Anthropologists @ the Library

Thanks to Eric Jennings, I just discovered a fascinating article about how the University of Rochester employed an anthropologist to study the way students use their library entitled, An Anthropologist in the Library over at The Chronicle of Higher Education. The article illuminates many misconceptions about the way GenY students use technology, and ends with the following quote:

In fact, the study also showed that students did not really want your average reference desk. “They want this generic staff person who could check out a book, answer a question, fix a computer, and brew a really good latte,” Ms. Gibbons says. “We didn’t know what to do with that.”

This is actually a really innovative idea for reference service; decentralized teams of roaming reference librarians equipped with PDAs, laptops, and jeweler’s tool sets who are able to connect to the WiFi to conduct research, as well as the Integrated Library System (ILS) for checkouts in order to assist patrons directly from the stacks. Although, I’m not sure of how lattes would be practically concocted in this scenario, I can totally envision this paradigm succeeding. I do, however, have this comical vision of a librarian standing in the stacks, talking to students. The librarian has a laptop sitting on a little table that is attached to his waist, he’s wearing a photo vest, and a backpack that houses a Box of Joe. Occasionally, the librarian talks into his Bluetooth headset conferring with BaseOps, otherwise knows as, “The Reference Desk” – Booyah!

“Base, this is Ref1, I have a 247 in progress in psychology. I’m going to need backup stat. I just ran out of non-dairy creamer, over.”

I wonder what an anthropologist would say about the inhabitants of my Library?

… The natives are restless.

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~ by Woeful on August 23, 2007.

11 Responses to “Anthropologists @ the Library”

  1. “They want this generic staff person who could check out a book, answer a question, fix a computer, and brew a really good latte,”

    Funny– my first thought was, isn’t this what the average librarian already does? (Well, maybe not a latte for their patrons…) 🙂

  2. I wish I could remember where, but I read something once about students actually being AFRAID of the reference desk, and librarians for that matter. Love the blog…found you surfing Blog Catalog.

  3. Hi Lemurtx! As you stated, we already do that. However, I think it’s more an issue of “how” the service is provided. I mentioned the findings of this article to someone and she immediately responded, “So they want a consolidated service.” I said that that’s one interpretation, but I believe that people want decentralization. I really think that having a mobile reference librarian would be a good idea! Not the coffee so much…

    Welcome to my little corner of the Blogosphere, Two Write Hands. I’m glad you enjoy my blog! People in general are reluctant to ask for help. This hesitation is due to a myriad of things, from not wanting to bother the librarians who might look busy, to being perceived as “dumb.” We do our best to be friendly, and professional. Some library reference desks now even have signs that read, “Please Bother Me.”

  4. One of my peeves as a degreed librarian is that the general public doesn’t see any difference between the clerical staff and the professional staff.

    Expecting professional staff to brew coffee for slackers only contributes to my theory that libraries should adopt museums as a model.

    In that, charge admission, professional staff works in closed non-public areas, and patrons get as much out of the exhibits (books) as they are able on their own.

  5. Hi There Topiary Cow: Patrons referring to Pages as “librarians” vex me as well. That said, it’s really just another opportunity for us to educate the public as to what we do.

    Personally I don’t mind if people drink coffee in the Library… As long as I don’t have to serve it to them. But charging admission is so far removed from the professional philosophy, that I wouldn’t be able to get on board. I like that we provide the same quality service for the poor that we do for the rich.

    … And it does make for good blog fodder!

  6. On vacation, we hit Pike Market in Seattle and observed the fish guys throwing fish around and hollering orders to each other.

    I want that: patron approaches roaming librarian, asks for a book on how she can figure out whether or not she’s possessed by a demon; librarian hollers to ref desk “DSM-IV!”; ref desk hollers back “DSM-IV!”; locates book, wings it at roaming librarian, who hands it to patron.

    Would jazz things up a little.

  7. Welcome, p dog: DSM-IV TR!
    Too funny… Let’s hope the patrons aren’t phobic about flying objects.

  8. “One of my peeves as a degreed librarian is that the general public doesn’t see any difference between the clerical staff and the professional staff.”

    One of my peeves is that many “degreed librarians” overlook and undervalue the “non-professional” “clerical staff” and what an asset they really are to the operations of a library… but that’s a topic for another blog entirely. 😉

  9. Well clearly they do not want the library, they want Borders.

  10. I try to alleviate that as much as possible by wearing a jacket and tie Atypical…

    Exactly, Max! And that’s fine too on occasion, I like both 😉

  11. […] Anthropologists @ the Library […]

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