Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.


Get Out From Behind the Reference Desk

Get Out From Behind the Reference Desk

Presented by Maxine Bleiweis, Westport Public Library, Westport, CT (http://www.westportlibrary.org)

Is the public service desk a barrier to good service?
In many ways, Maxine believes yes.

One of the most surprising and eye-opening aspects of Maxine's presentation was that she doesn't just mean to get out from behind the reference desk within your library and walk around within your own walls.

She means to get out from behind the desk in a BIG WAY! Get out of your building even! Get out there and promote the library!

This idea of physically going outside of the library was unexpected for me and really gave me a lot to think about.

Basic Prinicple #1
In order to be relevant and compete, librarians from all types of libraries have to become proactive!

Basic Principle #2
Unless we come out from behind the desk, we will die a slow death!!

So, coming out from behind the desk means coming out in more than just a physical way!

The presentation offered THREE WAYS TO EMERGE:

  1. Create work schedules other than around service desks! (people not desks)
  2. Be present in the community
  3. Partner with others

The edge we have is that we know local things - local people, places and things.
And, we can personalize things for our users.

Getting out from behind the desk within the library

We may need to change our terminology.

We should be willing to walk the floors, be a shelver, and we should be armed with confidence, tools, and give-aways on the floor!

In order to "get out from behind the desk" within your library, you will need:

  • An open face (smile!)
  • Willingness to walk and stand (be where people are and are comfortable being)
  • Confidence to do it (and permission from those in charge, i.e., schedules)
  • Something to do when it is not busy, or you are not helping someone (i.e., a way to account for your time - can be shelving, weeding a small section, merchandizing, etc.)
  • Log what hapened while you were out there when you get back

The department store model was suggested. Shoppers do not think they are "bothering" or "interupting" the employees there - that is their job and they know their merchandize and want to see you (the shopper) coming - they smile!

Within the library we can be like a concierge and bring people to the desk rather than wait there for them.

We may have to change our interior space.

Getting out from behind the desk outside of the library

  • Survey the possibilities - use people's talents and seperate them out
  • March in parades!
  • Attend meetings of other organizations
  • Work with other groups
  • Just be present (infiltrate!)

Who Would Welcome Me?

  • Human Services Dept
  • Arts Center
  • Historical Society
  • Health Dept
  • Travel Agents
  • Real Estate Agents
  • Economic Development Agencies
  • The Business Community

Within the Business Community there are:

  • Home Businesses
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Those planning for retirement
  • Small Businesses
  • Stores in your community
  • Anyone juggling a busy life at work and at home!

Also suggested: Get out an walk the community. Become a mini-chamber-of-commerce.

Visit the local stores, government offices, and business offices in your area, introduce yourself and give out your business card.

Market and Partner

  • Identify succesful organizations who could use your assistance
  • Become indispensible to them and let them spread the word!

Possible Results:

  • Better work situation
  • Higher profile
  • Possibly more funding!

Of course, there are challenges:

  • Freeing up staff
  • Some people not comfortable with it/good at it (Directors, take the lead!)
  • Changing paradigms to self-service (moving toward automation while personalizing service)

But, if we don't:

  • People will remain underserved
  • They will go to others (pages, shelvers, maitenance, security! - the ones on the floor)
  • They will go to bookstores, Internet, etc.
  • Our services will be under-utilized and we put good money into them!

I thought the presentation was informative and inspiring!

I'm ready to get out from behind my desk for sure!


  • At 9:55 AM, Blogger Christine Borne said…

    "Shoppers do not think they are "bothering" or "interupting" the employees there..."

    No, but they do resent being "bothered" *by* the floorwalking salespeople.

    I also am uncomfortable with the idea of librarians shelving books, because not only does this add to the public's image of everyone who works in a library being a librarian (including shelvers), it also deprofessionalizes librarianship to the point where when an unknowing "civilian" asks us, "you need a masters' degree to shelve books?" we have to say, "uhh, yeah, I guess I do."

    That said, I'm working in brand new building which patrons aren't used to, and for the moment, they seem to love to see me wandering around wearing a name badge and smiling, because they don't know where anything is!

  • At 11:19 AM, Blogger Sophie Brookover said…

    I don't shelve so much as shelf-read, which is a constant game of catch-up for me. I find that being in the stacks makes me much more approachable to patrons -- I rarely get the "I'm sorry to bug you..." prelude to a query for help.

    It's also good to be out there & approachable for those patrons who really are flummoxed but too shy or worried about being "bothersome" -- they're often very relieved when I offer some assistance.

    I find I'm most successful when I say things like, "May I help you find something?" or "Are you looking for anything in particular?" or "You look a little lost -- can I help?" I try not to say "Can I help you?", particularly not to teens, for whom that question usually translates as "Get out of my department, you pesky kids!"

    As you're seeting at the new branch, there's a middle ground to be found between the deprofessionalization of shelving and the austere unapproachability of being Behind The Desk.

  • At 5:12 PM, Blogger Christine Borne said…

    See, as a customer myself I prefer there to be an actual service point where I *know* I'll find staff rather than sort of wander around getting annoyed thinking, where on *earth* is someone with a name tag?

    That said, Sophie knows what a contrarian I am, so I'd better stop before I sound like a complete belly-acher. Truth be told, I actually prefer being out wandering the floor, especially when the library is very busy. Think about it this way: there's nothing more frustrating than being behind a desk with 50 people lining up behind you and the phones ringing. Being out on the floor actually gives you more power, in a way, and the fact that there's no one lining up at the desk (because there's no desk) makes the customer/patron (sorry Sophie, they're starting to brainwash me here at OCL) feel like they're getting more personal attention, that they're not taking away from someone else's request.

    I will say, though, that I've wandered around KMart looking for that elusive "sales associate" enough times to stand by my position on this issue: let's not GET RID of the reference desk as much as augment it with floorwalking services.

  • At 4:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    *Some* customer might resent being bothered by the salespeople. But don't that the salespeople that can offer assistance, without being pushy or annoying, end up selling more product?

    HELLO Nordstrom Way!

    The beauty of many conference presentations, or any professional development workshop is that you can take the information and ADAPT it to your own situation or library. Shelving is a reality for many MLS-holders in very small libraries. Then there are the MLS-holders that work in very large buildings that may need to work on getting out behind the desk even more: to go find the customers that are literally lost.

  • At 8:00 AM, Blogger Sophie Brookover said…

    Folks, as a courtesy to your fellow commenters, please sign your comments. You'd never think to post anonymously to a professional listserv; please don't post anonymously to a professional blog.

    You don't have to have a Blogger account to do this -- you can choose "Anonymous" when writing your post, but please sign your name & library at the end. Thanks!

    -- Sophie Brookover, Camden County Library

  • At 6:53 PM, Blogger Amy J. Kearns, MLIS said…

    I agree with anonymous (!) and I also think that using the "out from behind the reference desk" philosophy certainly does not have to equal having NO reference desk.


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