they do.
- If they don’t need help, they don’t need help. Some people want to try to help themselves first. That’s okay.
- Inform them simply where they can find you if they need any (more) help. Don’t trip over yourself by becoming too detailed–that’s just awkward.
Granted, I’m not a librarian, and haven’t done librarian roving yet. But I’ve observed the process, and can see what works and what doesn’t. Believe me, the patrons will appreciate it. And so will the library pages, who are tired of fielding reference questions when all they’re trying to do is shelve books.