Competency I: Use service concepts, principles, and techniques to connect individuals or groups with accurate, relevant, and appropriate information.
Meaning and Importance
One of the trickiest parts of running a library is finding ways to connect library patrons with the different resources and information that the library provides for them. It’s not enough to just have a lot of books, databases, and journals either physically within the building or available on the library’s website. If a patron doesn’t know about those resources, or can’t figure out how to access them, then the library loses half of its purpose. Furthermore, patrons need to be guided to the right resources that will provide them with accurate and relevant information.
There are two general ways that patrons find information: through independent research, and through guidance by a librarian. An effective librarian (and library) should be able to provide both kinds of services. For independent research, a patron needs to have access to a list of available resources. Most libraries already provide this by having a public, searchable catalog, and links to resources on their websites (databases, newspaper archives, etc.). Another useful tool is a pathfinder, or LibGuide.
A pathfinder organizes information resources around a topic, and is particularly useful for researchers. Usually a pathfinder will include a definition of the topic, information on current research on the topic, recommendations from librarians or information professionals, and links to more resources (whether inside the library or outside of it). Pathfinders can be good starting places for a variety of topics, and help patrons find resources specific to that topic that they might have otherwise not found. Pathfinders are most effective when hosted online, as they can be easily updated with new information or resources. However, a paper pathfinder can be useful to have within the physical library as well, particularly in academic libraries, as visitors can use it as a guide to locate materials while they’re in the library itself.
For patrons who don’t precisely know what they need, and so can’t search independently yet, a reference interview is an excellent technique for a librarian to use. Reference interviews can be done in-person, over the phone, or online through email or chat. A reference interview, through a series of pointed, specific questions, clarifies what the patron is looking for, whether it’s a fiction book or a research resource. This is useful both for the patron, who may not have had a specific material in mind when they started, and for the librarian, who can better help that patron with a good resource.
A reference interview is related to reader’s advisory, though there are some differences. A reference interview can be for any subject or topic, where usually a reader’s advisory discussion tends to be book-specific, and depends more heavily on the librarian’s personal knowledge of the collection. In a public library, staff are often asked for book recommendations (fiction or non-fiction). However, a patron almost never wants what the LIBRARIAN enjoyed reading– the patron wants a recommendation for THEM, for something THEY would enjoy. This can be a tricky situation, as personal tastes can differ wildly. However, a reader’s advisory session involves asking the patron for specifics about their own tastes, and then the librarian tailors their answer to match. Many RA questions can be the same as a reference interview question, but the end goal is to connect the patron to a book, not another resource.
In all these techniques, the end goal is to connect a patron to an information resource that they might not have otherwise found, or at least not found easily. By providing specific resources to information ahead of time, and then narrowing down resources through a series of questions, information professionals can better serve their library’s patrons.
As part of INFO 210 Reference in the Age of Google: Marketing, Outreach, Management, and Evaluation (Reference and Information Services), I created a Romance Book Pathfinder using Google Sites. I was previously familiar with the genre, as it’s one of my favorites, but I hadn’t done anything academically related to it. Building the pathfinder required several steps. First, I had to consider my audience. Was I aiming for a public library patron, or an academic one? I decided to go with academic, as it meant I could include more professional and scholarly materials.
Second, I had to create an outline of what I wanted to include in the site, and where it needed to go. As I wanted the pathfinder to be comprehensive, I decided to cover all the subgenres of romance that I could find, as well as recent information about award winners, discussions, research, and resources for more information. I wasn’t going to be able to talk to any patrons who might use the pathfinder, so I wanted to cover as many “what ifs” as possible. I included both academic and non-academic resources, to give a wide range of information. The academic resources were easy to find through searching Google Scholar and SJSU’s library databases. The non-academic resources were a little more difficult to find, as I wanted to make sure they were comprehensive and still professional, if not precisely academic.
Third, I had to create the pathfinder in Google Sites. This was a completely new experience to me, and it meant I had to read quite a few help pages and do some experimenting to be able to get the site to look the way I wanted. I thought that using Google Sites would give me the flexibility I needed in order to potentially keep the pathfinder updated. It also works well with mobile devices, which many patrons use to search for information. Actually building the site was more difficult than expected, as it wasn’t the most user friendly, but the final product was easy to navigate and use, which is the most important thing.
View the pathfinder here: https://sites.google.com/view/rmncepathfinder/home
My experience in building a romance pathfinder helped me understand the process behind reference services. I had to think of the end user, and what they could be looking for, and what resources I could find that would be the most accurate and relevant to their search. Having taken this class and completed this project, I feel more prepared to provide reference services in the future. I will always keep in mind what the patron needs, and how I can best connect them with appropriate information.