What is roving reference anyway?

We are moving towards roving reference at our library. This is a very new concept for us, as we have always been tied to a desk. However, with the introduction of RFID, we have the potential to move out from our desk.  The potential is not yet fully realised, so until it is, we will start taking baby steps in this journey.

So what will roving reference look like at our library?

At the moment, it looks like it usually does – we are away from the desk, doing some admin type work, like shelving holds (they are self-serve), find items to fulfill holds or emptying trolleys to the appropriate collection areas. And as we do, people grab us as we go by and ask questions. And whenever we go to do a shelf check or help a user find a particular area in the library, we are always waylaid with further queries.

So what will be different? Hopefully, we will be able to spend more time with these people when they ask questions and not feel the need to complete it and get back to the crush that is our typical desk traffic, as soon as humanly possible. We will be more observant about library users around us and actively seek to help them where they are at – daunting as the prospect might seem.

And we will get our staff trained up a bit more so that its not just the librarians doing this. We will develop scenarios to give confidence to those who don’t like to stray from the desk and we will buddy up with these newly trained staff, to help them ‘get their feet wet’.

But we will do so only where it is not to the detriment of those we serve at our desk. They will remain our first priority, but our customer service will expand to those who don’t approach the desk. Customer service is one of strengths and we plan to capitalise on this opportunity and improve it – whether its deliberately seeking out those to help, or its incidental on our way to doing other things.

What does roving reference look like in your library?



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  1. I’ve always found that a lot of people don’t like approaching us at the reference desk for a number of reasons. The main one I have heard is they don’t want to interrupt what we were doing. I’ve always been a big fan of walking slowly when out & about in e shelves, looking around in case someone tries to make eye contact, trying to appear available and willing to help as best as I can.

    We are in the process of moving to “roving” reference too. I think this is generally perceived as replacing the information desk PC with an iPad and being able to handle queries anywhere in the library (I’m picturing a comfy couch as my new information “desk”).

    Although the iPads aren’t up and running just yet, our new desk has been designed with this in mind and is a shared circ/info desk that is at standing height. It’s quite compact for 2 terminals and the “info” side is on the open end which means even when at the desk, I am often interacting with people face to face at the end of the desk, rather than sitting down seperated by a big desk. I really believe this is making for a more intimate level of customer service a lot of the time. Of course, there are times when it would be better for people to be able to site down while we work through longer queries and this is where the iPad or a notebook comes in and grabbing a seat somewhere else in the library.

    I’m pretty excitied about this and I think I may have to gather my wandering thoughts from above into a blog post.

  2. We redesigned our desk last year and now have a low area with comfy seating for both membership and longer queries. We are also going to get the iPad thing happening for roving reference, but already use the OPACs that are out in the collection.

    Thanks for the comment. Looking forward to reading your blog post on the topic.

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