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Implementing an Inclusive Staffing Model for Today's Reference Services

A Practical Guide for Librarians

Julia K. Nims; Paula Storm and Robert Stevens

Reference service remains a core function of modern libraries. However, how and where we provide assistance has evolved with changing technologies and the shifting habits and preferences of our users. One way libraries can provide the on-demand, in-person assistance while managing and developing new services and resources that will benefit current and future users is to reconsider how their reference points and services are staffed and adopt a staff-based reference model.
The authors, staff members at Eastern Michigan University, chose to address this by implementing an inclusive reference model in which staff and student assistants are trained to answer certain levels of reference questions while working at the reference desk and at other service points. The result was that librarians became more available to work with students who needed in-depth assistance and users were able to get simple questions answered throughout the library. Similar training for all staff and student assistants who work in the library results in better service, more accurate answers, and improved interdepartmental communication.

Implementing an Inclusive Staffing Model for Today's Reference Services, they describe step-by-step how to transition from the traditional librarian-staffed reference desk to an inclusive reference model where non-MLS personnel are equipped and empowered to answer reference questions wherever these questions might be asked. Users ask questions of staff at all service points, not just at the Reference Desk. It is vitally important that those who work at circulation, periodicals, maps, archives and other public service points be trained in how to answer certain reference questions. When this is accomplished, users who have simple questions will not have to make useless treks to the Reference Desk.
Topics covered include:

  • Recognizing that nearly all staff answer reference questions, but few are trained to do so
  • documenting the necessity for a change in reference model
  • gaining buy-in from all interested parties—librarians, non-MLS staff, and administrators
  • determining the optimal staffing level
  • creating training materials and schedules
  • monitoring the quality of reference service
  • supervising staff
  • evaluating the new model using multiple methods

Additionally, each chapter contains practical resources such as checklists, forms, and sample materials, and other usable features to support readers as they implement the inclusive reference model.

The book describes in detail the process of transforming traditional reference into a model that transcends departmental and job title boundaries, is focused on the user, and allows librarians to better utilize their time and talents, and include non-professional staff in their reference services.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 162Size: 8 1/2 x 11
978-0-8108-9128-9 • Paperback • November 2013 • $65.00 • (£44.95)
978-0-8108-9129-6 • eBook • November 2013 • $61.00 • (£42.95)
Julia K. Nims has been a public services librarian for fifteen years. Currently, she works at Eastern Michigan University Library where she has been Public Services Team Leader. Julia earned an MLS from Indiana University, and a MA in History from Florida State University. She has published in RSR: Reference Services Review and the American Journal of Health Behavior, and co-edited several LOEX Conference Proceedings.

Paula Storm is the Science Librarian at Eastern Michigan University and holds an MILS from the University of Michigan. Her work has been found in Magazines for Libraries, Thinking Outside the Box: Essays for Innovative Librarians, and College & Research Libraries.

Robert Stevens earned his MLS from Wayne State University in 2000, has been a regular editor of the LOEX Conference Proceedings since 2006 and has presented at regional and national conferences on topics ranging from library instruction to Frederick Douglass. He is currently the Humanities Librarian at Eastern Michigan University.

Chapter 1. The Changed Reference Environment
Changes Through History
Fewer and Different Questions at the Desk
Evolving Responsibilities of Academic Reference Librarians
New Models of Reference Service

Chapter 2. Why Do We Need to Change Anything?
Gathering Information about Reference Questions Asked in the Library
The Project Group
Collecting Data
Step 1: Decide What Data to Collect
Step 2: Decide Who Will Collect Data
Step 3: Decide When to Collect the Data (and for How Ling)
Step 4: Determine How to Record the Data
Google Docs
Pen-and-Paper Method
Step 5: Collecting Reference Question Data
Classifying Questions
Step 1: Select a Reference Question Classification System
The Katz Classification
The Warner Model
The READ Scale
Pros and Cons of Classification Systems
Step 2: Code the Questions
Step 3: Compile the Coding Results
Step 4: Finalize the Question Coding
Preparing the Data for Presentation
Step 1: Decide What Data to Present
Step 2: Put the Data in Tabular Form
Step 3: Determine What Types of Charts to Use
Chapter 3. Getting Buy-In: Setting the Stage for Change

The Stage for Change
Resistance to Change
Strategy for Change
Getting Others on Board
Other Departments
Faculty (for Academic Libraries)
Key Points

