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Special Interest Group Archive: Reference 10/23/2018

These are the notes from meetings dating back to 2015.

Reference October 23, 2018

The SIG meeting was held on October 23rd, from 9:30-12:00pm. We started off the meeting by brainstorming some responses to the prompts: is the term reference still relevant, how do libraries stay sustainable, and what methods have been used to promote your library?

Over the course of the meeting, we touched on topics such as customer service, privacy, technology, sustainability, and branding / promotion.

Thank you to Kelsey Milner from Southeastern for taking notes today.

Customer Service

  • One of the most important things to do is connect with an individual in a professional way.  By listening, caring, and being willing to help, reference staff can form an important partnership with a person.
  • This partnership can improve the stature of the library and make people think of it as a valuable resource.
  • Good customer service requires effort and patience -- have to put on a professional face when helping.
  • A lot of people don’t have anywhere else to go for help. (Especially medical—people are given diagnoses but frequently not any meaningful information on it.)
  • Critical thinking skills are important, but people aren’t always interested in learning them. It seems to be the responsibility of the librarians to explain why information literacy is important. Some try to cover this specifically in their one shot instruction courses.
  • People are being taught shortcuts that don’t always work. One student was taught that .com resources were not trustworthy, but all .orgs were.
  • Increasingly challenging to trust resources, do they have biases? Follow the money – why is it free?


  • There is a lot of inconsistency in computer skills: patrons can do complicated things, but have trouble with more basic things like sending files through emails.
  • There is a broad assumption that younger people know how to do a lot of things with computers that older people don’t, but it’s not always the case.  
  • Reference questions are mostly technical now – 98% of the day.
  • This in turn changes the idea of what reference is. Technology is a core part of reference now.
  • Job descriptionsà While technology duties are becoming an important part of jobs, it’s not really explicit in job descriptions. People are getting these duties added to their positions.  
  • Some places have classes available for their librarians to keep them up on technology skills.
  •  libraries are hiring more IT staff, which some see as problematic. While IT staff have specific knowledge and skillsets, librarians are taught how to learn and share information.
  • Are grad schools doing enough to provide needed technology skills?
  • UAlbany has mandated some technology courses in their program.

Reference branding, promotion

  • What support is given from trustees relating to reference? The focus is often on programming and outreach.
  • Nobody comes to programming about reference. Selling the databases is hard ; everyone is more interested in streaming.
  • Libraries are full of energy and vibrancy. Very exciting place. Reference isn’t a big part of that, or at least perceived that way.
  • If you’re not a library user, you don’t need the library until you need it
  • Writing project – re-quote at every opportunity. Every time a person dies a library burns.
  • Repurposing  and rebranding reference to make it interesting.
  • Broaden job descriptions - -market jobs as more ‘valuable’ and in a more interesting way
  • Some librarians have rebranded reference meetings as “research appointments.” This is more understandable and intuitive to students.
  • People are not often interested in research. Hunting analogy: have to be willing to go on that hunt, and have research take you down an unexpected path.
  • Make the research more interesting.  
  • Roving reference: if people are approached in a very relaxed way, people are receptive.
  • Candy! Bringing people in – ask students casually if they need help finding any resources. Reaching out to people – all about the personalization.
  • Establishing connections, a feeling of safety and comfort – going where the people are.


  • Privacy – students don’t seem to mind if their data is being mined.  
  • There is a broad assumption among many that it’s too late to protect their information.
  • Patrons would like to see their history in library accounts. They are not as concerned about automatically getting rid of that information for privacy reasons.
  • Some things have improved; social security numbers were once used to mark checked out books (university of Pennsylvania).
  • College librarians don’t have as much access to student ID’s .
  • There are many issues with privacy in library computers. Patrons have to remember to sign out of accounts. You can’t click any prompts to have a site remember your login information.
  • It would be easier if incognito browsers would automatically open. Or if public computers had programs such as deep freeze,  fortress.
  • There is a trend of people not knowing what happens to the items they save on public computers.


  • Are people becoming more comfortable approaching librarians?
  • Many are working hard to make sure people find something they need or the right direction to go in.
  • That’s how to build loyalty—being personable. That is the key to sustainability and it can’t really be replicated.
  • Librarians are constantly having to justify their existence. Flexibility, customer service, willingness to help—these things keep people coming back.
  • Large divide between academic and public library community. For academic communities, libraries are a part of the fabric. It’s a little easier for librarians to become involved and to participate in college events. There is also a specific bias towards learning.
  • In public libraries, outreach has to be strategic. Libraries are famously bad at PR.
  • ALA bootcamp provided some good information on outreach. The goal of the program was to help libraries advocate in their communities.
  • How do you get people in? Find people who are leaders in their communities and get to know them.  Now that you’ve made a connection, you have an advocate. They are going to tell other people—turning outward.
  • Outreach has to be aspirational. You have to ask where is the community going and how everyone can get there together. It can’t just be a one-off project.   
  • It is just as important to have good internal conversations as it is to do outreach.
  • Some feel that libraries are too siloed and people don’t know their colleagues very well. This can be combated by checking in with other people regularly and making sure they know you are a resource for them.
  • Cross-training  and shadowing – can also be good ways to get to know other people.  
  • Differing levels of commitment to customer service: example of PT reference. How do you make people understand that it’s a priority?
  • Have to reinforce good reference behavior.  
  • A lot of people have bad feelings about libraries, a lot of shame. Often reference work is making kids feel comfortable and personalizing interactions.  
  • We’re helping people through a change. Library staff have to adapt to meet the changes of our patrons.
  • Difficult patrons – sometimes have to send someone else. Would be great to have a signal or some training on getting out of conversations gracefully.
  • When hiring people – not always about qualifications, sometimes about personality. People look to hire the ones that are the most human and nice.

Upcoming meetings / events

March 26th was decided as the date for the next meeting.

Upcoming event: May 2nd – all day event on marketing

The book we discussed at the meeting:

Southeastern NY Library Resources Council
21 South Elting Corners Road | Highland, NY 12528
Phone: (845) 883-9065