On-Site Reference Services and Outreach: Setting Up Shop Where Our Patrons Live
Wagner, A. Ben
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Electronic, full-text resources and on-line forms have become ever more established in most organizations. As a result, foot traffic in libraries has significantly decreased leading to fewer opportunities for personal contact between librarians and patrons. Innovative outreach efforts are required to counter this trend. In the past two years, some University at Buffalo librarians have set up office hours in the departments they serve to provide on-site reference and consultation services. The author targeted the physics department for outreach with two sets of office hours per week. Feedback, especially from faculty who felt isolated from the centralized Science and Engineering Library, has been excellent. This effort has also produced unexpected benefits, such as outreach to students in other majors taking courses in the department being served. Based on our experiences of the past two years, the various costs, benefits, and pitfalls of setting up on-site will be discussed. A high traffic location in the department is essential because there is no point trading one low traffic area in the library for another in the academic department. Efforts at other institutions will be reviewed, though literature on this topic is sparse. Additional outreach efforts to establish direct librarian-patron interaction will be discussed. Targeted email communications based on faculty research interests have led to other opportunities to promote library resources and services. Visibility at departmental activities such as seminars and social events is invaluable. Taking advantages of any small opportunity such as installing software in a faculty office or responding to a casual request or contact is important. The key to successful outreach is attitude, commitment, and consistency. In sum, the experience at our university has shown that there is no substitute for providing a physical presence. We believe this approach can be applied in most academic settings and beyond to other types of libraries.