E-JASL: The Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship


Date of this Version

Winter 2006

Document Type



Electronic Journal of Academic and Special Librarianship (Winter 2006) 7(3). Also available at http://southernlibrarianship.icaap.org/content/v07n03/gardner_s01.htm.


Copyright 2006, the author. Used by permission.



When one walks into a typical academic library today, he or she is hard-pressed to see a reference librarian in plain view working at a public services desk. The well marked “reference desk” of yore, staffed by a smiling librarian and once a staple of every traditional academic library, has evolved into a less visible, more amorphous facility. Most libraries now use a new service strategy called “tiered reference,” whereby the initial reference contact point is with trained students or paraprofessionals at a general service desk. These non-librarians field all manner of questions, including directional, computing, and occasionally reference. They answer any “basic” reference questions they can, and refer advanced questions to an actual librarian. What happened to the reference librarian and her service domain? Can we trust students to be the main gatekeepers? Even the best student worker has occasional lapses where his or her eyes are laden from a 2am outing, and they proceed to give a less than informed answer to a faculty member without bothering to make a referral. Do we really want our public image to be imprinted in the minds of faculty coming to the library as such? Are we selling out by valuing our expertise so little to think that students can effectively fill our shoes?