Research Services Librarians Take Part in Pilot Program

Research Services pilot

Beginning this month, Research Services librarians will take part
in a pilot program to share staff between Cabot, Lamont and Widener libraries. Front row, from left, Sue Gilroy, Diane Sredl, Kathleen Sheehan, Laura Farwell Blake, Ann Robinson and Ellie Clement. Back row, from left, John Baldisserrotto, Carrie Kent,
Joe Bourneuf, Martin Schreiner, Stephen Kuehler, Reed Lowrie
and Lynne Schmelz. The pilot program was designed by Schreiner, Blake and Schmelz, and will be evaluated with assistance from
Gilroy and Bourneuf. Not pictured: Fredric Burchsted.

February 18, 2009 - A pilot program to share Research Services librarians between Cabot, Lamont and Widener libraries will begin next week with two goals - improving reference services for library patrons and offering librarians the chance to learn from each other as they practice the craft of research assistance.

The pilot program will include a total of nine librarians - three each from Widener, Lamont and Cabot libraries, who will work two two-hour shifts per week at one of the other two libraries. Each will "shadow" another librarian, with the goal of learning about the different resources at various libraries, and the different ways in which Research Services staff respond to questions from researchers and students.

Participants include, from Lamont: Diane Sredl, Data Reference Librarian; John Baldisserrotto, Reference Librarian and Stephen Kuehler, Reference Assistant; from Widener: Kathleen Sheehan, Research Librarian, Carrie Kent, Research Librarian and Fredric Burchsted, Research Librarian; from Cabot: Ann Robinson, Science Reference Librarian, Ellie Clement, Head of Reference and Reed Lowrie, Science Reference and Cartographic Librarian.

"We're trying to redefine how we undertake research services and how a reference desk functions in our modern, electronic, interdisciplinary environment," said Martin Schreiner, Interim Librarian of Lamont Library Martin Schreiner, who planned and designed the pilot with Laura Farwell Blake, Interim Head of Research Services at Widener Library and Lynne Schmelz, Librarian for the Sciences and Librarian of the Cabot and Tozzer Libraries.

While knowing which resources are available across HCL will certainly improve service for patrons who visit the reference desk, that isn't the pilot program's only aim. Research and reference work has always been as much art as science, Schreiner said, and by bringing librarians of diverse backgrounds and specialties together, the program will encourage staff to study the different ways others might confront a problem. The pilot will also include a handful of classroom cross-training sessions on subjects like the Government Documents collection, which will be open to Research Services staff from all three pilot project libraries.

"In the world of research, nothing is isolated anymore," Schreiner said. "The idea is that Research Services librarians will be able to assist patrons up to a point, and then refer them to a librarian with more expertise in a particular subject. In years past, if someone asked a question about a resource that was held in a different library, we would simply send them to that library. What this program hopes to do is give everyone a basic awareness of what the resources are, how to find them and how to use them. And when they need to send someone to another librarian, they will know who that person might be."

To illustrate the benefits of such cross-library interactions, Joe Bourneuf, Head of Reference at Widener Library, described a scenario in which a researcher working on the history of an illness might draw on research and reference expertise in the use of a variety of both on-line resources and print collections distributed across several Harvard libraries.

"If a librarian from Cabot is working at the Widener reference desk when one of these questions comes up, we will have the advantage of their expertise in the use of scientific resources and more effective referral to appropriate collections," he said.

"We have wanted to do this for a long time," Blake said, of the pilot program. "There's really nothing like spending time in another environment to learn how other librarians work and understand what resources librarians there bring to bear on reference requests. We also want to build an infrastructure for cross-training, so librarians at Houghton, librarians at Loeb Music, librarians at Fine Arts and other HCL libraries can help us understand how scholars and students use their resources."

Such cross-fertilization pays off in two ways, said Susan Fliss, Associate Librarian of Harvard College for Research, Teaching, and Learning. In addition to improving service for library patrons, the interaction fostered by the pilot program will help librarians continually improve their reference and research skills.

"So many courses are interdisciplinary now," Fliss said. "This will allow HCL to better support those courses. We have incredible collections, and it's important that our staff be aware of the variety of information and resources, as well as the network of people with deep knowledge of the collections."

The program will launch February 17 and run for 10 weeks, until May 1. Following the conclusion of the pilot, Schreiner, Blake and Schmelz will evaluate the results, with assistance from Sue Gilroy, Head of Reference Services at Lamont Library and Joe Bourneuf, Head of Reference at Widener Library, to determine whether the program should continue, or expand to include other libraries next year.