Chapter 4. Can You Help Me?
Preparing All Library Employees o Assist Library Users
Determining Reference Expectations of All Library Employees
Frequently Asked Directional/Informational Questions
How to Make a Referral
Locations and Functions of the Public Service Points
Customer Service Behavior
Other Knowledge or Skills
Library Signage
Planning the Training Sessions
Reviewing a Sample Training Session
Expectations – What is Changing and Why
Answering the Most Frequently Asked Directional and Informational Questions
Making Referrals
Sample Referral Scenario 1
Sample Referral Scenario 2
Learning Locations and Services
Providing Good Customer Service
Scenario Walkthroughs
Sample Scenario 1
Sample Scenario 2
Sample Scenario 3
Sample Scenario 4
Question-and-Answer Period
Post-Session Follow-Up
Key Points

Chapter 5. Selecting and Training Staff to Work at the Reference Desk
Matching the Right People with the Reference Desk
Methods for Gauging Both Interest and Aptitude
A Timeline for Implementation of the Inclusive Reference Model
Determining What Staff at the Reference Desk Need to Know
Additional Referral Training/Desk Orientation
Developing Training Manuals
Developing Training Modules/Exercises
Key Points

Chapter 6. “What Needs to Change Now?” Evaluating the Inclusive Staffing Model
Initial Considerations
What to Evaluate
When to Evaluate
Who to Evaluate
What are the Ethical Considerations?
Evaluation Methods
Focus Groups and Interviews
Planning the Evaluation Project
Chapter 7. So, What Have the Librarians Been Up To?
Addressing Skepticism
The New Reference Librarian
Technology and the New Reference Librarian
Collection Development
Information Literacy
Marketing and Outreach
Additional Areas of Expansion
Key Points

Chapter 8. Managing the New Model for Long-Term Success
Integrating the Inclusive Staffing Model into Library Personnel Policies
Defining Reference Coordinator Responsibilities
Communicating with Staff
Individual Check-ins
Electronic Bulletin Boards
Communicating with Non-Reference Staff
Providing On-going Training
Training Needs of Reference Desk Staff
Training Needs of Non-Reference Staff
Assessing Staff Performance
Assessing Reference Staff
Assessing Non-Reference Staff
Showing Appreciation to Staff
Key Points

Chapter 9. Reference: What Does the Future Bring?
The Ever Evolving Needs of Library Users
The Ever Evolving Landscape of Reference Services
The Future of Staff Involvement
The Enduring Spirit of Reference

About the Authors
[T]he bright notes [include] guidance on how best to get existing staff to participate in the changes in their work, and there are solid basic reference interview examples for training paraprofessional staff who will be on the front lines.
Library Journal

Reference services have changed dramatically over the past several years due to technology and the ways in which user needs have changed. This also means that the way that reference services are managed is changing as well. One way that libraries have found to keep up with the needs of users is to switch to an on-demand, in-person approach to managing the reference needs of their patrons. That oftentimes means that more staff is trained at handling reference questions and more reference service points are offered. This book provides practical suggestions for implementing these changes in your references services department. It address such issues as the best approach to getting staff on board with the new model (both those with an MLS and those without), determining optimal staff numbers to have on hand, creating training materials, evaluating the quality of reference service once the switch has been made, and staff supervision considerations. The book provides sample forms, checklists, and sample materials that will save you time while implementing changes to your reference department and provide you with ideas that you may not have considered beforehand. This is a useful and worthwhile guide for any library looking to revamp their reference services department.
American Reference Books Annual

Undertaking a project to integrate services, which involves planning, good communication, training, implementation and evaluation, is a major task. This book will prove invaluable to those undertaking such a project or considering the possibility, guiding the reader through steps in the process, and setting the scene as to why such a change is needed. . . .All of this rounds out a very clear, easy-to-read guide that might be read as a whole, or dipped into when specific information is required.
Australian Library Journal

Honestly, this is exactly the kind of book I've wished I had over the last few years, as my library has also been exploring and experimenting with new reference service models, too. It clearly outlines both the reasons that change is needed and the practical steps libraries can take to successfully implement these changes. I really like that their plan focuses on how to determine and respond to patron needs in your own library's circumstances, making all of their suggestions potentially adaptable to libraries of any size or type. Their plan is complete from the initial data collection to assess needs to the final assessment of the new model and planning for change and ongoing improvements. This is a wonderful resource for reference librarians.
Allison Faix, Reference Coordinator and Librarian, Kimbel Library, Coastal Carolina University