Beginning in Fall Quarter 2019, UC Santa Barbara’s Davidson Library has merged its reference desk and services desk in order to offer a more convenient way for students to receive basic information and library assistance.
The reference desk, previously 30 feet away from the library’s mountain side entrance, was removed on Sept. 14 and merged with the services desk by the Paseo West entrance; while this may be a new change to the UCSB community, Library Communications & Marketing Manager Hannah Rael believes that it isn’t an outdated practice.
“Reference desk removals at libraries [have] been a trend for more than a decade,” Rael said.
Typically, library reference desks are desks that professional librarians sit at to help direct students to what they are looking to find. But due to internet advances and other technical innovations that allow users to access information in a handful of seconds, libraries have had to rethink the ways in which they make directional and reference information easily accessible to students.
According to Rebecca Metzger, associate university librarian for research, the merging of the reference desk and services desk is the culmination of a three year-long planning process involving the strategic review and redesign of the library’s frontline service model.
“During those [three] years, we gathered data, held facilitated discussions with reference librarians and staff, introduced an online system for booking reference appointments and experimented with different hours and staffing models,” Metzger said.
Brightspot, a strategy firm dedicated to collaborating with universities and other institutions in order to improve student services based on technological shifts and social changes, was brought in to assist library staff with the redesign to better serve users of the library.
“We worked with [Brightstop] for two months, guided by a steering committee in the library. Two open town halls were held for library staff, and Brightspot led multiple additional focus groups to gain input,” Metzger said.
Metzger explained that the ultimate goal was to provide library visitors with a well-structured experience. Formerly, each desk was managed by a different library department and staff went through distinct training programs. Now that the desks are merged, all desk staff will have the same consistent service training and be able to provide users with answers to whatever questions they may have.
“We wanted to improve the user experience and service consistency. In the past, it wasn’t obvious which desk to start at. Students would sometimes get bounced back and forth between the two desks to get the answers they needed,” Metzger said.
Additionally, as reported by the Association of Research Libraries, there has been an 84% decrease in reference questions within the past twenty years.
According to Metzger, only one-third of the questions asked at the Davidson Library’s reference desk were reference-related questions. By removing librarians from the reference desk, their time is no longer spent addressing basic questions that can instead be answered by trained staff and students at the service desk.
Ultimately, this merge allows the library to make more effective use of its resources, Metzger stressed.
“We were investing in duplicative staffing by having student assistants and staff on the reference desk and services desk only 30 feet apart at the same time,” Metzger said. “Our data shows us that the same types of questions were being asked at each desk, [and] by streamlining our staffing, we are able to continue to invest in other projects that improve the library.”
Although the services desk now takes on reference-related matters, it still maintains many of its old functions.
“The services desk continues to be the spot for checking out books, media, course reserves, interlibrary loans, laptops and other materials,” Metzger said. “In fact, you can now also check out calculators, phone chargers, bike locks, board games and frisbees.”
Library users are encouraged to submit their feedback via the library’s online suggestion box, said Metzger. Alongside a handful of students submitting feedback saying that they miss the reference desk, library staff have also had to grow accustomed to these changes.
“Library staff are still learning how to provide service in the merged environment so there may be some growing pains, but they are deeply committed to providing quality service to our UCSB community,” Metzger said.
As of now, the library is currently in a transition period as it has moved on to revamp its service training program.
“We are monitoring how [the training program] is going and are open to making tweaks as we learn more. The truth is that we live in a fast-paced environment where library services have the potential to change regularly based on trends, user behavior and input and data,” Metzger said.