A Future Space For Reference Services? An Inspiration From GALE

July 11, 2011, 5:38 pm

Gale might be in the reference resources business, but after seeing their booth at ALA I’m thinking they should try their hand at reference assistance delivery space. I found their booth very inspiring—and they might just have the key to unlocking the “future of the reference desk.”

Here are a few images I snapped on my phone and I offer a conceptual drawing.

The Next-Gen Reference Experience
Imagine something like this. The space is branded somehow so that users know that this is the research help hub. A patron sits down at one of the couches, essentially inviting a librarian or library staff to approach him. The librarian hands the student a laptop/tablet and they get to work on the topic. When finished, the patron takes the laptop/tablet with him, after the librarian uses a wireless device to check it out. And/Or if the question is more involved or if the patron doesn’t want to sit on couch, they can move over to one of the stand-and-help stations around the periphery. A patron could then dock the laptop and use a larger screen. Or the pair could move over to a small table and spread out materials. Additionally, there are some group help stations and a small workshop / instruction space.

We might include writing and math tutors, as well as a multimedia designer in the rotation to assist patrons. This would expand our portfolio beyond just “help with library materials” and embed a more holistic identity to our assistance services. We can help with all your assignments– not just with finding books & journal articles. Over and over again my research findings suggest that undergraduates typically associate librarians with finding and managing books in the building– this type of setting could change that perspective by presenting librarians as more than book-people.

Apple Store Style
I found the Gale booth aesthetics to be very Apple-esque (open and dynamic like this) and immediately thought that this might be a comfortable and personalized way to deliver reference services. This would move us away from the bank teller desk approach that we use now and make it more casual and inviting, like getting help in your living room.

While there is debate about the future of the reference desk, I think the bigger question is: what is the best environment to provide a personalized assistance experience?

If I were to rebuild the reference desk from scratch today, this is the direction I’d be leaning. Some in our profession might argue that we don’t need librarians on the desk anymore—and I’d agree—I say get rid of the desk and replace it with a more dynamic and modern (and comfortable) research service center.

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