≡ Menu
David Lee King

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Rocks!



Carnegie Library of PittsburghJust a small update to my post Ask-a-Librarian Services Need a Reboot. There’s been an interesting discussion taking place in the comments to that post, ranging everywhere from telling me I’m “out of touch,” to lots of really cool discussions, to this – one library that I pulled some quotes from actually improved the wording on their Ask a Librarian email page.

I quoted specific wording from 8 public libraries (again, not trying to pick on them – there are many similarly-worded services out there). One of them was the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

One of the commenters, Richard, who indicated he works at “one of the offending libraries” made some very good points (as have others – thanks to everyone who contributed so far!). Today, he posted a comment saying “At least no one can say we’re recalcitrant blockheads. Semantics noted and changed” and provided a link back to Carnegie’s Ask A Librarian page. Go take a look. They have updated (and in my opinion, greatly improved) the wording.

What originally said “Every reasonable attempt will be made by library staff to respond to reference questions within 48 hours … E-mail Reference Questions should be limited to those that have concise, factual answers … Individuals are limited to three Electronic Mail Reference Questions each week” now reads much more digital-native friendly. Some snippets:

  • If you prefer using e-mail to communicate with us, we’ll be happy to respond to your requests
  • questions are usually answered in the order they’re received

All the stuff about a potential 48 hour turn-around-time, limiting the types of questions, and especially the limit of 3 questions a week is gone.

And – if you want to get a bit more of the back story on this change, check out this post from the Library Alchemy blog (great blog, by the way).

So – cudos to Pittsburgh!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Pingback: Ask-a-Librarian Services Need a Reboot | David Lee King

  • Librarian

    Digital reference does not lend itself to in-depth research. Like telephone reference this service is intended for quick, ready-reference types of questions. In depth research questions require time and the involvement of the customer. In these instances we are perfectly justified in asking the customer to come in to do the research. Do you honestly believe people can do things like legal research, patent/trademark searching, etc. through digital reference?

  • davidleeking

    Librarian – interesting thoughts… here’s my response:

    “Like telephone reference this service is intended for quick, ready-reference types of questions”

    Why? Intended by who? Not your customers.

    “In depth research questions require time and the involvement of the customer”

    Yep – agreed. I’m spending “time” with you right now, and you have my full attention. Digitally. The format of the interaction has nothing to do with it.

    “In these instances we are perfectly justified in asking the customer to come in to do the research”

    No you’re really not. You are forcing the customer to do it “your way” rather than their way.

    “Do you honestly believe people can do things like legal research, patent/trademark searching, etc. through digital reference?”

    Yes. I did just those things in the 90’s when I was a reference librarian. If it could be done TEN YEARS AGO, it can certainly be done now.

  • davidleeking

    Librarian – interesting thoughts… here’s my response:

    “Like telephone reference this service is intended for quick, ready-reference types of questions”

    Why? Intended by who? Not your customers.

    “In depth research questions require time and the involvement of the customer”

    Yep – agreed. I’m spending “time” with you right now, and you have my full attention. Digitally. The format of the interaction has nothing to do with it.

    “In these instances we are perfectly justified in asking the customer to come in to do the research”

    No you’re really not. You are forcing the customer to do it “your way” rather than their way.

    “Do you honestly believe people can do things like legal research, patent/trademark searching, etc. through digital reference?”

    Yes. I did just those things in the 90’s when I was a reference librarian. If it could be done TEN YEARS AGO, it can certainly be done now.

  • http://www.carnegielibrary.org/locations/reference/ Richard

    We don’t need to make the assumption that all digital reference is real-time. Quite a few of our digital users are quite content to post a question requiring more than ready-reference level work, and have us respond to them. That aspect is no different than the person who drops an e-mail question or leaves a question on the optimail (Verizon) system.

    The emerging or transitioning reality is, telephone reference is a diminishing service (at least in Pgh.) I will note that is NOT the case for Ready Reference and library account questions. In our library that service is handled by a seperate unit with backup from the Reference staff. On the other hand VR questions and referred VR questions (sort of like e-mail) increase each month. Whether it’s the medium or the questions (I think it’s 70% the latter) these are involved questions that comprise web based answers, bibliographic information, article citations and referrals to organizations or agencies.

