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Dana Kaput

LIS 704
March 22, 2016
Librarian Interview Report:
A.C. Buehler Library at Elmhurst College

The A.C. Buehler Library is a small academic library that serves the Elmhurst College

community. The library building is three floors. The main floor contains the circulation desk,

reference desk, small caf, computers for both students and visitors, serials, and a computer

classroom. The second floor hosts the main book collection and study rooms. The lower level

contains the bound periodicals, college archives, an art gallery, and a computer lab. While the

reference desk (located on the main floor) is set fairly deep back in the library, staff stationed at

the desk can still see the entrance of the library. The reference desk seats two librarians with

computer access for both. The report on the interview to follow was done with Michelle

Benedicta whose job title is Evening/Weekend Reference Librarian. In addition to working for

Elmhurst College, Ms. Benedicta works full-time in a non-library field and is currently enrolled

in Dominican Universitys PhD program for Library and Information Science. Due to schedule

conflicts, this interview was conducted through email.


During the interview, Michelle Benedicta was asked nine questions. These questions

concerned describing the library environment, describing a typical work day, approach/style used

when working with patrons and conducting reference interview questions, chat reference

practices, LibGuide utilization, experiences in participating in professional development

opportunities, and what she enjoys about being a librarian. For the most part, Ms. Benedicta

seems to adhere fairly well to best practices in reference work. Please see below for a summary

and evaluation of answers received.


After initially being asked to describe her library institution, Ms. Benedicta was asked to

describe her role at the library and what a typical work day looks like for her. She reported that
the reference desk is staffed by a rotating group of librarians when full-time staff are not present.

Her typical work days are Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights. Saturdays tend to not be very

busy, and she can go hours without helping someone. This is in contrast to Sunday and Monday

nights when the library is quite busy. She is also responsible for monitoring the computers,

scanners, and printers on the main floor and must troubleshoot them when there are problems

with the equipment. In addition to face-to-face reference questions and technology

troubleshooting, she monitors the Library H3lp software to answer chat questions, and answers

phone call reference questions.


The duties assigned to Ms. Benedicta at Elmhurst Colleges library seem to be quite

typical of what a reference librarian is trained to do. She predominately answers reference

questions face-to-face, through chat, and over the phone. I was somewhat surprised to learn that

patrons used the phone as a vehicle for reference questions. In A Personal Choice: Reference

Service Excellence, the author talks about how libraries should leverage the popularity of

cellphones and internet use by integrating them into library services. In particular, the author

talks about placing the librarys phone number in the golden triangle on the librarys website

(Radford 2008, 111). Upon visiting the library website, I discovered that while the phone number

was not placed at the top of the webpage, it was located directly above the Ask Us chat box. I

think that placing the two forms of communication together (phone number and chat service),

really gives patrons options for how to engage with the library and reference librarian. It makes

services more accessible, because patrons are able to choose how they engage with the library.
Next, Ms. Benedicta was asked if she ever received any typical reference questions.

She reported that all reference questions were usually unique and centered on research

assistance. She made a point of stating that she was not there to show people how to use a

computer (although she has done this in the past). She backed up these statements by explaining
that Elmhurst College is a competitive school where they make a point to train first year students

in information literacy and research techniques. She further explained that Elmhurst College

expects their students to be independent learners. Elmhurst College believes in training

students in the basics. As such, her work is predominately about helping students with

research. While most of the questions that she receives focus on research, she did make a point of

mentioning that she receives a variety of questions. For example, she is frequently asked over

chat to refill the printers with paper or to tell other loud students in the library to be quiet.
When asked about her personal approach when working with patrons, Ms. Benedicta

stated that it varied based on how she was approached. Being approached in person or over chat

required somewhat different responses. When she was first hired, she explained that her boss told

her to just be nice to the kids. She further explained that she couples that advice with what she

learned while obtaining for MLIS which was to be approachable. As a result, her personal style

is to be friendly and happy to see everyone. When someone approaches the reference desk, she

always smiles and makes eye contact. She further emphasized that she does not want to be

intimidating to college students; she wants them to know that she is there to help them.
The emphasis on approachability is a key factor for success when working with the

public. This is especially true for librarians. In fact, the first stage of the reference interview,

according to RUSA, is approachability. In specific, librarians should always greet their patrons,

ask how they can help them, and just be aware of the image that the librarian is giving to the

patron (Brown 2008, 3). By doing this, librarians increase the likelihood that patrons will seek

them out for help. This is an essential concept to keep in mind, so it is good to know that Ms.

