Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Reference Services: Different models at New College Library and the Maughn Library

Dateline:  Tuesday, July 14, 2015 and Monday, July 27, 2015
Places: Edinburgh and London
Time: Over time
Temperature: 17° C and 19° C
Song of the day(s):  Let's call the whole thing off by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

Tomato, tomahtoe; laugher, larfter ... what's in a pronunciation, especially when Fred and Ginger need each other? While the characters that Rogers and Astaire play in the film Shall we dance? manage to resolve their issues, perhaps the differences in reference service models in an academic library are more profound. We're undergoing a public service review at Carleton that could affect the responsibilities of my department, so I'm interested in how reference staff at New College Library (University of Edinburgh) and the Maughan Library (King's College) organize their work. 

At Carleton, we use a liaison model for reference services in which both subject specialists ("paraprofessionals") and librarians ("professionals") offer core services: information literacy instruction, collection development and research help desk support (all queries, including both routine and in-depth questions). Delivering these services depends upon building good relationships with students and faculty. 

Neither UK institution has a model that is exactly the same as that at Carleton. However, the King's approach offers an alternative that, in theory, would be interesting to consider--at least for someone like me who enjoys the teaching component of the work the most.

New College
At New College, I had a chance to quickly chat with Christine Love-Rodgers and Linda Blackwood. Christine's official title is Academic Support Librarian-Divinity as this library supports the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh and is one of the twelve main libraries at the university. The university also has fourteen class libraries. Linda is the Information Services Helpdesk Supervisor at the New College Library. 
The New College Library was founded in 1843 as the library of the Free Church College. After we entered the courtyard for the college, we took a Hogwarts-like door to get to the library.
Based on my conversations with Christine and Linda, it seems that New College might have a model similar to that at Carleton, although New College is a much smaller library and thus staff responsibilities may be combined due to the limited number of employees.

I chatted first with Linda, who has a full-time position and works alongside several part-time staff. These employees are considered support staff and do not have library science degrees. They provide administrative support and are responsible for answering routine queries such as those related to using the catalogue and IT services as well as providing support for special collections. In addition, they process new acquisitions and weeds books from the shelves, although make none of the decisions as to what is purchased or discarded. 

It almost seems that the support staff are responsible for circulation, technical services and routine reference services, again perhaps because the library is relatively small (i.e, few staff and a relatively small budget; Christine indicated that her acquisitions budget is £38,000).

Christine is the only librarian (i.e., she has a library science degree). She holds a half-time appointment to the library and is responsible for the overall management of the library and thus is responsible for making all the key decisions related to collection development (including special collections) and research support in additions to other activities such as social media outreach.

While Linda and other desk staff may handle the routine questions, any in-depth reference questions are referred to Christine. I did not ask Christine if she does any information literacy instruction. However, the School offers both undergraduate and graduate programs so she might very well offer at least basic library orientation sessions. Interestingly for me (given my interest in university unions), Linda has the option of joining a union whereas Christine automatically belongs to the faculty union.
The Enquiries Desk, where Linda Blackwood works, is just to the right of the security gates.
We have signs with a similar message at Carleton ... just part of the job!
King's College, Maughan Library
At the King's College Maughan Library, I had conversation with Liz Murphy. Liz is the Library Learning and Teaching Manager (Arts & Sciences) at King's and, overall, is responsible for information literacy instruction. Liz explained that until last year, the Maughan Library followed a liaison model very similar to that at Carleton. 

A number of subject librarians (e.g, law, social sciences, health) did both instruction and collection development. However, last year there was a reorganization (in part due to available resources) that split the librarians into teams by function. As a result, there are now three separate teams: the Collections and Research Support Team; the Partnership and Liaision team; and the Training and Skills Team.

The Maughn Library subject support page features some of the same services we offer at Carleton, and I like the visible access to important links from this main page such as citation support.
This is a very different approach to reference work than that taken at Carleton in that, broadly, the partnership team manages relationships with faculty, the training team delivers instruction and the collections team handles acquisitions, cataloguing and other technical services in addition to archives and special collections. In addition, these functions are quite separate from the that of the Compass team, which is responsible for the main Enquiries desk which handles routine reference questions as well as circulation (e.g., book returns). 

According to Liz, individual Compass staff are not required to have a library science degree although she thinks that a few might have this qualification.

The Library Services Strategic Plan for 2013-2016 highlights the delivery of good customer service, rhetoric that is used at Carleton as well, where financial constraints (i.e., lack of funding) puts pressure across the campus to deliver "value for money." It's unclear if some of the same fiscal issues are a driver at King's, but this is a certainly an interesting model for delivering what I think of as reference services.

This is a promotional video for King's College but there are shots of students in the library!

The occupational boundaries between librarians and support staff are well defined in both institutions.  

Support staff do the routine work, whereas librarians do the work that is clearly considered professional and carries with it more decision-making authority. This is very different from how the reference work is organized (or done) at Carleton where paraprofessionals make many of the same kind of decisions as librarians.

Whereas at New College, one librarian is doing all the professional work on a part-time basis which is not an option at Carleton (for one thing, we have 16 subject specialists and librarians in our department), the King's model is an interesting alternative to what we have now. 

To have a single team devoted to information literacy, for example, seems to allow for a targeted approach to teaching including systematic and consistent assessment across instructors. However, the division between professional and non-professional staff suggests that only librarians would be eligible to do this work.

Here are some of our Reference Services team. Along with other library staff, this spring we co-taught a week-long course for middle and high school students as part of Carleton's annual Enriched Mini-Course Program.

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