Academic journal article Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

Ask! Your Library at the HUB: Penn State Libraries' Experiences Providing Reference Services at the Campus Student Union Building

Academic journal article Partnership : the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research

Ask! Your Library at the HUB: Penn State Libraries' Experiences Providing Reference Services at the Campus Student Union Building

Article excerpt

Abstract

The Web 2.0 generation presents many service challenges to libraries. College students of today have work styles that emphasize collaboration, preference for flexible and comfortable spaces, and independent discovery of information. Given that challenge, it is important for libraries to experiment with new and unique models of service. Librarians and Staff at the Penn State University Libraries explored offering library service at the main campus's student union building during two trials, during the Spring and Fall semesters of 2006.

Introduction

The academic reference desk is receiving less traffic than it once did, and many libraries have diversified their service models in order to address new modes of research that are in constant evolution-most now offer at least one form of electronic reference, many librarians have joined social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, and many are experimenting with various forms of roving reference. In addition, although the reference statistics reported annually by Academic and Research Libraries (ARL) are not entirely transparent due to individual differences in institutions, the overall number of reference transactions has been in a constant state of decline, down 48 percent between 1991 and 2005, indicating that assistance on a one-on-one basis is in much smaller demand than it once was (ARL 7,9). At first glance this drop might seem to convey a state of bleakness for library service in general; however, this trend has been accompanied by an almost directly inverse 58-percent increase in group presentations, with the number of participants in these sessions up by 98 percent during the same time period (1991-2005) (ARL 7). This combination of statistics is indicative of a movement towards more social learning environments, as well as the tendency for students to experiment with research on their own in the increasingly electronic environment the library and the information world as a whole present.

In "Disconnects Between Library Culture and Millennial Generation Values," McDonald and Thomas remind readers that today's research libraries need to work to "remain relevant to the next generation of students" (4). Libraries can do this many ways, including evaluating service models and policies so that they meet the needs of "[e]merging communities of research library users" (McDonald and Thomas 5). In the spirit of McDonald and Thomas's words, the librarians and staff of the Gateway Library, the library dedicated to undergraduate and first-time library users at Penn State University, have made a commitment to physically go where their users are, with the specific goal of providing services to students at their exact point of need by piloting a library service point in the student union building (the Hetzel Union Building or HUB).

David Tykoson notes, "to be effective the library must meet the unique information and service needs of its own community. Expectations for information and service needs vary greatly from one community to another (even for the same kind of library), but the role of each library is to meet particular expectations of its own community" (184). Penn State University's main campus is home to over 36,000 undergraduates, over 6,000 graduate students, and over 11,000 faculty and staff (Common Data Set). This means that within the large community of Penn State library users, there are many diverse populations with very different library and research needs.

A literature search revealed that many libraries have experimented with roving reference services inside their library buildings. Harvard College Library, the W.A.C. Bennett Library at Simon Fraser University and Rutgers University Libraries have reported experiences offering library assistance in other campus locations at the time the Penn State service was being conceived (Orphan 441) (Wong & O'Shea 90-92) (Kuchi et al. 310-317). The model which provided guidance for offering remote reference service at Penn State was the Rutgers University example. …

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