Example Of Essay On Library Reference Services
With the dawn the digital age, individuals have a variety of mediums through which they can access information. The increased speed of data access, especially through the internet, has greatly diminished the importance of libraries in this information age. The irrelevance of physical libraries has been exacerbated by poor customer services rendered by librarians to patrons. In addition, there exist deeply-rooted stereotypes about librarians and libraries, in general, which undermine the role that they play in advancing literacy and knowledge. These stereotypes stem from misconceptions of lowly motivated staff, outdated materials, and lack of diversity. Several studies conducted over the years emphasize the importance of librarians’ approachability in determining whether patrons ask for reference services or not. Kwon and Gregory (2006) define approachability as “behaviors that ensure easy access to the reference staff by lowering barriers to personal assistance” (p. 138). Evidence suggest that a sweet personality, coupled with professional experience is the key determinant of approachability. A friendly personality makes users feel more comfortable using library resources, thus making repeat visits. Repeat visits and positive word-of-mouth marketing by satisfied users serve as tools for free publicity that builds the library’s image and goodwill. Furthermore, the higher the number of visits, the greater the degree of users’ reliance on referencing services. This tendency will introduce the much-needed professionalism to the librarian profession, thus improving the quality of services. The personal attributes of library staff also determine whether libraries will fizzle out of existence or become entrenched in the society.
The approachability of librarians affects both the quality of services they render to users and the patron’s decisions to use the reference services in the future. Several studies argue that the users’ first impression of library staff determines the course of the interaction between them (Fiske, Lin & Neuberg, 1999, p. 335). If the first impression is favorable, the interaction will be friendly and efficient in assisting users obtain the information they seek. On the contrary, an unfavorable first impression creates defensiveness and an antagonistic communication between the staff members and users. This communication barrier may prevent users from obtaining information and show reluctance to seek reference assistance from other library settings in the future. There are several factors that determine the approachability of librarians. These factors can be demographic, behavioral, cognitive and emotional states of the library staff at the time of interaction with a user or patron. Past research identifies factors ranging from a librarian’s verbal and non-verbal cues, gender and physical placement of the reference desk to their physical appearance and proximity to users. Non-verbal cues that promote approachability include eye contact, open posture, and cheerfulness. Direct eye contact signifies interest, invitation and openness thus encourage patrons to approach such librarians for assistance. Additionally, the proximity of the reference desk to the users is likely to promote the use of reference services. In this regard, small libraries have an advantage over big ones because the former’s reference desk appears nearer to the users’ sitting locations. Conversely, large libraries, especially storied ones, may hinder the use of reference services since patrons may see the physical distance between them and the reference desks as being too long and tiresome.
Among the behavioral factors that affect approachability, facial expression is the most studied behavior. Previous research indicates that a cheerful demeanor and a smiling facial expression increase approachability (Porter, Coltheart & Langdon, 2007; Oosterhof & Todorov, 2008 as cited in Bonnet & McAlexander, 2013). Users associate such behaviors with a positive attitude, overall wellbeing, trustworthiness, and affiliation. These attributes result in positive impacts on reference services such as a positive overall assessment of both the quality of service and the service provider by the patrons. Other beneficial outcomes include increased use of reference services, increased passion for knowledge among users and a positive emotional contagion during the interaction. Pugh describes emotional contagion as the service provider’s psychological effect on the user (Bonnet & McAlexander, 2013, p. 336). Through the interaction, the user absorbs the librarian’s cheerfulness and enthusiasm. It is in the light of these findings that users prefer female librarians to males because the former gender are known to smile more often than the latter (Kazlauskas, 1976 as cited in LaCrone, 2004). The findings, if taken out of context, may mislead policymakers in the library setting to favor one gender over the other, resulting in discriminatory employment practices. Such practices tend to make policy decisions counterproductive because the users’ gender preferences are varied, hence creating difficulties in satisfying their needs.
