August 9, 2016 by Sharee Cordes

Reference Services – it’s our chance to connect! (Twitter Chat Champion post)

(Minor changes made to original post – links to supporting articles added)

Well done everyone!  Our first Twitter chat is over – it was fast, it was furious, it was a little frustrating but we all lived to tell the tale!  I must admit, this was not my favourite way to discuss an issue.  I found it really frustrating when someone would make a comment in response to an earlier comment that would peak my interest, but by then the first comment would be 5 miles down the list so it was impossible to find out what it was all about.  Also, with my app on the iPad whenever I was typing a comment the keyboard would cover all the tweets so I missed other responses that were likely to be about the issue I was addressing – perhaps will try it from my laptop or with a different app next time to overcome this.  On the plus side, it was a good way to get an across the board survey of responses from a wide range of people on different issues and I found this quite interesting.

When asked if they had used a reference service or product, many people expressed their discomfort at the prospect of speaking to the librarian face to face.  Some comments included…

‘I think in the virtual age people avoid actually having to speak to people’

‘I’d often rather spend an hour of fruitless internet-ing than one minute of awkward conversation-ing with a human being’ (several people expressed agreement with this sentiment)

‘I think I’ll ask a stupid question and so just don’t – or I think I should already know how’

‘increasingly we see customers behaving as though they are offsite, chatting with librarian onsite from inside library’

‘I think it is less awkward online because you can edit your silly responses before you SEND’

‘I think the desk creates a bit of a mental barrier for people’

‘library anxiety is real’

Only a few people expressed the preference for a face to face interaction with comments like these…

‘face to face takes the guessing away for both people’

‘I actually prefer face to face to online chat, sometimes questions come to you as you’re unpacking ideas with someone else’

‘face to face, I feel like it gives me more insight’.

While a few people said that they would not ask a reference librarian at all expressing their preference to challenge themselves.

I think this is really interesting.  It matches with some of the research I did last semester into teens and tweens information literacy which showed that the majority of those surveyed said that they would not ask a librarian for help. This is also supported by Kelly’s tweet that ‘ my daughter in high school says that a lot of students are scared of librarians’.  It was also interesting to find that, as Clare mentioned, most state libraries have stopped offering chat services due to low use – do you think it is to do with the age of the users?

What are the implications for us as librarians to this issue?  I guess the obvious one is that we need to offer a lot of different ways that people can communicate with us so that we are meeting the needs of as many people as possible.  As we have seen, most libraries are already doing this by offering online chat services, phone services and even some using Facebook and Twitter.

However, I think the deeper implication for us is that we need to ask ourselves, why is it that users feel uncomfortable approaching a librarian and what can we do to break down these barriers?  Perhaps this then ties back to some of the other issues that were discussed in the Twitter chat such as the need for us to connect with our users.  I really liked the point that Clare made when she said that, ‘maybe we should think of ref service as client engagement activities or empowerment opportunities’.  I think the reference service is really important because it is the face of the library for many people and this is our chance to build those relationships with people, and to educate them about the services we provide and this idea is supported in Sobel’s research of undergraduate students.  This is our chance to help people develop their information literacy (or teach them how to fish), in a really meaningful way.  And most importantly, this is our chance to change ‘library anxiety’ to library partnerships.

This article by Maureen Barry, published by the American Library Association, talks about how important face to face contact is as a marketing measure for librarians.  Barry says, “There’s nothing like a little personal attention to make them aware of how valuable libraries and librarians are.”  She talks about how we are the connections between the people and the information and making these connections is what makes our role so meaningful.  I do think perhaps by the time students get to the University library we might have missed the boat though.  Building these connections with people and breaking down barriers really needs to begin in the very early stages.  If young children have positive experiences of interactions with librarians then it is much easier for us to engage with them as they get older.  Many young children enjoy story and song time at the library, but I wonder if we could do more to connect these young children to the reference side of what we do?

C’mon librarians of the future – it’s time to step out from behind your reference desk, or your computer screen, and meet the people!


