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Empowering the Frontline: A Dynamic Online Reference Manual and Training Session for Student Library Employee Reference Skills


Patrons often turn to the circulation desk for research questions. Student library employees serving at these frontlines are challenged to respond or refer when librarians are unavailable. To cultivate students’ reference skills, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Division of the UC Berkeley Library developed an active training program based upon a dynamic online reference manual continuously improved based on student feedback.

This program’s development was evidence based. After a systematic month-long audit of the reference questions asked at the libraries’ five service points, common questions were identified. Afterwards, a reference manual was written to codify procedures with stepwise directions and sample dialogue for response to these questions. Prepared in Google Docs, the commenting feature enables immediate capture of student feedback with notification to librarians of needed revisions. In a subsequent problem-based and active training session, student employees followed the manual to solve reference case studies with librarian feedback.

From the end-of-session instructional evaluations, students demonstrated accomplishment of the learning objectives and reported greater confidence and awareness of their reference and public service skills. A one-month post-session survey found consistent adoption of the reference manual as well as perceived value in the training program. 

Moving forward, this turnkey program for documenting and training on reference procedures will develop students’ skills to meet evolving reference services. This presentation showcases graphs of the reference audit and training outcomes; there will be a live demonstration of the online reference manual and training materials.

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