Librarians on the Loose: Serving Patrons Beyond the Building

By Billie Moffett and Melissa Ziel
Librarians at the Gail Borden Public Library walk an average of two miles a day and that’s just while working the Information Desk. Now we’re walking right out the front door. Since July 2009, our librarians have developed a service initiative to walk all areas of the library to meet our patrons where they are, whether it’s in the new book room, science fiction stacks, or the elevator. We are actively looking for those who are in need of help, as well as answering the requests for reference assistance from other departments. Roving has been extremely successful at Gail Borden, paving the way for more adventurous service models.

Gail Borden administration fosters a “try-it” attitude, so we created a proposal to expand our existing roving services. In May of 2010, we unrolled Librarians on the Loose, Gail Borden’s attempt to provide reference services to our entire community. The roving philosophy has been taken to new heights as we leave the building to serve our customers beyond our doors.

For our first outing we attended the annual local 5k running event. The promoters asked us to staff the information booth so we came equipped with the hours of local businesses, area maps, and train schedules. By the end of the race we answered over a hundred questions about how to attach tracking devices, where the pancake breakfast was, and where results would be posted. The help needed at the event was not what we expected and while we assisted a great number of people, we did not view it as a great success. Instead of scrapping the whole project, we retooled.

The next opportunity for an outing was the local Green Expo, an information based event for homeowners looking to go green. Unlike the 5K we were not tied to a booth and were allowed to freely roam the event and promote ourselves as librarians. Walking through the community center we interacted with exhibitors and attendees. While we gauged this as moderate success, we were still looking for new avenues to test our service model.

To easily identify ourselves as staff from the public library we had t-shirts made with our own Librarians on Loose logo and the words “Ask Me” on the back. Once we were identified as library staff the flood gates opened with good will; anyone would talk to us.

To promote our expanded eBook services we decided to head to the train stations to catch commuters. Morning train commuters were identified as a target audience due to their use of mobile devices and the time available to download and use eBooks. With three train stations in our community we identified two that would be great locations to engage our possible users. Bright and early at 5AM on a June morning we started roving at the first station in the western part of our community. However, we did not realize that bulk of these commuters were not residents of our library district. While the second train of the morning was boarding we decided our presence was not effective and we quickly went across town to spend the rest of the early rush hour at the second station.

This is where everything took off and people were happy to speak with us. Many commuters had eReaders already but were not aware of our service. Customized handouts were given to instruct our new users on how to use library eBooks. Thirty library customers were helped that morning and we left energized for the next outing.

Months later we visited the same train station but switched gears when we arrived. When we observed everyone staring down at their tiny Smartphone screens we decided to pitch eBooks for Smartphones. It became very easy to identify who to speak to and groups began to gather to hear our pitch. We were instantly popular and were responded to in a very positive manner. We continue to visit the train station routinely during fair weather and have included other services in our talking points. With MiFi and Smartphones in hand we are prepared to speak about all mobile library services, including Freegal, Gale’s Access My Library App, and Mango Languages.

Librarians on the Loose has had some hits and misses but our administration has been continually supportive of this new service model. They have let us try new places and change course at our own discretion, viewing nothing as a failure but as a learning opportunity. As we take Librarians on the Loose forward we continue to target new community groups, public spaces, and events. One day our customers will always look for help from a librarian no matter where they are.

Billie Moffett is the Studio 270 Co-Manager & Virtual Services Librarian and Melissa Ziel is the Business Librarian & eBook Coordinator at Gail Borden Public Library District.

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One Response to Librarians on the Loose: Serving Patrons Beyond the Building

  1. Brilliant work! Getting out of the building, serving people at their point of need w/ relevant info. Being flexible until you hit the right chord. And an administration that allows it to happen. This is the way to prove libraries’ value with non-users. Thanks for sharing!

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