#librarians#reference#twitter chat


  1. Imbi Josey
    August 11, 2016 - 12:36 am

    I agree that perceptions of libraries and librarians starts at an early age. Getting them into the library early is important, but also helping them to familiarise them with the different services. Many of the young people who visit the library I work at only visit to use the WiFi or the public computers. I think a lot of them (mostly teens) don’t even have a library card. Your post is good encouragement for me, perhaps I’ll try to strike up a conversation with some of them. Great post!

    • Sharee Cordes
      August 11, 2016 - 4:36 am

      Oh good for you Imbi! Let me know how you get on with talking to the teens! Maybe we need to flash screen saver messages across the computer at them reminding them of all the other great library services they could use!

  2. Karen Parker
    August 11, 2016 - 4:54 am

    I think you explored an interesting topic from our Twitter chat Sharee. When I see all the comments lined up, it’s clear that quite a lot of people avoid approaching a librarian in person. It’s definitely something to keep in mind as we move into the library profession. Being approachable is important.

  3. Tim Tillack
    August 11, 2016 - 9:09 am

    Fantastic post and reflection, Sharee! I had a conversation with a University Librarian and he commented that he wished he could get rid of all his physical books and just have a ‘virtual library’. All reference interaction would be through the library website with chat services, discovery, catalogue, libguides, etc.

    Given that this is perhaps idealistic, I’d be interested to hear what you think about how reference services could be delivered through non-face-to-face mediated interaction. Most of my library experience pertains to academic libraries, so I’m not sure how public libraries are set up, but we’ve been looking at integrating a “virtual kiosk” into discovery so that when a user comes up with zero results, a “virtual librarian” starts to ask some questions to help the user with their search query. The user is still offered a reference service, but mediated through technology. This isn’t to suggest that real, physical librarians will not be needed in the future, but it’s an interesting scenario to ponder.

    It’s also interesting to read how people are afraid of asking questions, and afraid of librarians themselves, I guess I was different. I was a bit of a nerd and spent loads of time in the library and had no problem at all asking for help. I recall also that my friends and I used to ask the librarian for permission in quiet times and after school if we could use the library to play Dungeons & Dragons. Ah, the memories!

    • Sharee Cordes
      August 13, 2016 - 8:22 pm

      Hi Tim,
      Yes, I was the same as you – I LOVED the library as a child – I used to go there and help reshelve books when I was in primary school! I still remember how lovely my primary school librarian was too though, so I really think there is something to be said for making a good impression early on in a child’s life.
      The ‘virtual libarian’ concept sounds very interesting. As someone who loves talking to people, I personally think it sounds terrible, but I have to admit, I think the evidence is showing that this is the kind of thing the majority of people really want. It seemed from our twitter chat that there are still some people who do not feel comfortable approaching a librarian even in the online forums. so perhaps this is the answer for them. It would be very interesting to see how this develops and how useful it is.

  4. Anitra
    August 11, 2016 - 11:41 pm

    Sharee, fantastic you talked about the “elephant in the room”. If we future professionals are possibly unconformable about asking for advice (and I do include myself in this – Michele’s blog was very interesting ) the need to engage users more is very pertinent. Anitra

  5. Chloe Pickard
    August 12, 2016 - 5:21 am

    Hi Sharee! Happy to see one of my comments here because I was very nervous about taking part in the chat. It was sometimes very hard to keep up with the conversation as I kept needing to write the twitter handle of the person I was responding to and make sure I had it right before I sent it.

    I have personally never had any trouble talking to a librarian but I can see why people might, as I did some research in my literature review in Information Retrieval last semester on the information seeking behaviour of students. Almost every article I read mentioned students being reluctant to talk to the librarians about finding information. Some examples I found really worthwhile reading were ‘I Just Wikipedia It’ by M. Whitney Olsen and Anne Diekema and Packaged Information by David Brown and Elizabeth Simpson. Fear of librarians seemed to be a global problem and most of the solutions mentioned involved the librarians themselves personally taking the time to teach students better information literacy methods.

