Rock Beats

New Reference Desk at the Library

By Linda Sappenfield
Public Services Librarian

Quick — where would you go for advice on designing steampunk costumes, collecting resources for a middle school report on the history of women’s voting rights in New Zealand, or listing coffee shops within a 10-mile radius of your business? And what new second-floor feature in the library has been attracting lots of attention? Answer: the Reference desk.

Though the standing-height counter is newly constructed, the concept of reference service is decades old and has been provided at the library for many years. Recently, however, staff observed two significant trends: (1) With Google and other user-friendly search tools to address simpler inquiries, reference questions decreased in number but increased in complexity. (2) At the combined circulation/reference desk, customers with reference questions were interrupted by patrons leaning in for immediate assistance with library card updates or printing.

At the new service point, reference librarians can devote the attention required to resolve questions and advise patrons about their informational needs. Frequently, a brief demonstration of a subscription database accompanies the answer. During a recent data survey, staff recorded 853 reference questions during a two-week period (computer instruction and directional inquiries were not included).

Public Services Manager Geeta Halley says, “Our skilled reference librarians contribute to Round Rock’s social capital by supporting our citizens’ needs for personal and professional growth and informed decision-making. Walking past the Reference desk, I always notice our customers’ smiles as they are engaged one-on-one with our Reference librarians. Can Google rival this meaningful human interaction?”

In the new reference environment, librarians deal less with old-style lookups (National Automobile Dealers Association prices, geographic data, factual trivia) and more with issues requiring multiple steps or factors. For example:

    • What sources would constitute a summary of all the major points in French literature and philosophy before my test next week?
    • Where can I find the article about my son’s company that was printed in a New York newspaper last month or maybe before that, and his name was misspelled?
    • Please help my boys find a poem to memorize for school-it has to be at least 75 words long, can’t be Shel Silverstein or Dr. Seuss — and they don’t like poetry!

Internet or no, knowledge of local/state lore and history adds value to customer service at the Ref desk. Librarians find that knowledge of, for example, Round Rock Cemetery or Barbette (not to mention who “Mr. Sam” is) proves invaluable.

Reference staff will tell you that, if you work the desk long enough, you’ll find opportunities to dispense every fact you ever learned. A variety of college majors are represented by the group, and the majority of reference staff hold, along with the required MLIS or MLS professional degree, an additional master’s degree.

Experienced genealogy researcher Jacquie Wilson, a former National Archives staffer, adds a much-appreciated brand of expertise to the reference desk: she volunteers as Genealogy Advisor.

Library Director Michelle Cervantes says, “As interest in genealogy continues to grow in our community, we are so fortunate to have Jacquie volunteer her time here. Volunteer opportunities for professionals like Jacquie are available at the library.”

Readers advisory (“What to read now that I’ve finished everything by Janet Evanovich?”) continues as an essential component of reference assistance. Librarians update their What I’m Reading Now display with personal commentary on their latest reads and display online tools for discovering “readalikes.”

Designed for functionality, the new Reference desk has elicited pleased comments from library patrons:

    • Classy!
    • Great upgrade
    • I love this!

Based on their feedback, we think the new practical-yet-appealing counter earns Balanced Scorecard credit for Economic Progress and Places and Spaces!

Pictured (from left): Erikka Miller, Linda Sappenfield, Chris Sauder and Geeta Halley.

Photo by Shannon McIntire