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.


Working On My Feet

Lately, I’ve had to give up on my beloved high heels, because I’m pounding the pavement too much at work.

Well, not literally. For the past four months, my library system has piloted mobile reference service in our main branch. Mobile reference is envisioned as a way to get librarians out in the library itself, rather than stationing them at a desk. In my library’s pilot project, seven librarians, myself included, spend three one-hour shifts a week performing mobile reference. We use ultra light mobile PCs and wireless communication badges to access library resources, ask other staff for assistance, and answer questions for patrons.

As we walk through the library, the computer we use certainly attracts attention. Patrons often stop us to ask what it is, and whether we get the Internet on it. They’re often surprised when we say that the mobile PCs are just as powerful as a desktop computer: the Samsung Q1 that we use measures 10” by 5.5” by 1”, and weighs less than two pounds. The communicator badges, from a company called Vocera, lets us talk to other staff members throughout the building. Maybe the best part, as I demonstrated for some kids recently, was what happens when you press the call button on the badge and say “Beam me up”: a series of beeps that calls to mind the Starship Enterprise.

While it’s been fun to play with all these gadgets, what’s really revolutionary is the way patron attitudes have started to change in our building. Now, any staff member might be stopped when they’re out on the floor, regardless of whether they’re assigned to the desk or to mobile reference at that time. Additionally, we’re helping patrons who might never come to the reference desk, especially those patrons who will wander around in the stacks for an hour before they ask for help. I’ve found that I feel much more aware of what’s going on in the library, since I’m walking around for three hours a week, rather than stationed at a desk. Plus, all that walking is helping my goal of getting in shape!

This pilot is still ongoing, but once it’s done, there will be more information distributed through library journals. In the meantime, feel free to email me with any questions you might have! But sorry--I'm holding onto my heels for the days when I'm not assigned to mobile reference.

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  • At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hello! I stumbled across your blog recently from somewhere out in the wide world of internets. ;)

    I wanted to comment to say - what a cool idea! And that your library is actually implementing it is even better. I have a feeling this would also help shed the negative stereotype of cranky old shushing librarians and replace it with a more customer service oriented view!

  • At 8:10 PM, Blogger Mitali Perkins said…


  • At 7:39 PM, Blogger Liz B said…

    thanks, Mitali!

    Melissa, I love what your library is doing. Yes, libraries have been talking about varying roving/mobile reference for ages, but it's only now that technology and pcs etc have made it "really" possible. I love the mobile PC you're using, it looks cool, and would love to hear more about it.

  • At 10:02 AM, Blogger andrew the a/v guy said…

    I like how your library made the commitment to purchase the hardware needed to support your mobile reference service. My library (like many others, I'd believe) has started that same sort of roving reference without the hardware support. You see a patron in the stacks who needs help, you have to head back to the staff computer to help them, either taking them with you or scurrying back & forth between the patron & the computer. If you're going to talk the talk, you've got to walk the walk. And that means financial (hardware) commitment along with staff buy-in.

  • At 7:02 PM, Blogger Wren said…

    its great to see a library utilizing the idea of mobile reference work. it sounds like you have a great plan for making it work for both staff and library patrons. i worked briefly for a library that implements roving in their reference schedule. However, they expected the part time reference staff to rove the entire time they were scheduled "on the desk." This created a great amount of stress and frustration for the entire reference department. I hope they will gain some knowledge from other reference departments like yours.


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