    • Sharee Cordes
      August 13, 2016 - 8:26 pm

      Hi Chloe,
      Were the students studied in your literature review tertiary students? It is very interesting and a little alarming to see this finding in so many different research studies.

  6. Ibtisam
    August 12, 2016 - 10:26 am

    Hi Sharee,
    Thanks for your insightful thoughts and summary of Tweeter chat. I was really a great opportunity to attend the chat.

    I do agree with you most of people, particularly students, feel afraid of librarians and reference desk because no one helped them to be more confident to ask when they were children in schools.

    I think librarians have the key role to help students in very early stages to get familiar with reference service in both face-to-face situations or in their virtual libraries.

    • Sharee Cordes
      August 13, 2016 - 8:29 pm

      Thanks for your reply Ibtisam. I wonder if more skills in teaching and engaging with young people should be incorporated in to courses for librarians?

  7. Kaley Schelks
    August 13, 2016 - 10:23 am

    Thanks for a great post. You’ve certainly touched on some interesting points.
    I really think the fact that so many of this cohort are reluctant to approach a librarian is quite amazing. Are librarians their own worst enemy? Is it a case of reputation preceding or actual intellectual bullying?
    In any case, I believe that this is definitely a chance for us ‘newbies’ to learn from past mistakes and work on relationship building.
    Well done on being the first twitter chat champion!

    • Sharee Cordes
      August 13, 2016 - 8:47 pm

      oh, ‘intellectual bullying’ that makes it sound really bad – I hope there is not too much of that! Maybe it is all those years of being shushed in high school libraries that scares people away – thank goodness we don’t have those rules any more, that has got to help a bit!

  8. amrit
    August 14, 2016 - 12:44 am

    Some students scared from librarian to ask questions because sometime librarian do not help the students the way it should be. I think librarian should assist and guide students friendly way so students can be confident enough to ask them question and remove hesitation.

  9. Chloe Delaney
    August 17, 2016 - 12:42 am

    Hi Sharee,

    Thank you for summing up this Twitter chat, because I found it really overwhelming and it moved so fast! I definitely agree that with this digital age where everything social is online, younger people would definitely have anxiety speaking to someone face to face, especially if that person is a stranger to them. I know a lot of people who read e-books who would be happy to have a virtual library. However, there are also a lot of people who love paperbacks and find the physical book of value (including myself). My perspective has changed on this week though, I’ve always been against the virtual library, but now that I have seen the benefits of it and explored it a little more,I think its a good idea and will continue to keep its customers in future.

  10. Lisa Hetherington
    August 19, 2016 - 8:14 am

    Hi Sharee,
    I certainly agree with the frustrating aspect of keeping track with a sub-topic of interest when there is tweet after tweet, and another topic of interest is raised.

    In fact, I must have been engaged in another side issue when others were discussing the discomfort or reluctance students have talking to a librarian, either face-t-face or virtually. By-passing librarian assistance has been reported quite extensively in literature. I reported on this in a literature review I did on information-seeking behaviour of university students last semester – you’re welcome to read and enjoy!!!!- To summarise, research has shown that both graduates and undergraduates rely more on their peers and lecturers when looking for guidance in their information-seeking pursuits. Some researchers are concerned about the low dependence university students have on librarians as they may be missing out on the valuable services and expertise that these professionals can provide in the area of information-seeking. However, it seemed that reason that many students gave for sidestepping librarians was more due to a lack of knowledge about the services provided by librarians, their role and value as information professionals, than discomfort with face-to-face interaction. I believe that the perception that students have on the value of librarians and the help they can provide with reference work is somewhat dependent upon how well faculty members promote them as a resource.

  11. Clare T
    September 21, 2016 - 6:07 am

    Sharee and Tim you might both be interested in this paper from the recent ALIA national conference about UNISA moving to a virtual reference model:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published / Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar