Perspectives from A Newbie

A New Member’s Understanding of RUSA’s Behavioral Guidelines’ Second Draft

By Lillian Velez, Dee J. Kelly Law Library, LRVelez@Law.Tamu.Edu

This Town Hall represents the collaborative overhaul of the second guideline in the Reference Toolkit, following the revised Definition of Reference, and preceding the upcoming revamping of Professional Guidelines, in order to reflect the most current needs of the profession.

This well-organized presentation offered a variety of ways to interact with the presenters and each other: a Q&A board, chat, and Jamboard. Participants could also comment on the Google draft document of the Behavioral Guidelines in real time. These options offered choices for learners, which is in keeping with the spirit of honoring individual preferences and differences in digesting information.

Much has changed since the last revision in 2013, especially changes in the profession brought to the fore by the pandemic.  This draft of the Behavioral Guidelines focuses on the importance of incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion; accessibility made visible in professional conduct; use of more inclusive gender neutral pronouns, specifically ‘they;’ and use of the term ‘library worker’ rather than ‘librarian.’  The Guideline’s sections are: Preface, 1) Inclusion, 2) Approachability, 3) Engagement, 4) Searching, 5) Evaluation, and 6) Closure, followed by Appendix 1–Document History and Appendix 2–Endnotes. The highlights to the Overview of Changes mention the goal of applicability of the guidelines to librarians and staff engaged in reference but it is about what workers do, not the context of why. This is not intended to be a scholarly document.

The Preface presents the goals of the document: it emphasizes building relationships with communication, empathy, and acknowledgment of inherent power dynamics that are useful for different libraries in different ways. A change in vocabulary to ‘reference interactions’ rather than ‘reference transactions’ is introduced. 

Inclusion is a new section for 2022. It is further elaborated on in an appendix glossary that works in tandem with Guidelines. The Jamboard comments around this part of the town hall included the strategies such as using emojis, greeting patrons by name, and adopting a conversational tone.

Three sections from the former Behavioral Guidelines (1.0 Visibility/Approachability, 2.0 Interest, and 3.0 Listening and Inquiring)were reworked and merged, becoming two sections in the new draft (Approachability and Engagement). The presenters explained that merging these three sections resulted from comments that the Behavioral Guidelines was too long and redundant. They also reassured the audience in the Town Hall that no valuable information was lost as longer examples will be in an appendix. The Engagement section focuses on how to elicit a user’s research or reference question after creating a welcoming virtual or physical environment. Meeting the user’s cultural, generational, or neurodivergent contexts is foremost.

Searching and Evaluation were together in the prior iteration of the Guidelines but have now been separated due to recognition of the importance of assessment, especially because of the pervasiveness of mis- and dis- information. Searching now emphasizes collaboration between the user and library worker and de-emphasizes a prescriptive process for arriving at answers.Tips, questions, and examples are available in the appendix.

Evaluation, a new category, again emphasizes collaboration with an eye to the evaluation of the quality of resources and deciding whether more searching or a different search strategy is needed. This section discusses enriching library worker knowledge of resources; discernment in making referrals to librarian or community experts; ensuring search results are appropriate to the user and that sources are reliable and applicable to the user.

Closure replaces the ‘‘Follow-Up’ section. This section emphasizes that providing information is not necessarily the end of the interaction with the user. It is important to check with the user to make sure their question is answered to their satisfaction and to offer follow-up with the preferred method of contact.

The Appendix and Supporting Documentation includes document history, an appendix for a glossary, sample questions, and a list of resources in order to streamline the bulk of the document.

My Opinion regarding the new Draft of the Behavioral Guidelines

The Guidelines’ second draft offers welcome changes in the wake of a life-changing pandemic. It acknowledges the changes brought by technology, and affirms the need to support library users where they are and how they are. As diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives proliferate among multiple industries, these Guidelines embrace their existence and importance of interacting with users and providing services they need in a manner that results in them feeling satisfied, understood, and supported.

My understanding of the removal of distinctions between ‘librarians’ and library staff with the use of the term ‘library worker’ is that it helps break-down barriers and acknowledges that a wide number of library employees help users. However, the distinction of librarians as professionals as part of the team that serves users is important to acknowledge in this document and that distinction isn’t there. It is, perhaps, a distinction I feel more keenly as I work in a specialized library. With the challenges librarians are facing today, I think it is important for members of the public to understand the level of expertise they are receiving when they interact with a librarian.

I also think distinctions should be made within different kinds of virtual interactions. Twitter, for example, has a character limit whereas sending an email with an attachment is completely different. I do not know if making those distinctions is within the scope of this document, however. Having an in-person user is different than having someone on the phone or on chat. Library workers must ‘check-in’ with virtual users so they know the library worker is still ‘there’ while the in-person user has the sensory inputs of staff ‘thereness.’ It is, in my opinion, an important distinction to make. This is but one consideration, but by bringing it up, I hope to inspire more dialogue regarding these exciting venues for reaching users where they are.

As I look ahead to the next phase and future finalization of the Guidelines, I think about how libraries and librarians have changed and have adapted. The pandemic made inequalities and  differing needs of readers more visible. Libraries are not just about books anymore, they are about serving patrons in an increasingly digitally focused world. The Guidelines show an awareness of the virtual world and its impact on librarianship.