Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Reference on the Telephone vs Face-to-Face

Today was only my second time at the Reference Desk by myself. I'm glad that I get to start in the summer when fewer students and faculty are around. I get time to study the library's catalog, database access points, university web pages, etc. One patron today asked about using the computers, and I felt good about knowing the answers. She can use certain computers designated for community users after she gets a login code from the Circulation Desk. This same patron came back asking for help in sending off an email, so I walked with her to the computer and found that she had not opened any email application. Initially, this baffled me a bit, but I was able to open another browser tab so she could type in and access her hotmail account. I need to remember that everyone comes with varying computer skills and knowledge. It does make me curious. Did she think that she could email a document straight from the desktop? That's what it appeared to me. Perhaps she thought she could not access her email on our computers or something. She had a jump drive, and the document she wanted to send came from there. I did think to ask if she knew how to send an attachment, and she said she did. Later she passed by the desk and I verified that all worked out well for her.

Two individuals called on the phone to ask questions. Both serve as assistant professors on campus. The first asked about citing a journal article using the APA citation style. I looked to verify that we didn't have it in our databases, and we did not. I told her I would consult with my colleague and call her back. My colleague had me look again in the A-Z list. If we could see how the database cited the information then that might give us clues as to how to suggest she cite it. No such luck. We looked in the APA Manual in section 4.11, which said that if no volume exists then they can cite month, season, and something else. The professor's dilemma was that she did not know how to cite an article wherein the cover indicated it to be the Winter 2004-2004 issue. She needed to know the exact year. My colleague and I believe that the citation should appear just as it is printed on the cover. We found an example to support us, but this was after I had called back the professor. Our web site links out to several citation guides elsewhere that provide many examples.

It's challenging to understand and communicate with individuals over the phone; it's hard to really know what they need. When I called the instructor back, she wanted me to tell her what should be done. When I gave her my opinion she said that was not acceptable. This made me a bit defensive, but I remembered what my colleague had said, that she could call the Writing Center who had more experience helping people with citation questions. Now that I think of it, I think I will email the professor and make her aware of the citation examples on the web that we have. Here's a link to that page of citation links:

The second phone call came just before I was about to close up for the day. He had received a request from someone for a pdf copy of an article he had published 12 years ago. Our library did not have a digital copy of that journal article, so I suggested he try Inter-Library Loan. Hopefully, this will help him gain access to a pdf version.

What are the best ways to help people on the telephone? I still prefer face-to-face interactions. With the first reference transaction described above I felt like I had helped the person. She needed to print the document out, and I was able to use a guest login so she could do that. Her non-verbal cues/smiles indicated that her needs had been met. Telephone interviews can be more tricky, and I have definite room to grow in order to better serve those who call in for help on the phone.

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