Roving Reference

The new trend in libraries these days is to tear out the reference desk and make way for information stations suitable for roving reference. "Roving Reference is reference conducted outside of the reference desk. The idea here is to remove barriers between staff and patrons, and to lend assistance where patrons need it rather than having them come to a desk."

The Stanford University undergraduate library sponsors information stations throughout campus as outreach. "This Fountains of Information service is a pilot roaming reference service that began during the spring quarter. The roaming reference librarian will be outside of Green Library, Monday through Friday (weather permitting), in the vicinity of the red fountain, equipped with a laptop or iPad to answer questions."

When asked about the success of roving reference on the ALA Think Tank Facebook page, various librarians responded with:

"Roving is very important - not only does it improve customer service, it helps you stay on top of potential problems by showing that you're active on the floor - you can keep an eye on troublemakers and potentially prevent security issues. I personally ask anyone in Nonfiction or Reference once if there's anything I can help them with, and even if there isn't, they know that I'm available the next time I come around. I don't usually ask patrons in fiction, since they're usually browsing, unless they look lost."

"We started roving in 2011. We tore out our old reference desk and placed a station near our Circulation desk. Every 30 minutes or so we ask our staff to rove. We've seen a nice jump in our reference statistics and it's remained consistent. Our crew has an area they rove through with an iPad and if they see someone they just ask "are you finding everything okay?". When you compare this to how often our Pages are asked questions out in the stacks it becomes clear that this move was the right one."

I like the idea of roving reference as a way to let patrons know that the librarians are willing help. Some patrons are too intimidated to ask questions. Others want to try and research on their own, but with roving reference, they can easily ask for assistance when they are stuck. It is also useful to have an iPad in hand in the stacks to perform a query. There is no need to stay planted in a seat at the reference desk. It's nice to see that roving reference has been successful in other libraries because, as a librarian, I would be concerned with bothering people. It is analogous to walking into a store and having every clerk come and ask if they can help you with something. Sometimes I just want to browse and not feel like they are hovering over me.

I wonder if setting up a reference station in other parts of campus is truly helpful. While the idea seems great, I feel like many students would be too busy on their way to and from class to stop and have a meaningful reference transaction. I suppose the only way to find out is to try.


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