Roving Reference. #7: 2011
Last week’s mention of the Guelph Public Libraries Roving Reference Project brought a deluge of emails and phone calls. So, as requested, I’m filling you in on a few more details.
During the last two months at its main branch of 160,000 volumes, GPL has positioned reference staff in the stacks during peak periods (2-4 pm and 5:30-7:30 pm). They simply ask customers if they need any assistance. For example, a friendly staff member approaches the patron and says, “Hi! My name is Chris. Is there anything I can help you find today?”
With an iPad in hand, Chris (above, in the brown shirt) cruises the library (adult, kids, and A/V departments) helping folks. He locates books, directs them to online databases, and emails links directly to their inbox for later review! We are applying a proactive customer service model (think Best Buy or Chapters) to provide personalized service at the point of sale. In launching the project, we were also interested in finding out if roving reference would reach those customers who don’t have time to go to the information desk or check the catalogue. Ultimately, does roving reference improve the customer experience?
Chris approaches approximately 20 customers per hour, and a third take him up on his offer of help. Interestingly, about half initially say no and then track him down and ask for help a few minutes later. Popular questions include those about books they have seen previously at the library and are trying to locate again, those from patrons looking for specific subjects (like gardening books…it’s spring in Ontario), and those about using eReaders.
In the two months we’ve conducted the project, we’ve learned several practical things:
• Wearing a name tag and a smile makes the initial contact less intimidating.
• One question most often leads to a second question.
• Staff members appear to like the physical activity, freedom, and variety that roving reference offers them as librarians.
We are still in the project’s early days, but the results are promising as a new and innovative way to extend information services and meet our customers where they need us. Stay tuned; I am sure there is more to come.
firstname.lastname@example.org #7 March 2011