The complexity of a library can be daunting to researchers struggling with their information searches. Fortunately, novice and veteran researchers in any discipline can look to the University Library’s Information Services Desk (ISD) for sound advice.
Coordinator of Information Services Judy Vogt says the librarians and library staff who work at the ISD typically answer between 1,500 and 2,000 questions per month during the spring and fall semesters. If individuals cannot access the ISD on level 10 of the University Library, they can ask their questions over the phone or online.
“We provide professional reference services to users, regardless of whether they are in the Library or off campus. Students at the Edmonton and Calgary campuses have a direct telephone line to the ISD,” says Vogt.
The majority of the questions come from students, who receive much more than a one-word answer from the 15 librarians and library staff who work on shifts at the ISD.
“We help students find the information they need and teach them how to find that information so they become more self-reliant as researchers,” says Vogt. “Helping students with a specific question is a very effective way to teach information literacy.”
The first response to any question is to clearly identify the information need by conducting a reference interview.
“The reference interview is basically a series of questions that help determine what researchers are really looking for. Since the ISD staff and librarians know how information is produced, disseminated and organized differently in the various disciplines, we can show students how to locate information through topic appropriate discovery tools like journal article databases,” says Vogt.
The personalized assistance is adapted as necessary to meet the needs of undergraduate and graduate students, research assistants, faculty, staff and community members. “If we cannot help someone adequately at the ISD, we will refer them to the appropriate subject librarian for a one-on-one session,” says Vogt.
The ISD librarians and staff meet monthly to discuss reference issues. The questions and feedback from users inform decisions about how to make it easier to access information at the Library. Instant messaging access to the ISD is one of the ideas under consideration.
The same technology that facilitates new methods of communication is increasing the number of information resources. The University Library has more than 150 online databases, and many of the traditional reference sources are available electronically.
“The volume of information is making research increasingly complex. The assistance available at the ISD can help researchers to use the discovery tools even more effectively than they already are,” says Vogt.
Vogt says interacting with students is one of the most rewarding aspects of working at the ISD.
“It’s really gratifying to watch a student who you have helped for four years walk up the hill to Convocation, knowing they have become a self-reliant researcher with the skills to use in lifelong learning,” says Vogt.
To learn more about the Library’s service desks, click on the “Ask Us” feature at www.uleth.ca/lib.
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