March 01, 2011

"User Services" ... or helping people in an academic library

My thoughts on User Services, or providing services to patrons in an academic library are many ... and I've just discussed them with students in Barbara Moran's Academic Libraries class at UNC's School of Information and Library Science. Notably, I am an embedded librarian, which is to say that I work where my patrons work. The Park Library is on the second floor of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, making contact with students and faculty very easy.

Beyond the location, I think about this work in terms of who I am helping, and so have organized the talk around these constiuent groups:

  1. Undergraduate patrons. They are first because they are so numerous! The School of Journalism and Mass Communication has roughly 800 undergraduates, and I work with them in many ways:

    • Instruction. In the academic year 2010-2011, I have taught or will teach a total of 33 classes, reaching about 600 students. Courses include Case Studies in Public Relations, African American Newspapers, History of Broadcasting, Law of Cyberspace, Magazine Writing & Editing, and Undergraduate Honors. I've taught two entry-level classes for MA and PhD students. You can see the full range at my course guides page.

    • Face-to-face / synchronous reference. I get most of my reference business from faculty referrals or from having taught students in class. The majority of the questions are in person, but several come via our LibraryH3lp chat sessions. In the calendar year 2010, my staff and I answered almost 800 in-person or chat questions from users, mostly reference, but many directional and technical questions as well. I detailed my theories of reference back in 2008, and they're still holding up.

    • The Library's website is an important component of my outreach, especially to undergraduates. I redesigned the website in summer 2010. It was intended to promote material I think undergraduates should use most (like Academic Search Premier and Communication & Mass Media Complete) -- I used a green star on the main page to highlight the really important databases.

    • I promote the library via Twitter and least 85 undergraduates following me back. Check out my Twitter favorites for a sense of the library promotion I do via Twitter.

    • I do my best to make the library a comfortable place to study, allowing food and beverages and offering PCs, Macs, wireless along with tables for solitary or group study.
  2. Faculty colleagues. I collaborate with my faculty colleagues quite a bit on teaching the courses I mentioned above.

    • I make it a point to attend faculty meetings and other gatherings of faculty. I want to be available in case they have questions for me. Often I see someone in the hall who says "oh, I've been meaning to ask you about Blah Blah Blah," and I know it's my presence that reminds them of their information need-- and the question gets answered. Additionally, it's important to be aware of what they are thinking about. It's good to know about new hires, because I can do collection development in a new area (always fun), and it's useful to know about curriculum changes or other elements of their daily work life. My role is to think about how I can help them do their work better or more efficiently.

    • I've been intrigued by conversations with John Dupuis, who blogs at Confessions of a Science Librarian. We've been cyber buddies for a few years and have met at two ScienceOnline conferences in RTP. Dupuis recently blogged about stealth librarianship, whereby we infiltrate (my word) ourselves into the work lives of our faculty colleages. Dupuis strongly believes we should step away from being so library-focused and "collaborate with faculty in presentations" and "...we must make our case to our patrons on their turf, not make our case to ourselves on our own turf." There are some interesting additional opinions at the In the Library with the Lead Pipe blog: Lead Pipe Debates the Stealth Librarianship Manifesto.

    • John's challenge to SILS students is: comment on his blog (at a mininum) or write your own manifesto.

    • I would like to collaborate with my faculty and publish in the JOMC literature about how librarian / faculty collaborations can be effective. This is one of my 2011 goals!

  3. Fellow librarians. That said, it's important to collaborate and cross-pollinate with our librarian colleagues as well. I was happy to have the time and energy this year to participate in Library Day in the Life #6 (see my #libday6 tweets here). I reported my daily tasks for my fellow librarians and was pleased to read about their daily tasks as well. I also participated as a way of demonstrating that librarians don't just sit quietly in the library and read and shelve. Some of the tasks I did that week:
    • Staff meeting
    • Future tweeting via Hootsuite
    • Met with a professor about teaching her PR Campaigns students to improve their research skills
    • Resolved a question regarding delivery of SRDS Circulation, an annual publication about newspaper circulation
    • Showed a student how to use RefWorks
    • Showed a student worker how to prepare serials for binding
    • Tried to figure out PubMed for the PR Campaigns class.
    • Got help with PubMed from a fellow UNC librarian also participating in libday6.
    • Met a fellow Mount Holyoke librarian at UNC who was also participating in libday6.
    • Weeded some of our book collection
    • Looked at long-term web analytics for library website.

  4. The Boss. I give my boss (Jean Folkerts, dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication) all of the above information and more. I want her to know what I'm doing and what my staff are doing. I prepare gobs of data for her, which is how I knew how many reference interactions we had in 2010 and how many classes I've taught so far this academic year. Want more data? In 2010, we circulated over 1,400 items, and our patrons requested over 700 titles from libraries elsewhere on campus. My assistant (JOMC graduate Megan Garrett) has added over 1,800 titles to the catalog in the last year. There's more data still, but I'll stop now.
The overarching theme of my services to patrons is: be where users are and stand ready to help them. I offer help in person or in class, as well as through the library website. Further, I promote the library, and back it up with solid work. I talk-talk-talk about the terrific services we offer and I back it up by offering terrific services. It's an awesome job!

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