Hi, my name is Jo and I'm a newly qualified librarian working in several academic libraries in Cambridge.

I originally created this blog as an electronic learning journal whilst participating in an extended shadowing programme prior to starting the MA in Information Services Management at London Metropolitan University.

The views expressed here are entirely my own.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Extended Shadowing Programme: Session Seven - Observing the Enquiry Desk

This morning I observed the Reader Services Librarian and the Subject Librarian (Arts, Law and Social Sciences) at the Enquiry Desk. I was due to observe the Subject Librarian (Health and Business) but unfortunately she was called away to another meeting.

Online enquiries
The online enquiries are checked by whoever is on duty at the desk at 09:00 and 17:00 each day. Many of the e-mails received relate to fine/account queries, problems with the library facilities or other reader services issues. The Reader Services Librarian therefore tries to check the inbox at quiet intervals throughout the day to pick up any issues before they are referred to her.

One of today's messages was from an oversees student who was trying to access an item that had been included on her reading list. The Library Catalogue and Digital Library were checked to find that it is only available in hard copy. An e-mail was sent to the reader to explain that the enquiry would therefore be referred to the appropriate Subject Librarian as it may be possible to have the relevant sections digitised and made available electronically. Although the Subject Team request copies of reading lists from the course tutors to allow them to check them and ensure that the appropriate resources are readily available, not all of them do so. Unfortunately, this frequently results in students coming to the Enquiry Desk for help to find items, either because we don't have them in stock or because the details on the reading lists are inaccurate.

Hands-on experience
During the slot with the Subject Librarian (ALSS) a reader came to the Desk as she was having some problems submitting an inter-library loan request using the OPAC. As a member of the inter-library loans team this presented an ideal opportunity to gain more hands-on experience at the Desk. The reader had received an error message to say that she was over her inter-library loan limit. There is currently no limit to the number of requests a student can submit and I was able to explain that in the past this message has been prompted because the need by date has been entered in the wrong format, i.e. DD/MM/YY instead of DD/MM/YYYY. As the student couldn't remember which format she used I took her through the whole process of submitting a request step by step to ensure that she hadn't input any other details incorrectly. It gave me a real sense of satisfaction to be able to resolve the reader's query and to hopefully leave her more confident in her ability to use the library.

User education and best practice
Like all the librarians I have observed to date, the Subject Librarian (ALSS) uses every available opportunity to educate our readers so that they can use the library independently. For instance, if a student says that they can't find a book she asks them for the shelf location to ascertain whether or not they have checked the Library Catalogue. If they haven't she will take them to the OPAC and tell them how to search the catalogue but will ask them to do the searching themselves. She then takes them over to the shelves, points out the shelf-end labels and helps them to find the item they are looking for. If the reader has already searched the catalogue for a book and has searched the shelf themselves, the Subject Librarian (ALSS) will check the full catalogue record to see how many pages it has. This gives an indication as to how big the book is likely to be. If it is a very slim volume, she therefore knows to check that it isn't hidden between two larger books or hasn't been pushed to the back of the shelf.

At all my sessions at the Enquiry Desk it has been extremely useful to pick up best practice tips such as these. During the remaining observation sessions I hope to pick up others that will help in my future career and to gain more hands-on experience.

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