I find the topic of reference services fascinating because it has changed so much over the years and it is interesting to think about what people expect from the reference desk. Last semester, I took a class about reference services (INFO 210) and we looked at the different types of reference and how it is changing. While completing the assignments for that class, I talked to librarians at my library to see what was happening with our reference service and collections. I was surprised to learn that the plan is to weed the reference collection and then designate most of the collection to circulating (as opposed to in-library use only). Some of the librarians told me that they hardly ever refer patrons to the reference collection, but it is interesting to see the reference collections disappearing.
In addition to the collection, I have seen what reference service looks at my library and I have experienced some of this myself at my job. I had to observe a “shift” at a reference desk and I was surprised to see that most of the questions patrons had were about reserving study rooms. For the few patrons that had “traditional” reference questions, the librarians turned mostly to Google first instead of the reference collection. In my experience, most of the questions I receive from patrons are technology related. Examples of questions I have gotten include accessing e-resources, sending emails, and using the library catalog. I do not work at a reference desk, but I often have to refer patrons there.
With these changes in reference services, I am hesitant about working at a reference desk. At my library, I may have the opportunity to work at the reference desk after I finish this program. The amount of things reference librarians need to know and the uncertainty of questions that may be asked seems very overwhelming. As Kenney (2015) explains, “The shifting boundaries, exposure to personal information, unclear expectations, and the need for instructional knowledge is creating anxiety among public service staff…” (What Patrons want, para. 4). Patrons’ expectations have shifted as they seem to expect more one-on-one attention from librarians and technology instruction sessions. At my library, librarians often refer patrons with technology questions to the computer lab because they can receive the individual help they need. With the current pandemic, there may be even more changes that we can’t yet predict.
Kenney, B. (2015, September 11). Where reference fits in the modern library. Publishers Weekly. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/68019-for-future-reference.html