Benedicta and other reference librarians keep it in mind when working with patrons.
Next, Ms. Benedicta was asked about her process for conducting reference interviews.

She once again stated that this varied based on if the question was asked in person or over chat.

She stated that she tried to keep a couple of things in mind when conducting a reference
interview: (1) what is the real question, (2) what kind of research has the patron already done,

(3) clarifying questions, (4) does the student want her to find the resources or show them how to

find the resources themselves, (5) check in with the patron and make sure that you are on the

right research track, and (6) let the patron know that they can come by any time to ask the

librarian questions. She also stated that she always lets the patron decide when the reference

interaction is over; she does not decide for them.


Once again, we can look at RUSAs Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of

Reference and Information Service Providers to see that Ms. Benedicta follows many of the

best practices set forth for conducting reference interviews. As previously established, Ms.

Benedicta tries to be approachable when helping patrons. She also touches on the other aspects

of the reference interview which are interest, listening/inquiring, searching, and follow-up

(Brown 2008, 3-5). In addition, Ms. Benedicta makes sure that she discerns what the real

question is, which is a large portion of what the reference interaction entails (Brown 2008, 2). It

can be really easy to just answer a patrons question, but that may not be the patrons true

information need. Therefore, reference librarians must be somewhat of an investigator. They

must use the reference interview in order to help assist the patron in figuring out what their true

question is.
When asked about her experience with chat reference, Ms. Benedicta explained that it

could be a bit more challenging than traditional reference. The factors for chat reference being

more challenging were that she could not see who the patron was. Over chat, she cannot tell if

the patron is a student of Elmhurst College, what resources they have access to, if they are male

or female, at home or at the library; all of these variables were reported as being important to

serving the patron.


Ms. Benedictas personal practice with chat reference for the most part seems to adhere

fairly well to best practices. She is aware of many of the service behaviors that can effect chat
reference such as the necessity to have interpersonal skills, maintaining reference service

standards (such as a reference interview), and an awareness of problems conducting chat

reference as opposed to face-to-face reference (RUSA 2010). As reported above, she

acknowledges that chat reference can be challenging based on a number of factors. One of the

most challenging aspects for her is that she does not know who she is speaking to. Knowledge of

who the patron is seems to be important because it shapes how she conducts the chat interaction.

For example, if the patron is a member of the Elmhurst community (i.e. student, teacher, etc..),

then she can use Elmhurst Colleges databases and resources to assist the chat user. However, if

the chat user is not an Elmhurst College community member, then she must assist them using

other methods.
She reported that she likes to keep chat services informal. She explained that she assumes

that those using chat reference are most likely teenagers/young adults who are accustomed to

texting, as a result, she tries to mimic a texting conversation and treats the chat conversation as if

she is chatting with a friend. She begins the chat conversation with short responses such as hi

and need some help? and reported that starting the chat conversation with full sentences took

too long, especially in the beginning. After greeting the patron, she waits for their question. If she

is unfamiliar with the question/subject, she will ask the patron clarifying questions and consult

subject LibGuides. As she conducts the research process, she explains what she is doing and how

she is finding resources. She is able to share her screen with patrons only if they are Elmhurst

College students and logged into their accounts. She mentioned that explaining the research

process step-by-step can be difficult over chat, as it is hard to gage if the patron is following

along on the correct pages. Ms. Benedicta also explained that during the chat conversation, she

will send links of resources to the patron and ask if it is helpful. By doing this, she is able to

refine the patrons question, and help them find the most relevant resources possible. Other
things that she points out during the chat conversation include looking at the subject headings in

relevant articles to find more sources, use quotes around questions, and if the patron needs a

book but is not an Elmhurst College student, then they can use WorldCat to find the book at a

library near them.


