Roving Reference

**I’m keeping this page up, but my focus in library world has changed to Collection Management. I am thrilled with this new position and can say I truly love my job! But, that means that I’m not in charge of making roving work in my department anymore. The new reference desk arrived the week before I left. It is small and has forced the department to radically change the way we do things. I really like the idea of the desk, but I know that it has been a learning process. Patrons try to use it all the time thinking it is a public space and there has been a lot of negative comments from the public that thinks we were “forced” to get rid of our desk. Not true, but perceptions are pretty powerful. I believe in roving and I am an active rover when I am out in the field with my new position. ** 

Roving Reference!

What the heck is a roving librarian? Is she lost? Does she have gyspy genes that won’t allow her to stay in any one place? Not a chance! A roving librarian is a librarian that gets out from behind the desk and experiences her patrons, her library and her community.  I believe, more than anything else in librarianship, that if we fail to rove, our professional will die.   This section is where I share what I ‘m out roving to learn about.  Join me!


So, the desk ended up not working and we sent it back. My branch manager and I have spent a lot of time looking at a lot of different options and it was about settled that we were going to have something locally made by the husband of our young adult librarian. Then the Gaylord catalog sale flyer came and we found something that matched our decor and looked very nice. Our director likes it too and we ran with it. The desks should be here on April 12th.

 I’m excited because I think it will shake us up a bit. I work in a smaller branch that is essentially one big room. It is a different roving experience because you can see 90% of the building from any given point.  The new desks are standing height and I want to revamp the schedule and bring more and more of our duties besides customer service behind the scenes.

The Roving Desk?

Well, well, well. Time does fly and the library has officially started roving as of September 1st. We even have a nifty sheet that tallys how many questions we answer, how many referrals we make, how many tech questions we answer and finally, how many times we get turned down.

My two favorite comments so far:

1. When one of my staff approached a lady who appeared confused. “Go away and leave me the hell alone.”

2. As I was roving a few days ago I picked myself up a stalker. I thought I might be over thinking this but sure enough, he called and asked me out this morning. He was very cautious and didn’t want to freak me out and I do appreciate that.

Anyhoo, we have bit the bullet and ordered a temporary, very small roving desk. Why? Our desk was built in the 70’s and is awful. The chairs shimmy against each other so you have to work at getting out to help anyone. It is a sit down desk so you can never get in and get out quickly to help and we all have countless bruised body parts and ruined clothing from wacking part of the desk. It is just an awful mess and we all hate it. As a system we will be evaluating and designing new desks in the future but we need something now!

Well, the desk came in yesterday and it is beautfiul! The only problem is that it isn’t counter height like it said on the website. However, I think we can make it work. It matches our new computer desks for the public perfectly. Our director is coming over to look at it on Monday to make the final decision.

It is a lot smaller and will take some serious adjustments but our knees and our customers will thank us.

Fingers crossed!

Roving Reference, Part Trois

The time study ended up being very enlightening. Reference librarians know that most of what is “officially” counted each month is not a fair representation of what we do. Yes, official reference numbers may be down but we are busier than ever and the way that we gather statistics needs to change and start reflecting this. What I did not realize was that over half of what we do in my reference department is never counted anywhere official. This is disheartening and overwhelming at first glance.

Second glance too. But, it opens the door for communication. Our system was lucky enough to have Barbara Pintney from King County come down and do a reference retreat with all the reference staff in the system. She really helped the system better define what roving reference is and what is is not. She also is a strong advocate for realizing that all this “other” stuff that we do isn’t a part of customer service. Don’t make us handle public prints and the money for it all day everyday. Did we get MLS degrees to hand out copies? I didn’t.  What if we didn’t do selection for our branch but left it to the experts in collection development? What if technical services processed the new materials? What would that mean? It would mean that all our time could be focused on the customer in front of us that needs our help. I don’t have anyone on my staff who isn’t focused on helping our customers but we all know that our internal stress button starts to go off the more we help our customers and let the ‘to do’ list pile up behind us.

Why is this such a hard concept to grasp? I think it is because it is the hardest. We are doing what we have always done and our budgets are not growing-they are shrinking as is our staff. It is frustrating all around.

What excited me is that we are finally talking about this. Barbara had long discussions with our director and with the district reference manager and I have to hope that something will change. Everyone on the frontline knows what I am talking about. There reaches a point where something has to give.  Bring on the solutions!

Roving Reference, part deux

I have a feeling that I am going to be blogging about this concept A LOT. Much has happened since PLA and roving reference came to visit.

The reference managers in my library system are all advocates of reference staff getting out from behind the desk. Each branch is different in its dynamics involving staffing levels, patron activity and other duties as assigned, but the philosophy is the same. There is resistance from some staff and I believe this is just a part of human nature. Have you ever had to play the red/green game?  Essentially you have groups of people and the group picks a color-red or green. The collective of groups gets special accolades if each group picks the same color-either all red or all green. If one group goes outside of the collective other groups lose points but the rogue group gets more points. Ahhhh. Sounds silly but soon you will have groups that are pro-green and groups that are pro-red and no matter how much you compromise, negotiate or yell-it is very, very hard to come to a consensus.  Essentially, you just delved into the human psyche by playing a silly game about silly colors that means nothing! All this to say that resisters and dissenters are a part of life. Suck it up and deal with it.

I have a very innovative and forward-thinking director and she is really excited about us jumping in to roving reference. A whirlwind of activity has commenced that was a little unnerving, even for me but we are in a good spot. The lines of communication and dialogue are open with the reference managers in the system down to my reference staff.

Here at my branch we are conducting a time study of every little thing we do. I will take this information and analyze what it is we do and what we need to streamline, quit doing or let go of to bring our focus even more to our customers. We are all reading articles about roving reference in different libraries and talking about what we have found. The District Reference Manager is calling different libraries that already rove and getting insider information.

This is an exciting time for the library! The open discussions with everyone involved are fantastic. I am so proud of my staff for embracing the idea and the willingness to do the research and think outside the box about our services.  Ideas are flying and enthusiasm is high. To me, this is why I became a librarian-to grow and push our boundaries and become a place no one ever imagined.

 The Lost Have Been Found: The KCLS Roving Reference Model

PLA and Roving Reference

My branch manager just returned from PLA in Boston. Before she left she let me highlight the programs that were of interest to me and she promised to do her best. The program I was really interested in was called: The Lost Have Been Found: The KCLS Roving Reference Model.” 

I am constantly amazed at how our patrons love to find us in the stacks. I fully believe we have to come to them and I am really interested in what she learned.  This morning as she is trying to acclimate back to branch life, she said, “It was a very, very interesting program. I’m not quite ready to spring it on you.” Hmmmm, sounds fascinating!


One response to “Roving Reference

  1. Patti Shenberger

    November 5, 2007 at 12:25 am

    Jen, wanted to let you know that I am still the chair for the Booksellers Best Contest (Greater Detroit RWA) but my email has changed to Thanks for promoting us on your blog.

    Patti Shenberger
    GDRWA BBA Chair


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