Tuesday, January 12, 2010

VALE Conference, Part 2

(small, blurry shot of my VALE poster*)

Following last week's post, I got a lot of helpful and interesting feedback at the VALE Conference, and I wanted to share some of it. I won't use names in case people prefer not to be identified here, but these are some ideas I picked up:

-I had a long interesting discussion with a Rutgers librarian about how transactions at the reference desk should be treated more as an art than a science. The conversation with her paralleled what I wrote last week, in that many interactions at the reference desk were more complex than I had originally anticipated. She recommended a lot of great reading, mostly to do with The Reference Interview. While I definitely agree that patrons are best served when they are treated as individuals rather than a uniform group, I still see some inefficiencies and areas for improvement in reference services.

-There was a great conversation with an NJIT librarian about their campus-wide use of intelliresponse, which you can see in action front and center on their library page. Spearheaded by my boss, we are going to debut Springshare's LibAnswers at the college this spring, and the two products seem quite similar. I am really excited to be able to combine our FAQs with our Ask-A-Librarian page, and it will be interesting to see if there is a difference in the volume and types of questions we get. In fact, using LibAnswers this spring will be a great follow-up to the data I gathered last semester.

-I talked with a number of other librarians struggling with how best to serve patron groups similar to those at the community college, such as ESL students, students with latent or obvious learning disabilities, etc. A great number of reference desk transactions that I recorded seemed to hinge on a lack of student reading/writing/computing skills, and I wonder how different the transactions would be if I only gathered data from a population with relatively equal abilities, such as nursing students. Would I be able to pinpoint more specific areas of need than "I don't know how to look up a book"? What are the reasons that it does not occur to students to look for a library web page with a search system? Or, if students try and fail, at what point do they give up?

At any rate, this spring I'm looking forward to the second semester of collecting data at the reference desk and thinking about usability. (Note the new LJ column The User Experience.)
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*I learned the important lesson that scotch tape rolled into a circle does not encourage paper to lie flush against foam board. Must try a different tactic next time.

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