    Psychologically it is a difficult transition (I detest using the term Paradigm Shift,) maybe as hard as the shift to using the telephone was 70 or 80 years ago. One of the hardest points to get over is the scheduling. Not because we need to add another person, but because they don’t need to be chained to a particular place. That’s a difficult adjustment; it’s not wholly tangible or comfortable for many people, but it is more efficient than waiting for a user to come to the desk. It coukld even entail that holy of unholies – telecommuting.

    To me the interesting question going forward is going to be from administrators and politicos who want to know or ensure that our digital reference time is being spent on “our” users, meaning the local funding base. Many labor under the impression that the first W in WWW can be localized.

  • http://www.carnegielibrary.org/locations/reference/ Richard

    We don’t need to make the assumption that all digital reference is real-time. Quite a few of our digital users are quite content to post a question requiring more than ready-reference level work, and have us respond to them. That aspect is no different than the person who drops an e-mail question or leaves a question on the optimail (Verizon) system.

    The emerging or transitioning reality is, telephone reference is a diminishing service (at least in Pgh.) I will note that is NOT the case for Ready Reference and library account questions. In our library that service is handled by a seperate unit with backup from the Reference staff. On the other hand VR questions and referred VR questions (sort of like e-mail) increase each month. Whether it’s the medium or the questions (I think it’s 70% the latter) these are involved questions that comprise web based answers, bibliographic information, article citations and referrals to organizations or agencies.

    Psychologically it is a difficult transition (I detest using the term Paradigm Shift,) maybe as hard as the shift to using the telephone was 70 or 80 years ago. One of the hardest points to get over is the scheduling. Not because we need to add another person, but because they don’t need to be chained to a particular place. That’s a difficult adjustment; it’s not wholly tangible or comfortable for many people, but it is more efficient than waiting for a user to come to the desk. It coukld even entail that holy of unholies – telecommuting.

    To me the interesting question going forward is going to be from administrators and politicos who want to know or ensure that our digital reference time is being spent on “our” users, meaning the local funding base. Many labor under the impression that the first W in WWW can be localized.

  • Pingback: Are libraries going away, part 384.5 « not so quiet

  • Pingback: Service is service, online or off « Attempting Elegance

  • Meg

    From a public librarian:

    I think part of the problem also depends what the customer is asking for and how much of the librarian’s time it takes. If someone comes to the reference desk and asks for help doing genealogy research, for example (because we get that fairly often), I can show them how to do it and check in on them. I don’t do it for them. I can help multiple people at once this way.

    If they e-mail me the question, oftentimes they actually want me to specifically do the research for them. If the information they want is available in digital form that they can access, great. I can type up instructions telling them how to access it and research that way. If it is not, though, it’s not very realistic for me to search a variety of print resources, scan the multiple pages of the results as pdfs, save them, and e-mail them back to the patron. I’ll do this for one, maybe two instances. More than that is too time consuming and negatively impacts my ability to serve other patrons. I can tell them what resources we have available and where I found some information, but I simply can’t spend 30 minutes to an hour on a single patron. That’s shifting their research burden completely to me.

    Maybe some of this also depends a bit on what type of library you are? Are there and should there be different expectations for public libraries than academic libraries or law libraries or medical libraries or special libraries? I certainly don’t expect small public libraries to have the same resources as a university library. Something to think about.

    Obviously, in a perfect world, every library could just do the research for the patron, but that’s not reasonable in many libraries. If only there were some sort of free clearinghouse we could direct people to…

  • Meg

    From a public librarian:

    I think part of the problem also depends what the customer is asking for and how much of the librarian’s time it takes. If someone comes to the reference desk and asks for help doing genealogy research, for example (because we get that fairly often), I can show them how to do it and check in on them. I don’t do it for them. I can help multiple people at once this way.

    If they e-mail me the question, oftentimes they actually want me to specifically do the research for them. If the information they want is available in digital form that they can access, great. I can type up instructions telling them how to access it and research that way. If it is not, though, it’s not very realistic for me to search a variety of print resources, scan the multiple pages of the results as pdfs, save them, and e-mail them back to the patron. I’ll do this for one, maybe two instances. More than that is too time consuming and negatively impacts my ability to serve other patrons. I can tell them what resources we have available and where I found some information, but I simply can’t spend 30 minutes to an hour on a single patron. That’s shifting their research burden completely to me.

    Maybe some of this also depends a bit on what type of library you are? Are there and should there be different expectations for public libraries than academic libraries or law libraries or medical libraries or special libraries? I certainly don’t expect small public libraries to have the same resources as a university library. Something to think about.

