General thoughts on conferencating
Posted August 6, 2008on:
Reference Renaissance turned out to be a great conference. I have to applaud the planning committee for doing such a great job. The keynote speaker was spectacular and very insightful. He gave all of us there some things to really ponder in terms of the future of reference librarianship…or the possible lack of a future. One of the worst things that we librarians often do is react to changes around us and we can’t continue to have that mindset because we’re often far behind. If we want to survive, it’s time to stop breathing the dust in last place and start being innovative and proactive. There are people out there who are forward thinking and rather than letting fear, laziness, or whatever get in our way, we need to really start listening and being willing to change faster than our usual snail’s pace. This is one of my observations.
One of the presenters talked about the fact that we really don’t need a print reference section anymore in academia. While I see her point and generally agree, I also know that in most libraries, this isn’t going to happen. However, part of her point was that we really need to be carefully evaluating resources in terms of who will use them…and if they will actually get used. If we’ve got stuff sitting on shelves collecting dust and no one has used them in 10 years, why are we keeping it? Or why do we keep investing in newer editions of stuff nobody uses. This is timely for me because we are working on weeding our entire reference collection at my library. I’ll be going back over some things and canceling some standing orders for items that are not being used and weeding other things for the same reason. We are already trying to head for more digital resources, and this was something she recommended because statistics are showing that students are more willing to use these. I don’t know that we are necessarily seeing that, but I think with the right kind of marketing, we can definitely make that happen. Another thing that really got me thinking.
Another thing that I plan to propose for our library is a more formal training program for our paraprofessionals and student assistants. One speaker advocated for only having librarians answer “reference questions”, but I think that if you train people correctly (and this can include librarians as well), you can improve overall service and customer satisfaction. Our student assistants are really not trained on how to do a reference interview and on our resources. They also need more instruction on when to pass questions along to the librarians. There are a few ways that we can create something more formal. One more component of this is assessment. We need to have some mechanisms in place to determine if what we are doing is really effective. This isn’t my area of expertise (at least not at the moment, but I’ll be doing some research), but there is someone in our library who is working on assessment who would probably be willing to work on this. (In fact, there might already be something in the works.)
I also got to meet lots of people and share ideas. The informal conversations in hallways and over meals can be some of the best times to learn about new things that are just coming out. I usually try to sit with different people so that I can meet new people. Even if other librarians from my library had attended the conference, chances are I wouldn’t have hung out with them much because I can always talk with them when we return and I just might miss out on some tidbit that a new contact has to share.
And I had a great roommate who really gave me some insight on the supervisory side of libraries. While she seems like a great supervisor and someone that would be wonderful to work for, her comments and observations were helpful as I continue to navigate my way as an underling and relatively new librarian. I hope that I’ll get to see her at ACRL in the spring.
Like many librarians, when I’m in a new town/city, I like to visit the local library and Denver Public Library was recommended as a must see. Here are some pictures I took on Sunday.