Annual Report of the New Brunswick Libraries Information Services Group, 2007-2008

At its meeting in May 2007, the New Brunswick Libraries Faculty voted to reconstitute the New Brunswick Information Services Group (NBISG). Since all faculty members have some role in information services, the NBISG is essentially coincident with the New Brunswick Faculty. As in its earlier incarnation, it is represented and advised by an Information Services Steering Group (ISSG). The ISSG meets bimonthly or as needed and is comprised of the reference team leaders at the four main libraries, LSM, Alexander, Douglass, and Kilmer, the Head of Access Services, and a representative of the NBL PC Coordination Team. The chair of NBISG is elected to a two-year term and also chairs the ISSG. The NBISG was reconstituted because it was felt that having a formal group would provide greater direction and focus to our efforts to promote and improve reference services and instruction in New Brunswick. Representing the larger group, the ISSG will investigate larger issues and new initiatives in research and instruction in order to facilitate discussion among the NBISG at meetings of the New Brunswick Libraries Faculty. ISSG meetings are open to all information services librarians in New Brunswick.

The following are the issues addressed by the ISSG in the course of the 2007-2008 academic year. All of them relate to the first goal of the Libraries current strategic plan: to "improve the quality of scholarly resources and information services that support the advancement of academic excellence at Rutgers."

ISSG began the year addressing the issue of workload. Due to frozen or lost faculty lines we now have fewer librarians at the same time that we are offering more digital reference and attempting to refine and expand our instruction program. The Steering Group therefore felt it was important to explore how these increasing demands are or can be shared among the faculty. Our discussions quickly focused on workload as it relates to instruction, particularly in regards to the English Department's Writing Program classes (201s and 301s). Some members of the ISSG felt that an important reason that some colleagues have been reluctant to teach these classes is that we have never had a broad-ranging discussion amongst the faculty in New Brunswick of the goals and philosophy that should guide the Libraries' instruction program. The Steering Group then developed a series of simple, fundamental questions that would frame a discussion of instruction among the NBISG. At the next faculty meeting, we addressed those questions and made some progress on building consensus regarding what we hope to achieve with bibliographic instruction at all levels. Unfortunately, we were unable to continue that discussion because, at subsequent faculty meetings more immediate issues, such as prioritizing open lines and planning for an anticipated budget reduction, took precedence. At least for the fall 2008 semester, however, progress is less critical, since we will have voucher monies to hire adjuncts to teach many of the Writing Program sections. NBISG will continue to discuss our instruction program and instructional philosophy in the coming year.

ISSG explored ways to make more effective and efficient use of the talents of our information/reference assistants and to provide them with a more enriching pre-professional work experience. These discussions were guided by a document prepared by the Douglass Library Information Services Team entitled "Adding Value to the Information Assistant Position." The Steering Group decided that in future training for the assistants will take place in two parts. There will be one session for all new hires that focuses on online resources, the reference interview, and general deportment at the reference desk. Each individual library will then provide an additional orientation to local collections and services. In addition, Pilara Brunson, one of the reference assistants at Alexander Library, has been working this spring on a Sakai site for the assistants. It will provide a forum in which the assistants can share thoughts and advice regarding their work at the desks and professional development more generally. It is not intended to supersede the sites already set up at individual libraries or existing resources such as the common knowledge database. Finally, because of the imminent budget reduction, the Steering Group will make every effort to fill all of the information assistant openings this year with work-study students.

This spring Douglass and Kilmer Libraries tested hardware and software to provide virtual reference to users in locations and at times when a librarian is unavailable. The hardware was simple and relatively inexpensive, about seventy-five dollars for each camera/microphone. The software used in the test was a new, free program called Vsee ( Vsee has a number of distinct advantages over other available products. It is low-bandwidth, provides clear audio and visual communication, and allows both locations to share an application. This means, among other things, that a librarian and a user could share a browser as they work through a search in a database together. ISSG and other interested information services librarians decided to offer a pilot service in the fall semester. We will provide virtual reference service to users at Douglass and Kilmer during a two or three hour shift, Monday through Thursday. ISSG is now working with the Director of Communications and other colleagues to prepare for the pilot. Virtual reference services of this kind have generally not fared well at other institutions in the past. However, we feel that it will be worthwhile to see if, with this new software, the New Brunswick libraries or Rutgers University Libraries make more efficient use of librarians' time and expertise in the face of declining in-person reference transactions and decreased staffing levels.


During the 2007-08 academic year, the New Brunswick libraries conducted a total of 638 instructional sessions for 443 classes or groups. Of these 443, 7 were comprised of faculty members, 60 were graduate students, 23 were groups from outside Rutgers, including 12 high school classes, and 353 were undergraduate classes. Of the total sessions, 574 were taught by librarians, 41 were taught by SCILS students or instruction adjuncts, and 23 were taught by the course instructor.

Reference transactions at the reference desks were as follows:

In-person reference questions: 13,360
Telephone reference questions: 3,398

In-person directional questions: 16,554
Telephone directional questions: 1,947

In-person government documents questions: 180
Telephone government document questions: 23

Total reference desk transactions: 35,462

Reference transactions beyond the reference desks were as follows:

In-person consultations less than 15 minutes: 348
In-person consultations 15-30 minutes: 181
In-person consultations more than 15 minutes: 251
In-person directional questions beyond the reference desks: 192

Email reference questions requiring less than 15 minutes to answer: 841
Email reference questions 15-30 minutes: 419
Email reference questions more than 30 minutes: 277
Email directional questions: 130

Telephone consultations less than 15 minutes: 312
Telephone consultations 15-30 minutes: 91
Telephone consultations more than 30 minutes: 43
Telephone directional questions: 66

Ask-a-Librarian and Ask-a-Librarian Live reference transactions: 1,665*

Total off-desk transactions: 4,816

These numbers are only as good as the librarians who record them. The ISSG strongly urges their colleagues to report their reference transactions and instruction statistics in a timely and accurate fashion.

Respectfully submitted, the New Brunswick Information Services Steering Group:

Tom Glynn, chair and Alexander Library Reference Team Leader
Jeris Cassel, Instruction representative and Kilmer Library Reference Team Leader
Marty Kesselman, Library of Science and Medicine Reference Team Leader
Kayo Denda, Douglass Library Reference Team Leader
Judy Gardner, Access Services representative
Stephanie Bartz, representative for the PC Coordination Team

*The Ask-a-Librarian Live service was first offered from February 7 thru May 4, from 7 pm to 10 pm. Fourteen librarians from New Brunswick participated at that time. Beginning May 27, the times changed to noon to 1 pm and 3 pm to 5 pm. Currently twelve New Brunswick librarians are participating.

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