To borrow a sentiment from Twain, reports of the death of reference have been greatly exaggerated. Just because students now have unprecedented access to information through their phones, tablets and computers, that doesn’t mean they aren’t still doing research or using reference. But it does mean that if we want them to do good research, reference may have to adapt to new trends and technologies. So, what does 21st Century Reference look like?
Reference as a Teachable Moment: The days of students coming to the reference desk to inquire about the capital of Montana are all but gone, but students still have reference needs. Rather than gifting them the answer to their query, use the opportunity as a chance to show them how to search for high-quality sources, thereby improving their information literacy skills. Some libraries we’ve spoken with now use two-screen monitors, or let students walk around the desk so they can watch what the librarian doing.
Reference on the Go: According to our recent survey, 68% of students report using the library for research on only a monthly or semesterly basis. One of Credo’s in-house librarians used to work in the library of a business college. Recognizing that students today are used to having information come to them, she would set up a desk with a laptop in the hallway of one of the other buildings with high foot traffic and present a sign advertising: “Reference Librarian: Ask Questions”. In addition to fielding questions that may not have otherwise been asked, when those same students saw her in the library, they were less hesitant to approach her at the desk.
Reference From Afar: Library chat and texting features make asking reference questions easier, especially for Millennials who have grown up with similar types of services available to them in other areas of their life, like customer service. Think of these new technologies as different routes students can use to access the same great reference content and service you would provide someone in person or calling in over the phone.
Reference and Space: “There’s too much space in this library!” complained no librarian ever. By transitioning your collection from print to digital reference, your library will find new opportunities for the physical space opened up in the process. Some libraries have added computers, learning commons, tutoring areas, maker spaces, or even coffee shops! Another bonus: very little time spent shelf-checking eBooks.