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.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Extended Shadowing Programme: Session Fourteen - Observing the Enquiry Desk

This afternoon, I spent the last session of my shadowing programme observing the part time Assistant Customer Services Librarian at the Enquiry Desk. Although she normally works on Saturdays and Thursday mornings, the librarian has been doing some additional hours to cover the rota as, following the restructure, the FLLs are no longer required to work at the desk. One of the first things she therefore commented on was how much busier it was at the desk during the week compared to Saturdays.

Having said that, this particular slot was very quiet! However, this is probably because Wednesday afternoons are traditionally set aside for sporting activities. We therefore took the opportunity to go through some past enquiries that the librarian had kindly noted down in preparation for this session. Many of these were recurrent enquiries, such as not being able to find a particular item, wanting to know how to place a reservation, etc. However, I was surprised by how wide-ranging some of the more subject specific queries were, from Florence Nightingale to viruses.

This served as a reminder that as a librarian you never know exactly what you are going to be asked and need to be able to think on your feet. The librarian also emphasised the importance of asking subsidary questions to clarify exactly what is required as sometimes people do not ask for what they actually want. Sometimes this is because they need information regarding a particularly sensitive issue. She therefore recommended restricting questions to the subject of the enquiry rather than to the particular circumstances surrounding it.

The librarian also described one or two ocassions where the the reader has either expected her to do the research for them or has not known where to start. In these situations she suggested using the equiry as a means of educating and enabling the reader to help themselves. For instance, she asked the person interested in Florence Nightingale what exactly she wanted to find out but the reader could not be specific. Although she was thinking of writing her dissertation about Florence Nightingale she had not identified a particular focus for her research. The librarian therefore showed her how to conduct a quick search using the digital library to get a feel for some of the key texts, authors and themes to give her some research ideas.

In order to reassure the reader that support is always available, the librarian reminded her that, after conducting some initial research herself, she could make an appointment with the Subject Librarian to get further help. The librarian also pointed out the importance of knowing when you have done all you personally can to answer an enquiry and when to refer it onto someone who is better placed to assist.

As with all the sessions I spent observing the desk, I once again picked up a number of practical tips for dealing with enquiries. During this particular slot, however, I became more aware of the need to treat each enquiry with a certain degree of sensitivity and to leave each reader feeling more confident in their ability to find the information they need. I was also reminded of the importance of reassuring our readers that further help is available and of knowing when to refer the enquiry on.

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