Monday, May 14, 2012

One Desk Model, Digital Versus Physical Staff and Patron Search Needs

I was floored when I went in for an interview recently when they asked me what I thought about the "one desk model". I'd never gotten that question in a library interview before.

I realize I spent years as an associate before I became a librarian, and worked in circulation after I became an associate, I know there are plenty of people like me out there who are perfectly capable of handling the job. Managing the transition though, how to go from being a librarian to sharing duties with paraprofessionals...that's difficult. I was thrown into it once, and I had very rusty circulation skills and the circulation staff had no reference training, and I'd describe it as a disaster. The librarians did not have in-depth training on managing patron records because we'd been sending all the questions to circ, and circ had no concept of what a reference interview was or why it was important. No one has talked about if this means having one person on the floor answering all questions, if it means having librarians and circulation staff working together at one place in the library, or if librarians just handle more circ tasks at their desk (ie checking books out for someone if they bring them to the desk) and circ handles more basic reference questions instead of sending them to the librarians. I don't think I've seen a hard and fast example of what people mean when they say "one-desk". I've seen it implemented several ways.

When I think about how the library could restructure to better serve patrons, I've come to a conclusion (for 2012 at least).

We need staff for physical items and we need staff for digital items, and maybe those people should be separate jobs.

Digital staff would help patrons manage their own library accounts, help patrons use the online catalog, help patrons use the internet computers, order digital items, manage the website, blogs and social media accounts, help patrons with e-books etc.

Physical staff would help people find physical items in the library, do research in the reference collection, shelve, catalog, repair items, order physical items, run story times/book clubs, check books in and out etc.

I think this would make people much happier than a generic "one desk" solution. At the core of this issue is the patron, and patrons seem to be interested in either physical or digital resources, but rarely want to hear about both. There are librarians and paraprofessionals who are doing an excellent job working both sides of this skill set now, but I think patrons would understand "the computer person" and "the stuff person" better than "that desk person might be someone who is an expert in managing library records or might be someone who is a research expert".

Think about patrons who come in looking for Consumer Reports...aren't some happy to hear "you can access it at home, here's how" and others who say "no, I'd rather use the magazines"?

This isn't a definite opinion...I'm working on the edges here, but "one desk" seems to put all patrons into the same box of search behaviors with a total disregard for staff expertise. We need to look at systems that serve both the patrons and the re-organization of the library.


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