I was a bit surprised to learn that Ms. Benedicta used short phrases and slang when it

came to communicating with patrons through chat. Her practice of using slang and informal

language in the chat interaction is in contrast to what the literature on conducting chat reference

advises. In Hi, r u there? Adventures in Chat Reference Librarianship, the author reflects on

her experiences with using chat reference and explains that a key objective to keep in mind when

conducting the chat interaction is professionalism. In particular, she believes that librarians

should not use slang and should have a consistent greeting for every chat interaction (Dodge

2013, 84-85). I agree with Ms. Benedicta that being too formal in chat interactions can be a

barrier to effective services; however, interactions that are overtly informal can also be a barrier

to effective service. As a result, I am not sure that I buy into Ms. Benedictas belief that the chat

interaction between patron and librarian should be conducted as if friends are talking to one

another. I think that librarians engaging in chat reference should find the middle ground between

formal and informal behavior when using chat functions.


The last three questions of the interview focused on Ms. Benedictas LibGuide utilization

at her library, professional development that she engages in, how she became a librarian, and

why she enjoys the profession. When asked about LibGuides, she stated that Elmhurst College

had LibGuides for every class taught on campus; however, she did not have anything to do with

the creation/maintenance of the LibGuides. With that said, she does use the LibGuides when

answering obscure reference questions and she often refers students to LibGuides. When asked

about professional development opportunities that she participates in, Ms. Benedicta listed a
number of Associations she belongs to including PALA (Polish American Librarians

Association), ILA, and IACRL. In addition, she does volunteer work for the Lithuanian Archives

Project and is a Senior Volunteer Contributor of INALJ.com.


Lastly, when asked about how she became and librarian and what she enjoys about the

profession, she stated that her main enjoyment comes from helping people. She entered the

librarian profession by accident, but now really enjoys connecting people with information. She

wants her patrons to know that librarians are kind; they want to help their patrons find what they

are looking for. Ms. Benedicta stated that she understands how not knowing how to conduct

research can create anxiety and she wants to alleviate that by assisting people in their

information needs.
Ms. Benedicta concluded the interview by sharing her belief that education is the

pathway to power and I want to help people achieve their educational goals. She does this by

connecting people with information and teaching them how to find the information on their own.

Her belief is that the less time someone spends looking for information, the more time that they

can spend reading, processing, and evaluating the information. I thought that her stating this was

really a great way of reiterating one of S.R. Ranganathans Five Laws of library science which is

save the time of the reader (Brown 2008, 7). Librarians should strive to connect their patrons

with their information needs in an unintimidating way that teaches them how to find materials

themselves.
I think that Michelle Benedicta does a pretty good job of putting the theory behind the

library profession into practice. In particular, she seems very comfortable following the steps of

the reference interview, engaging with patrons on different platforms (i.e. in person, through

chat, and over the phone), and connecting patrons with their information needs. Ms. Benedicta is

only a part-time reference librarian at Elmhurst Colleges library, so it may be interesting to see
what the experiences of a full-time and daytime reference librarian are. Regardless, Ms.

Benedicta is going a great job serving her patrons.

Reference List

Brown, Stephanie Willen1. 2008. "The Reference Interview: Theories and Practice." Library
Philosophy & Practice 1-8. Library & Information Science Source,
EBSCOhost (accessed March 22, 2016). https://dom.idm.oclc.org/login?
url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?
direct=true&db=lls&AN=32739793&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Dodge, Heather. 2013. "Hi, r u there? Adventures in Chat Reference Librarianship." Public
Services Quarterly 9, no. 1: 81-88. Library & Information Science Source,
EBSCOhost (accessed March 22, 2016). https://dom.idm.oclc.org/login?
url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?
direct=true&db=lls&AN=85750325&site=ehost-live&scope=site

Radford, Marie L. 2008. "A Personal Choice: Reference Service Excellence." Reference & User
Services Quarterly, Winter 2008. 108-115. Academic Search Complete,
EBSCOhost (accessed March 22, 2016). https://dom.idm.oclc.org/login?
url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?
direct=true&db=a9h&AN=35665032&site=ehost-live&scope=site
RUSA. 2010. Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service
Providers. ALA. (accessed March 22, 2016).
http://www.ala.org/rusa/sites/ala.org.rusa/files/content/resources/guidelines/virtual-
reference-se.pdf