Part of a Day in the Life of a Reference Librarian at Arnold Guebert Library

Christina Petrisor

Spring, 2003


This paper was originally written for LIS 503: Reference and Information Services,during my very first semester of study at the
School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alberta. The paper has been created into a webpage to fulfill the requirements of LIS 600,Capping. This project is required for the completion of the Masters of Library and Information Studies
degree. This is a reflective paper and is not based on theoretical research.


Table of Contents



Introduction

When the name Arnold Guebert Library is mentioned, residents of the Edmonton area may not know what library this is.
Arnold Guebert Library is located on the Concordia University campus. In a NEOS Directory of libraries, this library
is listed under Concordia University College Library. The library is named after Guebert because he was the first
librarian at the college, as well as an instructor, Guebert was also the President of Concordia from 1959 – 1960.
It was in 1974 that the library was named after him. It is also a member in NEOS, which is a consortium that is made
up of nineteen participating libraries located in central and northern Alberta.

This paper will begin by discussing what I saw when I visited the Guebert library for my observations.
The second section of this paper will explore what I discussed when I interviewed one of the full-time reference
librarians that is employed at the library. This paper will conclude with what I was able to take away from this
experience. I have nothing but praise for the staff working at this library. It was a positive experience for me.
Therefore I am excited to share my wonderful interpretation of my experience with my readers.

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Physical Layout of the Library

Upon entering the library at Concordia, I noticed the interior was bright and freshly painted. It was wonderfully
decorated. The color of the walls is a dusty rose and it immediately made me feel relaxed. I immediately was
able to locate the circulation desk to my right as I entered through the main entrance of the library.
From the circulation desk, there is clear signage that indicates where the reference desk is. Located
in front of the reference desk were shelves of quick ready reference materials. There were also five
computer workstations located directly in front of the reference desk. To the right of the computers there
were tables where people could sit and read, write and study. This is where I sat to conduct my observations.
When I sat down I noticed a large set of windows that gave a clear view of an open grassy area on campus. There
are also pieces of artwork displayed around this area of tables. It was very relaxing and I had complete view
of the reference librarians and the patrons who were working at the computer workstations. The library has a
nice layout. The librarian informed me that the reference area in the library was quite new and constructed
in 1994-95. The library was actually renovated from what use to be one of the old gymnasiums of the campus.
I had to ask because I felt the library was modern and had all the amenities and more that a library patron
would want.

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Collection and Resources

The library has three floors and a collection of over sixty thousand books. The library carries subscriptions
to over eight hundred periodicals in a variety of formats. The library has two computer labs one in front of
the reference area and one located in room L111 in the basement of the library. There is also an Information
Technology Centre and the library staffs ten people of which three are full-time librarians. The people I
observed using the reference services were all young adults between the ages of seventeen to twenty five.
Within the library one notices a deliberate emphasis on instruction to its patrons.

There is an online catalogue and a large number of databases available to the patrons. A large display rack
positioned to the left of the reference desk holds information sheets related to each subject that is taught at
Concordia. These information sheets have lists of valuable resources for each academic discipline taught at
Concordia. The information sheets are concise providing print resources with the call numbers and a listing of
web site locations where related information can be found. There are also instructional sheets on how to use
databases. The value of such tools is made evident by the ratio of library staff to the number of students
and teachers efficiently using the library’s facilities. This is one way for the library to serve the needs of
those patrons who may not feel comfortable asking for help (shy) or those who choose to take the initiative to
tackle library services on their own.

One unorthodox characteristic of the Arnold Guebert Library is that they use both Dewey Decimal Classification
Numbers (DCCN) and Library of Congress Classification Numbers (LCCN). An information sheet gives the subject
headings for both types of classification systems. Through further investigation I discovered that the reason
they have both classification systems in use is because prior to Concordia library joining the NEOS consortium
they used Dewey for cataloguing their materials. It was when they joined NEOS that they were pressured into
using the Library of Congress Classification System. This is one area where the library's collection is
deteriorating because they do not have the human labor required to convert all of these older holdings to LCCN.
This fragments their collection but the staff guide patrons as best they can to locate the information resources
whether they are in the DCCN section or LCCN shelving sections of the library. The librarian interviewed, stated
that the conversion of the Dewey collection to LCCN’s might never be fully completed. The library does not have
the available money to commit a person to convert all the books and records to LCCN’s. The librarian explained
that over time these materials would be weeded from their collection and eventually in the future all their collection
would be unified into LCCN’s.

