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CNIE - Beyond the Library's Walls: Roving Reference

Roving Reference

In the summer of 2011, TRU opened a new building - the Brown Family House of Learning.  The new building is a multifunctional space which now houses not just a branch library, but also:

- 1st floor: Aboriginal Education Centre, Tim Horton's Coffee, and an Information Commons (the Library Reference Desk and Information Technology Services)

- 2nd floor: Centre for Student Engagement and Learning Innovation and the Faculty of Adventure, Culinary Arts and Tourism.

- 3rd floor: Library

- 4th floor: Department of Mathematics and Statistics and the Department of Computing Science.

Reference staff were getting reference questions on the 1st floor in our "information commons", but those questions were overshadowed by the surge in IT related questions when the IT desk was unstaffed. Further, library clerks on the 3rd floor were asking reference staff to come up 2 floors to help students who needed assistance searching and working in the collection.

Staff grew increasingly dissatisfied with how we were delivering reference services.  Reluctant to abandon our "information commons" so soon after moving into the building, in Spring of 2012 we decided on doing a pilot to see if "roving reference" might be the solution to assisting students more effectively.

Reference staff were instructed to “rove” within the House of Learning using laptops or ipads.  The staff could move around the different floors of the House of Learning, station themselves among the students in the student study areas, sit with circulation staff on the third floor, or some combination of thereof. Reference staff were encourage to explore the space and service and find a means that worked best.

 The library decided to drop this intiative because:

  • Students in the commons areas appear to be studying and not actively engaged in research.  The general seating area and collections area were not spaces for active research.
  • Students expressed confusion as to where to seek out research help.
  • Reference staff expressed significant discomfort with approaching students and offering assistance, unless that student was visibly needing assistance.
  • Roving did not generate additional reference questions.
  • Reference staff expressed a strong and unanimous preference that the reference/information desk be located on the third floor - nearby to help students seeking help, but not invading study space.
  • Reference staff had a wide range of comfort with technology - some refused to learn how to use an ipad while others preferred to use their personal mobile devices.

Postscript: The reference desk was moved from the 1st floor to the 3rd floor in January 2014.