libday7: day 4

Began the day by going through the handful of email messages that arrived overnight, with half of them being links to articles shared by colleagues. Then I fired up iTunes and started in on the print journal inventory project again.

Made some progress with the project, but then it was time to pick up tickets for Busch Gardens (they send us there every year as a benefit and to shut down campus for half a day). When I got back from that, I finished up the spreadsheet page I was working on and then did odds and ends until I had to leave for an early lunch.

After my early lunch and at the time I would normally be at lunch, I worked a two hour shift at the reference/circulation/information desk to cover for a colleague who was originally scheduled then. It was really quiet, with a few folks coming up to check out books and some parents with prospective students wandering through. Had one emeritus faculty member who was quite upset to learn we’d withdrawn a couple of history journals he liked to browse and photocopy. They’re in JSTOR and in the “what to withdraw” tool from Ithaka, so we figured we were covered for about 99.9% of the folks who’d want them. Did not take into account emeritus faculty who do not use computers.

Spent some time after the desk going through Twitter, reading librar* articles shared by colleagues there. And retweeting a few myself. Also cracked open my afternoon Coke Zero. Ahhh…

The only item left for today’s email inbox to-do list was to add a new eresource to the website. We’d acquired it a few weeks ago, and I’ve just been waiting for the subject librarian to send me the description she wanted to use. Got it late yesterday and bumped it to today’s task list.

Up next was going through the stack of eresource invoices that appeared on my chair while I was at lunch. I check to see if they’ve been paid already and if they’re on the cancellation list before either verifying with the subject librarian that they want to renew or giving them to my assistant to pay if I’ve already received renewal instructions. Some publishers send invoices well in advance, some only 30 days (or less) before the renewal date. I try to get renewal instructions from the librarian in advance of the license deadline, which varies from resource to resource.

This took me up to the end of the day, or at least the part where I leave to go sweat in the gym for a while.

virtual services in libraries

This started as a comment response to David Lee King’s admonition, but by the time I got to paragraph three, I decided it would be better to post it here instead.

My library (small private academic university) offers both IM and email reference services. There is a note on the IM page of the website which states, “Users at the Main Service Desk have priority over IM users. IM users are taken in a first-come, first served order. If you would prefer not to wait, you may always email a librarian.” Essentially, this is the only way we can manage IM reference service with one person handling it at the same time they are answering questions at the desk and responding to email queries. So far, our users have been understanding, and IM reference makes up approximately 10% of our reference interactions.

I don’t see this as discriminating against our virtual users. Anyone in customer service will tell you that the person standing in front of you takes priority. The culture of IM is such that a delay in responding is acceptable, if not expected. Chat doesn’t mean that you drop everything else — we’re all used to multi-tasking while having an online conversation. Chat provides a faster back and forth than email, which is why many prefer it for reference interactions, but that doesn’t mean they expect instantaneous service.

The libraries with explicitly stated response times that DLK points out are large institutions serving large populations. My library can get away with fast response times because we might get one or two IM questions an hour, at most. Larger populations result in more questions, and depending on how in-depth those questions are, it may take several hours or longer to respond with all of the information the user is seeking. I often conclude a basic IM reference transaction by providing the student with the contact information for their subject librarian and the personal appointment request form. Some research needs can’t be met exclusively in an online environment.

I get what DLK is trying to say, and I agree that we should treat our online users with the same courtesy we do our in-person users. However, the limitations in online reference tools, staffing, and resources all combine to make it difficult to create a virtual library utopia. We should strive for it, yes, but making librarians feel even more guilty because they can’t do it (for whatever reason) is not going to improve the situation.