    Obviously, in a perfect world, every library could just do the research for the patron, but that’s not reasonable in many libraries. If only there were some sort of free clearinghouse we could direct people to…

  • Meg

    Fascinating. It’s pulling my WoW character’s photo up as an avatar and I’m boggled by the association. I hate you, Internet Explorer! This will teach me to read library blogs from work. >.>

  • Meg

    Fascinating. It’s pulling my WoW character’s photo up as an avatar and I’m boggled by the association. I hate you, Internet Explorer! This will teach me to read library blogs from work. >.>

  • davidleeking

    Meg – yep… I don’t remember what services it looks at, but the comments icon is pulling from some web service thing, I think, to find an avatar/icon/photo. I should look into that a bit more…

  • davidleeking

    Meg – yep… I don’t remember what services it looks at, but the comments icon is pulling from some web service thing, I think, to find an avatar/icon/photo. I should look into that a bit more…

  • Meg

    Well, so long as you aren’t bothered by receiving comments from a gnome, I’ll just ignore it for now.

  • Meg

    Well, so long as you aren’t bothered by receiving comments from a gnome, I’ll just ignore it for now.

  • Marian

    I can understand the concerns with serving the local populace, as it is a common concern, though unfounded since these systems are either nation or state-wide. The thing is that the customer thinks it’s their local library and we very often get questions about policies, procedures, fines, holds, renewals, shelf-checks – not the high-minded purpose some would ascribe.
    Also, in these tough economic times many libraries are cutting budgets and staff and simply don’t have the staff to devote to doing this.

  • Marian

    I can understand the concerns with serving the local populace, as it is a common concern, though unfounded since these systems are either nation or state-wide. The thing is that the customer thinks it’s their local library and we very often get questions about policies, procedures, fines, holds, renewals, shelf-checks – not the high-minded purpose some would ascribe.
    Also, in these tough economic times many libraries are cutting budgets and staff and simply don’t have the staff to devote to doing this.

  • davidleeking

    Marian – yes, some libraries use the 24/7 subscription service, which would be that state-wide thing you mentioned. But most libraries don’t – they simply offer email and/or IM reference service on their own.

    “cutting budgets … simply don’t have the staff” – email and IM are free, and I know extremely small libraries that are doing a great job with these types of services, so I’m not sure that’s really the issue. I think it’s more of a mindest change than anything, unfortunately (unfortunate, because that can be difficult to change).

  • davidleeking

    Marian – yes, some libraries use the 24/7 subscription service, which would be that state-wide thing you mentioned. But most libraries don’t – they simply offer email and/or IM reference service on their own.

    “cutting budgets … simply don’t have the staff” – email and IM are free, and I know extremely small libraries that are doing a great job with these types of services, so I’m not sure that’s really the issue. I think it’s more of a mindest change than anything, unfortunately (unfortunate, because that can be difficult to change).

  • jenjen

    Heh… can’t wait to see what random avatar I will get….
    Not to harp on the fine people from Pittsburgh here… the new wording is definitely friendlier. But if the turnaround is really the same, is less news automatically better news? It reminds me of a local shuttle bus system that responded to criticism of infrequent buses by removing the schedules. It seems like there should be a middle ground for people who DO care to know the details. That’s the great thing about the web – you could have a link like “read all the picky details” and satisfy the general user and the library administrator who want a friendly message as well as the picky. And the latter of course includes the reference librarians!

  • jenjen

    Heh… can’t wait to see what random avatar I will get….
    Not to harp on the fine people from Pittsburgh here… the new wording is definitely friendlier. But if the turnaround is really the same, is less news automatically better news? It reminds me of a local shuttle bus system that responded to criticism of infrequent buses by removing the schedules. It seems like there should be a middle ground for people who DO care to know the details. That’s the great thing about the web – you could have a link like “read all the picky details” and satisfy the general user and the library administrator who want a friendly message as well as the picky. And the latter of course includes the reference librarians!

  • Pingback: We’ll Answer Within Two Business Days | David Lee King

  • Librarian

    Digital reference does not lend itself to in-depth research. Like telephone reference this service is intended for quick, ready-reference types of questions. In depth research questions require time and the involvement of the customer. In these instances we are perfectly justified in asking the customer to come in to do the research. Do you honestly believe people can do things like legal research, patent/trademark searching, etc. through digital reference?