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!