June 8, 2011

Web Reference Desk

The work of an association can be highly specialized. If your organization has an annual conference, it is probably a meeting place for people who have complex and specific information needs and challenges. The attendees are probably members from across the country, some of whom may not frequent your office or national headquarters. Others may be representatives of organizations who want to learn more about what your employer does--whether to catch them doing something right or to report back on what you could improve.

Where I work, we focus on bus drivers, bus riders, vehicles, and policy issues related to all of the above. I have struggled to find a place for myself in the conference in general, but specifically to find a contribution to our trade show floor, which is as big and busy as anything you'd find at ALA or SLA. As you can see in this picture, there are buses--lots of them! Our staff typically has an area where we set up shop and make ourselves available for questions. In the past, this area was flanked with print materials such as our trade magazines, most of which we end up shipping back on the last day of the conference.

This year I decided that the contribution I would make was something I called Web Reference Desk. Instead of showing off just our print resources (people do like "stuff" at conferences after all), I asked if I could have a high resolution monitor, internet connection, and desk chairs so I could show attendees what we spend most of our time developing when we are not at our conference: our electronic resources.

I got a lot of support from key staff members, and I ran the desk the whole time the trade show floor was open. This was a total of eight hours over three days. I am happy to say I had eight solid conversations with people--about our own publications and about online information sharing, social media, and other related topics. It was the closest I have come to working a "real" reference desk. I also experienced some small challenges I hear from reference librarians, such as being asked a lot of logistical questions. (The hopper for a massive raffle was right behind the Web Reference Desk, so people kept coming up to me to ask when the next drawing would be held.)

It was a huge success and I have already been asked to make it a tradition and start planning for next year. Stay tuned!

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