A study conducted by Potter in 2007 to investigate the factors affecting approachability in an academic library concluded that the clothing worn by librarians influenced users’ perceptions of a librarian (Bonnet & McAlexander, 2001, p. 336). The form of clothing worn by library staff affect users’ perceptions regarding the former’s social ability, talent, experience, and sincerity. Furthermore, the study revealed that users perceived librarians who wore nametags as being more approachable than those who did not. The impacts of clothing showed more complex variations with gender and age. For instance, male staff who wore formal clothing were perceived to be more approachable than females wearing formal clothing. Such studies attest to the important role that salient behaviors of library staff play in determining their approachability. The importance of recognizing such behaviors is the key to improving the quality of reference services. However, these findings may not merit policy changes because they pose unethical dilemmas that may undermine staff motivation. For example, introducing policies that mandate employees to wear certain types of clothing based on their age or gender contravenes employment practices of equality. Nametags, on the other hand, make librarians appear credible and knowledgeable. These perceived qualities build users’ confidence in the staff’s ability to assist them with their research.
The approachability of librarians also depends on the race. One study on academic students found that students respond more to library staff with which their share race or ethnicity. According to the study, Asian American participants were more likely to rank librarians of like decent or other non-white librarians as more approachable than white librarians (Pho & Masland 2014, p. 262). More often, people tend to approach, make friends with or strike up conversations individuals of similar ethnicity or race. This tendency is rooted in the belief that this commonality will make the librarian more predisposed towards helping the user. This finding implies that people from minority or underrepresented racial backgrounds feel more comfortable seeking reference service from their kind. Racial or ethnic similarity creates a rapport between users and librarians, making the communication experience beneficial to both participants. It is essential to note that a librarian’s ethnic or racial affiliation determines the quality of services they render to users. For instance, a white librarian may show disinterest or contempt for an African American user based on the past antagonistic relationship between the two races. On the other hand, white patrons may be reluctant to approach black staff members because of their perceived superiority over the latter. Such encounters result in fewer meaningful interactions that render reference services ineffective.
Librarian stereotypes that exist among patrons, and the population as a whole, is a crucial deterrent to the use of reference services. The negative connotation attached to librarians by modern media hinder meaningful interaction between users and librarians. For instance, librarians are often portrayed as mostly females, who are stern, unmarried and introverted (Pho & Masland, 2014, p. 263). These images become ingrained in the patrons’ mind, making them have expectations regarding the setting, mannerisms and behaviors of librarians. Furthermore, these mental images instill fear in patrons, especially those with limited knowledge of how the library operates. Such fear and anxiety determine whether one may visit a library or not. Stereotypes are harmful because they rob librarians of the ability to create their identities. Any efforts to deconstruct such misconceptions are usually complicated because different users accord different importance to the demeanor of librarians (Andaleeb & Simmonds, 1998, p. 164). This difficulty imposes an unrealistic demand on staff members to tune their behavior to different personalities visiting the library; this can be a daunting task to surmount. Other studies indicate that the users’ misconceptions may negatively affect how they perceive librarians hence become reluctant to ask for reference services. For instance, many users view librarians as being overworked and thus become confused as to who to ask for help. This confusion stems from the fear of interrupting a busy librarian, possibly resulting in an impolite, resentful or any response (Kuhlthau, 2003 as cited in LaCrone, 2004). Such fears may worsen due to users’ uncertain and unfocused information needs that may make them appear unintelligent in front of others. Stereotypes are harmful to the continuity of library services by portraying library staff as less friendly, less motivated and too preoccupied with their duties to be disturbed. As a result, the demand for reference services diminish.
The future of reference services largely depends on the helpfulness of librarians towards patrons. One study found that librarians were critical in creating awareness regarding new strategies and resources for locating information in both print sources and electronic databases (Jacoby & O'Brien, 2005). Many users are normally at a loss when searching for information through library catalogs. As such, they lack the confidence to approach librarians lest they display their ignorance and embarrass themselves. This self-consciousness would ultimately impact negatively on the role of reference services. Many studies suggest that after a friendly interaction with staff, patrons gain more independence and confidence in browsing through library resources. Hence, there is always something new to be learned by patrons from librarians such as new approaches to locating information, new books, services, facilities, and resources. When users become independent information seekers, they can navigate the growing complexity in the information world, thus become life-long learners. Furthermore, satisfied users are more likely to speak highly of the library’s services and personnel to their friends, thus contribute to building the library’s reputation through informal referral networks.
