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Reference Observation: Kansas City Public Library

Reference Observation : Kansas City Public Library Emporia State University July 2, 2012

Reference Observation: Kansas City Public Library

I conducted my reference observation at the Central Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. While I believe quite a few factors caused it, I was disappointed with the service of the reference librarians. The reference librarians are located on the third floor, in reference services, and as you exit the main staircase you are naturally drawn to the reference desk. From the moment I walked onto that floor, I could see it was a busy area, and yet the two reference librarians were chatting amongst themselves, turned at right angles away from the patrons. Not only did this create an intimidating faade for anyone that approached, but it made many patrons feel like they were intruding. While there were a lot of people using the reference services floor during my time there, not many approached the desk with a question, those that did were looking for the location of a specific section of the library, ie. The newspaper section. Because of this, I decided to approach the reference desk myself with a question. Again, the two librarians were chatting, there was no searching for eye contact with patrons to let them know they were available, and no smiles. I rarely approach the reference desk at a library, so I had no trouble looking confused and sheepish. I hovered about five feet away from the desk, waiting for someone to call me forward. To my surprise, they kept talking to each other, reinforcing the idea that my question wasnt important. Finally, after about a minute of standing there, shuffling from foot to foot did one of the librarians tear herself away, and motion me forward. She did smile at me at that point, and she was friendly enough, but I couldnt help but remember her initial unwillingness to help. The question I decided to ask was, Im trying to learn more about the Mycenaeansorumreally early cultures and stuff. Not the most eloquent, but confused enough to inspire a reference interview. Or so I though. The response I got was, okay lets see what we have. There was typing, looking at the screen, then more typing, then she began writing down call numbers. The only question I got asked in terms of clarification was, I assume you want books to check out, right? I said yes, and then I turned to my sister and asked, It is Mycenaeans Im talking about right? in a stage whisper. I mistakenly assumed mentioning my confusion would prod her into asking for clarification, but she just kept writing down call numbers. Finally, after more awkward

Reference Observation: Kansas City Public Library

standing around while she told me nothing of what she was doing and her staring at the computer, I was given a slip of paper with three call numbers on it. Although the reference librarian had no idea what I needed the information for, I was referred to two books in the history section, and one in art history, if I wanted to take a look at it. At this point the librarian began to direct me to the appropriate area to find these books in what I can only describe as a comedic farce of helpfulness. The library is already confusing with staircases to only go to certain floors, hidden alcoves, throngs of people catcalling any female that walks by, security guards (that often also catcall you), and confusing stacks. Somehow it got even more confusing with the directions I was given. Go down that staircase, and up that one, once you get to this floor go across the balcony to a hallway, that that hallway, by the way that hallway runs the length of the building, take it around to this section where the numbers are, and these are on your left, then youll be looking on the right side. All of this was said with a roving pointer finger quickly moving in airline attendant fashion, and no eye contact. If she had looked at me, she might have noticed glazed over eyes as I uh-huhed her directions, while retaining nothing. Her directions for the art history section were even more confusing considering they started at the mysteriously located history section I had just received directions to. I did manage to find the history section, and located the two books shed written down; both of which seemed horrible boring and not at all conducive to leisurely reading, which was why I asked that particular reference question. Due to a lack of clarity in the directions, I never made it to the art history section. It did feel like the reference librarian was trying to help me in part, but it also felt like it was mostly luck on her part that we were both on the same page. The reference librarians accuracy of assistance was lacking, and I was definitely intimidated by both the setting and demeanor of the librarian, and she did little to allay these feelings. There was no follow up after the search to see if my needs were met, but to be fair unless I came back after searching, since the books I needed were on another floor, there was no real way to follow up. However, because of that it would have been nice to hear, if you have any questions or need any more help, feel free to come back and we can assist you further.

Reference Observation: Kansas City Public Library

From what I observed, many of the patrons visiting the reference desk were satisfied, only because their reference needs were location questions, ie. Where are the law books? Because of my negative experience, I would rather search on my own. Although the reference interview is supposed to be, a dialogue, with the reference librarian taking the responsibility for finding out the information need of the user (Bopp & Smith, 2011, 57), I didnt experience this at all. Overall I was unimpressed with the reference services I received at the Kansas City Public Library. It is very easy to misunderstand during a reference interview. So while I asked for information on Mycenaens, I could have meant something completely different, especially since I explicitly showed I was not sure on the subject matter. This reference librarian didnt ever repeat or paraphrase back to me what I had asked, for all I know she could have thought I asked about lawn gnomes. The chance of a communication accident is decreasedif a librarian acknowledges the user through restatement (Dewdney & Michell, 1996, 12). Ross and Michelle get to the heart of what was wrong with the reference service I received, in that, the librarians and the user have opposed criteria for what counts as winning the reference game (Ross & Dewdney, 1998, 4). Although I wasnt completely dissatisfied with the material I left with, it could have easily ended badly had I had an actual need in mind. It could have turned into a situation where, the staff member wins by getting rid of the user, but the user loses because nothing helpful is ever found (Ross & Dewdney, 1998, 4). Because of the setup of the library, I will excuse some of the reference librarians behavior; she couldnt walk everyone exactly where they needed to go in the huge library, otherwise she would never be at the desk. But it would have been nice to have that problem combated with a map, Im sure Im not the first patron to have been turned around by the large layout. My experience and observation at the reference services area was a disappointing and negative one, so I would not return for further assistance.

Reference Observation: Kansas City Public Library

Bopp, R.E. & Smith, L.C. (Eds.) (2011). Reference and information services: An introduction. 4th ed. Denver, Co: Libraries Unlimited. Dewdney, P., & Michell, G. (1996). Oranges and peaches: Understanding communication accidents in the reference interview. RQ, 35(4), 520536. Ross, C., & Dewdney, P. (1998). Negative Closure: Strategies and Counter-Strategies in the Reference Transaction. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 38(2), 151-163.

Reference and Observation Analysis Checklist Date: _06/24/2012____________ Library: __Kansas City Public LibraryCentral Branch________________________________________

Observed (check if present) The staff member At the point when she smiles of has pleasant noticed me, there was a facial expression smile The staff member looks Eventually, after 1 minute up of waiting The staff makes eye For a brief moment when contact waving me forward, and then when saying goodbye The staff member gives Yes a friendly greeting The staff member at Reference librarians the eye level of the sitting at a desk lower user than the patrons The staff member Yes speaks in a pleasant tone of voice The staff member Felt as though she appears unhurried and wanted to get back to willing to take the time chatting with her with the users question colleague. The staff member Yes maintains a distance that seems comfortable to the user The staff member puts aside competing activities No, Was chatting with the other reference librarian, even when I was waiting for assistance.

Skill

Librarians Words (verbatim)

How can I help you?

Reference Observation: Kansas City Public Library

The staff member maintains appropriate eye contact The staff member makes short encouraging comments such as Um-hmmm, Thats interesting, Yes? to encourage the user to say more. The staff member gives full attention to the user The staff member doesnt just point to distant resources but goes with the user The staff member does not interrupt The staff member uses acknowledgement or restatement The staff member clarifies The staff member asks open questions The staff member uses probes such as What do you mean by X? The staff member checks that his/her understanding of what the user wants is correct The staff member speaks clearly The staff member lets the user know what s/ he is doing (inclusion) The staff member checks if answer is understood Yes Yes

Reference Observation: Kansas City Public Library

The staff member offers help in using and evaluating source The staff member cites source used The staff member asks, Does this completely answer your questions? or equivalent question The staff member encourages the user to come back if the answer provided is not adequate or complete