What is Reference Today?

Once upon a time, a student would ask for help researching articles for a paper in-person at the reference desk. In 2005, this is what I did at my undergrad library. Text messaging wasn’t too popular, and I still prefered person-to-person contact.

After sitting at LeMoyne’s reference desk for three weeks, I noticed students asked technical or directional questions:

“Where is the bathroom?”

“How does the printer work?”

“Can I use the stapler?”

Text-messaging, IM and email are ways to answer reference questions today. Because many are attached to mobile devices or social networks, these methods fit well with those styles.

Some librarians wonder if the reference desk should be eliminated if in-person, directional questions are asked. I don’t think the reference desk should be eliminated because it is the focal point of the library. If students need help with research, reference desks provide that service.

Instead, librarians should attempt to find different ways to reach students who need academic assistance. Some librarians are “roving” stacks and other buildings on campus, ready to answer questions with assistance from a laptop. Having a discussion board or Twitter reference site also help. People need information and have questions, but the way information is received and questions asked is different.


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