Finally, the approachability of library staff extends to virtual library services offered through online chat facilities. The digital age has created a techno-savvy generation that keeps up with emerging events, both locally and globally, by increasingly relying on web sources. This generational attribute, coupled with the high number of students being enrolled in modern colleges and universities, has revolutionized the way libraries operate. Many institutional libraries have adopted online real-time reference services in a bid to keep up with technological advancements and meet the challenges posed by the population surge of students in institutions of higher learning. One study analyzed chat reference transcripts of 422 participants who took part in a nationwide survey of chat references (Kwon and Gregory, 2006, p. 137). Its findings revealed that participants were more satisfied with the chat service when librarians employed positive behavioral attributes including searching for information for and with users, suggesting viable sources of information, receptivity and cordial listening. Online reference, however, poses the challenges that most indirect communication channels face. Patrons are more inclined to make erroneous judgments regarding the demeanor of librarians by gauging the inflection of the latter’s words or voice. These observations are highly inaccurate as they are filtered through the users’ socialization process and stereotypes. For instance, an online user may interpret a librarian’s insistence on accuracy of information need as being overbearing, rude and perhaps demeaning. Such judgments may discourage users from seeking reference services in the future.
In conclusion, librarians’ approachability has a significant bearing on the quality, usefulness and longevity of reference services. It determines whether users use such services or not. Approachability is a dynamic aspect, affected by numerous factors, which make it a complex concept. These factors include demographic, behavioral and cognitive characteristics of the librarians. Factors that positively impact on the quality of reference services include a direct eye contact and cheerfulness, less formal clothing, and direct communication channels. Even though stereotypes, ethnicity and race have some degree of positivity, their impacts on the quality of reference services received by users are mostly negative. Therefore, the effects of the approachability of library staff on reference services are twofold for each of the factors aforementioned. The consideration of a factor in isolation may lead to erroneous conclusions and implementation of library policies that may violate employment regulations and civil liberties. Policymakers in the library field must, therefore, analyze these factors, both individually and collectively, in order to obtain comprehensive benchmarks for their decisions. In addition, the management of such institutions should motivate librarian by increasing their salaries, offering them incentives, providing training opportunities and encouraging personal, professional development. These inducements will help change the negative perception and stereotypes that users associate with library personnel. Further research into the concept of approachability is needed to facilitate proper decision-making and policy changes in the library environment.
Andaleeb, S. S., & Simmonds, P. L. (1998). Explaining User Satisfaction with Academic Libraries: Strategic Implications. College & Research Libraries, 59(2), 156-167. Retrieved from http://crl.acrl.org/content/59/2/156.full.pdf+html
Bonnet, J. L., & McAlexander, B. (2013). First Impressions and the Reference Encounter: The Influence of Affect and Clothing on Librarian Approachability. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 39, 335-346. Retrieved from http://blogs.ethz.ch/wp-content/blogs.dir/1442/files/2013/11/Bonnet_First-Impression-Reference-Encoutner_2013.pdf
Jacoby, J., & O'Brien, N. P. (2005). Assessing the Impact of Reference Services Provided to Undergraduate Students. College and Research Libraries, 66(4), 324-340. Retrieved from http://crl.acrl.org/content/66/4/324.full.pdf+html
Kwon, N., & Gregory, V. L. (2007). The Effects of Librarians’ Behavioral Performance on User Satisfaction in Chat Reference Services. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 47(2), 137-148. Retrieved from http://rusa.metapress.com/content/x0001g0x7212424u/fulltext.pdf
LaCrone, D. (2004). The Notion of Approachability in Information Mediation. Retrieved from http://d.web.umkc.edu/dlht7/Syn_LaCr.pdf
Pho, A., & Masland, T. (2014). The Revolution will not be stereotyped: Changing Perceptions through Diversity. In The Librarian Stereotypes: Deconstruction Perceptions and Presentations of Information Work (pp. 257-277). Retrieved from http://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1164&context=ulib_fac