From the October 2015 edition of Cover to Cover
How many words in the English language end in the letter “j”? What are the rules for the board game Monopoly? If you are at the southern-most point in Brazil, and start drilling through the earth, where would you come out?
Questions like these are asked at the library’s Information Services desk every day. Patrons can stop by, call or chat online with a librarian or librarian assistant. In August alone, librarians fielded more than 2,000 questions.
“Sitting at the Information Desk is like playing Trivial Pursuit all day long,” Amy Pihl, an Information Services librarian, said. “You never know who is going to walk up to the desk next, or what their question is going to be.”
Librarians can help you find books, DVDs, CDs, local history and academic sources; provide information about local events, charities and groups; supply IRS-provided tax forms; and help you use library resources, such as microfilm or the Sunflower eLibrary. And, of course, they are there to help answer questions.
“Librarians as a group, and especially Information Services Librarians, have a passion to make sure that the information needs of the patrons and of the community are being met, no matter how small or how large, no matter the age or economic status of the patron,” Barbara Mulvihill, Information Services librarian, said. “We help patrons literally with any question you can think of. It could be something simple like looking up a book or movie, it could be helping someone with a bar bet or a crossword puzzle answer, it could be an embarrassing medical question, it could be helping to access community or government resources, or it could be an in-depth research question. Whatever you ask, your question will be handled professionally and confidentially. If we cannot find an answer for you, we do our best to refer you to someone who will be able to answer it.”
Maintaining the collection
One aspect of connecting patrons to information, learning and culture is making sure a wide range of resources are available at the library. That’s where librarians’ work on collection development comes into play. Librarians and librarian assistants take time to think about what items should be added to the library’s catalog, what items should be cycled out and what patrons are suggesting should be included.
“We take into account things like the demographics of the community, the demographics of our patrons and questions received on a daily basis at the desk,” Mulvihill said. “We look at the resources the library already has and how well these resources are currently meeting our patrons’ information needs. Are they meeting the perceived needs of the user, are they up-to-date, accurate and in the format the user requires? At times we withdraw resources that are no longer needed and we keep abreast of what resources are available for the library to acquire. I, along with my colleagues, make decisions about what to acquire by prioritizing what we would like to purchase within a given budget. In doing so, we also take into account what resources other institutions within the community have and what we can access from other libraries on an as-needed basis.”
Keeping the collection relevant and dynamic takes constant nurturing.
“When an item goes missing or is damaged, I decide what to re-order,” Nancy Jo Leachman, Information Service librarian, explained. “If it’s item six in a series of 10 books and we have all the others, I reorder it. If it’s a 10-year-old medical book, I look for something recent on the same topic. For most books, I check the number of circulations to see how often it’s gone out in the past two years. So it’s a decision-making process.”
The public can have input in this process as well.
“We do purchase based on patron requests — things that have been published within the last year and titles we believe will be of interest to more than the person requesting,” Angela Allen, Head of Information Services, said.
Patrons can suggest a purchase at the Information Services desk or online.
The library’s Information Services staff want patrons to know that they are there for them.
“If you’re not sure, ask. If we don’t own something, ask!” Pihl said. “Chances are we can find it for you.”