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Level of Service

I was impressed by the fact that the librarian did not stay behind the reference desk. For the entire hour,
both of the librarians that I was observing remained in front of the reference desk. Each of the librarians
helped their patrons by following reference interview format. They were approachable and spent adequate time
with each patron even though they were very busy at the time of the observation. There was only one reference
librarian working the reference desk at a time. It was about forty-five minutes into the observation that one
librarian left and another came to take over. Both librarians observed were professional and provided
instruction beyond what one might expect in a busy library. They wore casual dress, were polite, courteous,
and smiled when approached by a patron. In general they both seemed very approachable.

I was seated next to one of the computer workstations and a student was searching for articles in a database.
The librarian guided the student on how to go about searching. I overheard the librarian tell the patron to,
“play with the language.” Coincidentally on the previous day, I had attended a lecture at the college of Library
and Information Studies in which the topic was searching techniques. The professor had given us exactly that same
advice, “…play with the language.”

I was impressed to hear the librarian use the same phrase and give the same instructions to the library patron.
This librarian even went back and asked the patron how the search was going in order to ensure the person was
finding what they needed. Right then I knew what I was learning was practical and relevant.

The librarians working at this library are clearly passionate about what they are doing. While I
visited their library, they demonstrated that instruction and guidance is a primary objective of their
reference area services. These librarians did not hide behind a high desk and were right out where the action was.

The modern construction of the reference area is wheelchair accessible insuring that no patron is excluded from
access to reference staff. The desk and computer workstations are at a height that would be accessible to patrons
in wheelchairs. This further demonstrates the intelligent design of the facility. There are elevators so patrons
who have mobility problems can access the library collection. There was plenty of room to move around.
Information on features such as wheelchair accessibility can be found online at the Arnold Guebert Library website.

The librarians I observed at this library really were going the extra mile to instruct the students in how
to use the services that the library provides. An example follows: The librarian was assisting a patron with
searching for articles using electronic databases and the librarian proceeded to ask if they had attempted to
locate any books. The student replied, “No.” The librarian then went to the computer behind the reference desk
and began to search the research topic the student was searching. The librarian then located a number of relevant
print materials that the student could use for their research. These librarians are clearly passionate about what
they are doing. They were patient, caring and good listeners. I cannot say one negative thing about what I observed.

The library was busy during the observation. The librarians allocated time to each patron and were able to
calmly deal with each reference query professionally. The librarians were also encouraging and would compliment
patrons when they were able to locate what they were looking for. However, during peak hours there could have
been two people working at the reference desk instead of one. Why? Because of the level of service they are
providing to their patrons. The librarians clearly wanted to be sure that the patrons located what they needed
for information resources. It was a pleasant experience to observe the dedication of this library staff.

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The Interview

The interview that was conducted with the librarian was held in the library's meeting room. There were two
other students besides myself present at the interview. The interview lasted for one and a half hours. The
librarian was polite and gave of his/her time freely. The librarian voluntarily shared his/her personal
experiences about their life. This librarian has a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy. This was quite
pertinent to the library environment he/she was working in. This librarian is also the liaison for
collection development for social sciences and religious studies for Concordia. The librarian works
with a faculty member from each academic discipline and together they decide what items should be purchased
for the library's collection. It was interesting to hear how some faculty request large numbers of books and
at times they have to limit what one particular faculty member wants because other faculty members have not put
forward any requests. At year end there is a rush to spend the allotted money if it is not spent. This is not
unique to the Concordia Library most libraries face this same challenging dilemma.

When a librarian is challenged by a question that they cannot answer they will consult with one of the other
librarians. For example, if one librarian is asked a question about a legal related issue they will refer the
question to the librarian who has a law degree. They rely on each other’s expertise to do their jobs. This is
another overriding idea that has been put forward by the graduate program in library and information studies.
These librarians demonstrated this by their professional behavior. They worked together to go about providing
the best possible service a library patron could expect.

The librarians distribute their shifts at the reference desk. Each librarian works two hours per day on the
reference desk. The librarians find that helping the students is very rewarding and this was evident during the
observation. Another key component to the librarians performing the duties of their job is the people they deal with.
They not only deal with patrons they deal with publishers, database vendors, salespeople that distribute library
products and faculty. The librarian stated that people are the most valuable resource related to the position
they hold at this library. The librarian stressed the importance of building a rapport with the vendors of the
databases. Through open communication with vendors the databases, capabilities can be utilized to there full extent.

