Taking on a Nontraditional Reference Duty

This past year, our library started strongly marketing research help in an area we had not publicized before – completing the Character and Fitness portion of the state bar application. This was a serious push: we advertised at new student orientation, we put up a website, we designed a basic LibGuide on our state requirements and other resources that might be helpful, and generally sold the heck out of the library as a helper for this process. Our campaign has been very successful. The students know to come to the librarians. They ask questions in person, over the phone, and by email.

This has, in turn, caused new issues. The first is that students want more information from us. Mostly, this is a good thing. One of the benefits of assisting with the Character and Fitness application is that the students see us as experts in research and people who can answer questions. That’s great. On the other hand, this means that we get questions about some things that require us to send students elsewhere for answers:

  • “Where do I go to take a practice bar exam?”
  • “How do I sign up for the Kaplan program?”
  • “What hotel should I use during the bar exam?”
  • “Do you have a sample study schedule for the bar?”

While any librarian can help with finding some of this information, there are people in the school whose job it is to know these answers. The takeaway for the library on this: students get frustrated if the library does not know who has the best answers. We had to come up to speed on which questions should go to career services, which to academic success, and what other departments might also have an interest in these questions. If the reference desk could clearly and confidently direct the students to a reliable source, the students were happy even if they did have to go to another office.

The second issue that arose was that of privacy. There is some sensitive stuff on the Character and Fitness application. Students will often ask about the application at the reference desk. Sometimes students ask an easy question, like how to find an address, and then launch right into something else, like how to get information on a bad check they wrote to the IRS. Eeek! It’s easy for a student to forget that he or she is speaking to a librarian in a big open space. We have had to remind students that we can make appointments to speak privately in our offices.

Although we have had to adjust some of our reference practices to accommodate this new area of assistance, it has been rewarding, both in knowing that we are helping our students with a significant task and having more students come into the library.

About Shawn Friend

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