Reference, not Just for the Reference Desk Anymore

Getting to Know You

There’s a coffee shop down the road from my law school. Not only is it overflowing with students during the breakfast rush, but it also has an outdoor seating area. I have been hailed there by students driving and walking by. One passing student called out, “how’s my favorite reference librarian?”

What makes me happy about these greetings, students noticing me and talking to me like a respected friend, is that it lets me know that I am reaching them. They are starting to understand my relevance to their lives. The legal research outreach program that we began this semester is working. I developed five modules (including one on plagiarism). I contacted faculty and asked them to promote it to their students and to make it a mandatory requirement if possible.

Several professors responded positively. As a result I met with well over 50 students this semester in small workshops, mostly at the Library’s learning centers. Students spent between 30 minutes and three hours with me in small group settings. They now understand what librarians can do for them, and they are telling their classmates and professors.


Be Where They Are

I had a wonderful Saturday experience attending an intellectual property symposium put on by an esteemed colleague. During the break, I gave him a hug, grabbed an adorably tiny but horribly “non-green” bottle of water and went back to working on the iPad while I waited for the presentation to resume.

Before long, a well-dressed and vaguely familiar earnest young woman approached me. “Can I pick your brain for just a moment. I’m sorry. Is it O.K. to talk to you about research right now? There’s a rumor that you cannot limit your search on Westlaw to just unreported cases.” This is one of those moments we all hope for. I have hero complex, so this is particularly my favourite kind of interaction. The one where the students’ needs and my expertise come together in such a way that I get to save them time and reduce their stress. I already had Westlaw loaded up on the iPad that I was using. I put it in front of her and calmly directed her to do things she already knew how to do. In about 5 clicks, she had the “Aha” moment that made us both smile. 

After she thanked me, I went back to poking at the iPad. Before long, a well-dressed and somewhat familiar man was standing in front of me, thanking me for what I had showed his friend. By being where the students were, at a time when they were milling about, lining up to speak to those fancy entertainment lawyers, eating tasty treats and imbibing free coffee, I had just increased my reference statistics by 2 (O.K. one and a half but also by 150% for that day). So now, what can I do to reach even more students?


Do Not Succumb to False Fears

Since I work Saturdays, I can easily attend Saturday events at the law school. Previously, I have not taken full advantage of this, for two reasons. First, I worry that attending these seminars takes up time that I should spend doing my “real work”. Second, I have committed myself to spend 5 hours at the reference desk on Saturdays.  

These are false fears. This is not the 90’s. I am not tied to my desk. My law school is so hi-tech that when I come to work in the morning, it’s like I’m walking into the Men In Black headquarters. We have touchscreens everywhere with maps that demonstrate how to get from where you are to anyone’s office and that show you statistics on how much electricity our building has generated. The folks in my IT department will happily loan me a laptop that I can use to access my desktop, and my desk phone can be forwarded to my cell phone. On the low-tech end, a note on my door telling people where I am will probably suffice.

Except for the weeks when students have legal writing assignments due, I am embarrassed to say I usually get about one reference question per two-hour reference shift.  There are librarians on the reference schedule who have had no research questions all semester.

I am starting to think I should have categories on the reference statistics sheet, such as: In depth research question; quick reference question; directional question; bathroom inquiry; printing question; request for free office supplies; request to buy something that would be in a school book store; head nod; fist bump. O.K. so I’ve never gotten a fist bump, but a girl can dream.

I think there are two main reasons why the reference statistics are lower than they could be:

  1. Not all students know who we are and what we can do for them
  2. Not all students walk by the reference desk

If I am correct, then my statistics might increase, and I might become more accessible to the students if I sit and work in different locations around the school. To test this, all I need is a laptop and a sign saying “Hi, I am your reference librarian, please interrupt me. I can answer your questions about research and the library.” I could have a bowl of candy.


Embed Me, Please

I have a new plan for outreach to the students. I will spend about four hours a week working in locations where students hang out when they are in between doing mandatory things. I can sit in the student lounge; on the 5th floor balcony (this is San Diego, we have outdoor study spaces); on the 3rd floor at the top of our gorgeous stairway and in the first floor lobby.




Tell me about your adventures in embedded librarianship.


All photos courtesy TJSL Communications Department.


About Catherine "Deane" Deane

Catherine Deane is the full-time Reference Librarian at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law Library. She performs in depth research for the faculty in support of their scholarship, and assists students with their legal research. She will be teaching the Advanced Legal Research course beginning in Fall 2011. She is also responsible for developing topical legal research guides for the TJSL community. She has created eight research guides since arriving at TJSL in November 2010, and has updated several more. She is also a regular contributor to ThomChat, the Thomas Jefferson School of Law Library Blog. Catherine Deane spent two years working closely with Vincent Moyer, Foreign, Comparative and International Law Librarian at the University of California, Hastings School of Law, where she created and curated ten research guides on varying topics in U.S., foreign, and international law. With Mr. Moyer, she published two book reviews and a foreign law research guide on the Laws of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago (her home country). Prior to working at UC Hastings, she spent a year and a half doing contract work at an international law firm in downtown Los Angeles and she spent a year teaching academic writing at the University of California, San Diego. She has a J.D. with a Certificate in comparative and international law, which she acquired while studying abroad in Ireland, England and Belgium. She also has an M.L.I.S., an M.A. in Sociocultural Anthropology, and a B.A. from Princeton University in Cultural Anthropology with a Certificate in Latin American Studies. Her research interests include Native American Legal Issues, Domestic Violence, and Legal Information Literacy.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Reference, not Just for the Reference Desk Anymore

  1. Helen Frazer says:

    Two years ago we embedded librarians in two clinics at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. Brittany Kolonay and Gail Mathapo attend classes, meet with students, and make research presentations in the clinics. The librarians say they love it. Their article about their experiences will be published in Spectrum next month.

  2. Pingback: Paperless libraries, desk-less librarians « RIPS Law Librarian Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s