Tuesday, 23 March 2010

One foot in front of the other

Reference by walking around - I think I ran into that concept under that name in the One Person Library / OPL Newsletter, about a decade ago, when I was just starting out as a solo librarian, and at least once a week I'm glad that it's a tool in my tool kit.

It's so simple and yet so effective; reducing the 'friction factor' of asking a question to almost nothing. The questions I get asked when I pass someone in a corridor, or when I'm straightening the newspapers or doing any one of a dozen small jobs I intentionally space throughout the day to give me reasons to be walking about the library being visible and ready to be asked, often start 'I wasn't going to bother you but as you're here' or 'I don't suppose you know, but' or 'this is probably a really dumb question, but' - which is to say, exactly the kind of things that people might *not* ask if they had to come up to a desk, or come across to my office, however open-door and accessable I try to make myself. They're very often questions I can answer, so that people get whatever it is they need, whether that's directions to Abbey Road or advice about how to untangle an unclear citation, or where such-and-such a book is shelved. It also gives me some clues about what people are not asking, which is useful when I'm thinking about signing, or 'how do I...' tips, or reminder emails. And the newspaper rack gets straightened. In short - everybody wins.

* Photo by Ben Werdmuller, used under Creative Commons, with thanks.


A. Schmid said...

I've noticed that, too, and that some patrons will rather ask the colleague just happening to pass through the library than the one at the reference/circulation desk, despite them not helping another patron at the moment - we have alas also found that for our specific library it is important that someone is visibly present at the desk as much as possible, so it's not possible to use this as a tool that much.

Miss Alice said...

Yes - there's definitely a balance to be struck between being visibly 'on duty' at the main desk, and being casually available elsewhere.

I visited a large University library recently that's experimenting with having someone intentionally 'walking the halls' over their busiest period as well as having people on the reference desk - but that takes manpower, and I'm not sure if they were getting the results they were hoping for.

Ms. OPL said...

Thanks for quoting my writing.
You might also want to read David Shumaker's post, The Unasked Question--The Unrecognized Need, on his blog, The Embedded Librarian.


Judith Siess, Editor/Publisher, The One-Person Library
now retired (and the newsletter is no longer being published)

Miss Alice said...

@Ms. OPL - thank you - that is indeed a very interesting article.