Rumors of the “death of reference” have been greatly exaggerated! Reference service now encompasses not just traditional forms such as telephone, email, and in-person point-of-service, but also Instant Messaging, Text Messaging (SMS), blogs, wikis, library pages on MySpace and Facebook, and virtual reference desks in Second Life.
A Reference Renaissance: Current and Future Trends conference will explore all aspects of reference service in a broad range of contexts, including libraries and information centers, in academic, public, school, corporate, and other special library environments.
I'm very glad to be going to this conference, because my own feelings about reference -- specifically desk-based reference -- are mixed, and have become more fluid over the past few years. I still think that the one-on-one interaction of a reference desk transaction is the best way to respond to a need, and create a connection. But... even at my residential based, small town campus, more and more people access library resources through our website (effectively our digital branch). Shouldn't I put as much emphasis into being there for them as I do at the desk? But in a way, I do...I publicize my IM names, email, and telephone number in every class I teach and every email I send. I push our library instant message service. But...I've never received an IM query from a student (although I did receive one from a faculty member who created her account just to IM me and ask me to teach a social software/Zotero session for her class this fall...that actually made my summer!). Sometimes I think students just don't want to use social tools for academic purposes, but then I read CHE and IHE articles about how they contact their instructors that way all the time. Maybe its a campus culture thing? I've never really investigated how many faculty and staff at my university actually use social software...hmmm...something to think about...
I've gone off topic a bit, but I think I will be returning to this idea of how the provision of library reference service (really, all library services)is/are changing, especially in the context of social software use in higher education. I'll be blogging the Ref Ren conference, and linking to others who are blogging it as well.