No professors or instructors were seen at the reference desk during this observation. The librarian informed me
this is usual at Concordia and that instructors do not even request librarians to conduct literary searches for them
I have worked in a special library and a large number of the patrons were PhD’s and they all utilized the services of
the librarian. They always relied on the librarian’s expertise for finding relevant materials related to their current
research. This librarian stated that there are some professors that do use the Arnold Guebert Library but they generally
do not require any assistance. I told the librarian at the interview that I believed these professors were not achieving
the full benefits of their library services if they do not utilize the skills of librarians who are information specialists.

Librarians working at Arnold Guebert Library have their own specific duties. During the interview,
I discovered that a large component of the librarian’s job involves system administration. The librarian
assists with systems coordination and works with the computer networking services to troubleshoot any problems
related to the two computer labs in the library. This librarian also takes on all the responsibility for
bibliographic instruction for the students and faculty of the college. At Concordia, all first year English
students are required to attend a library instruction session. In 2000, they did sixty sections of instructional
sessions. The librarian we interviewed has to have a high level of skill with computers, have good instructional
skills and good people skills. There is an enormous amount of diversity in the day-to-day job duties of the three
librarians employed at this library.

These librarians also maintain statistics. They keep a tally of each type of reference question they are asked.
They are able to get the recorded number of users from the database vendors. However, when we discussed statistics
the librarian emphasized that the nature of the reference questions have been changing overtime. They have three
categories related to the recording of statistics they are: facilitative questions, quick reference questions and
finally complex reference questions. The librarian claimed it is difficult to fit each reference desk inquiry
into categories due to the change in the library environment. They now have questions that in the past would
have been considered complex but due to the availability of electronic databases, these are now quickly answered.
This classification of inquiries is currently under review. The head librarian collects the statistics and presents
this data to accreditations boards. From my previous work experience in a special library I know that it is important
to substantiate your worth to the individuals who will decide how much of the budget will be allocated to library and
information services. Statistics are a very important aspect of a librarian’s position. You must constantly be able
to provide evidence of your worth to the body of people who control your finances. Fiscal management skills are clearly
important aspects of any librarian’s position especially those who intend on being a head of a library or section head
in a larger library. You must constantly be evaluating what will be needed to ensure your budget does not shrink because
you did not keep accurate statistics.

This library was well organized. The librarian interviewed was forthcoming and honest with their responses.
The interview went very smoothly. This person shared so much of their personal experiences related to their profession.
This individual clearly enjoyed what they were doing. There was a passion and the person had no regrets about the career
path he/she had chosen. This made me happy because I am a mature student entering a new profession and need to feel
confident that the choice I made to become a librarian is correct. After visiting this library, I did not have a change of heart.

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Conclusion

The librarians of Arnold Guebert Library provide an exceptional level of service to their patrons. These
people were highly knowledgeable and the experience at Arnold Guebert Library has reinforced my career decision to
become a professional librarian. The only constructive criticism I can offer relates to funding. With an increase
in funding these dedicated professionals could increase their service level to the patrons. More staff would allow
the librarians more time to focus on instruction and guidance. I have worked in a special library setting where the
emphasis is on finding the resources and efficiently delivering them to the patron and there was no emphasis on instruction.
They are both different yet the result is the same; a satisfied patron with an information need filled by the professional
librarian.

I have never been witness to such an extensive library network as there is here in Alberta. The NEOS Library Consortium,
The Alberta Library (TAL) and the Yellowhead Regional Library are all perfect examples of resource sharing in this province.
Not all provincial jurisdictions entitle the holder of a public library card authority to borrow from an Academic library.
This is an impressive privilege. During the interview, the librarian stressed that they do an enormous amount of interlibrary
loan from NEOS partners and that this is vital to this library’s goal to fill their patrons' information needs. Alberta
residents should be commended for the network of partnerships that have been established related to libraries. This exemplifies
the true philosophy of librarianship. By sharing their resources, Alberta libraries are truly doing what will provide the
patron with the best possible service.

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Last Updated March 14, 2003
Web Page by Christina Petrisor
University of Alberta, School of Library and Information Studies