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Single Service Point Presentation: SUNY Geneseo Case Study for SSP

Milne Library Changes Video

Reference Desk/Circulation Desk Photos

Case Study

Snapshot: implementation of a single service desk model...

Preparation (Spring 2010 semester)

  • Train staff to to answer basic informational questions (three half day sessions covering: library resources overview, using library databases, and reference interviews).
  • Develop policies and procedures for reference librarians, circ students, staff, regarding question triage
  • Assessment/User Surveys
  • Determine the role of reference assistants, other student workers
  • Develop the floorplan for the new "Research Consultation Office" (included visiting other libraries and an extensive literature review).
  • Develop a plan to market Research Consultations to students and faculty.
  • Develop a training course in myCourses (Angel Course Management System)

Remodel the reference area (Summer 2010)

  • Removed Reference Desk
  • Merge tech help/Circulation/Reference into one single service Desk
  • Build/furnish Research Consultation Area 
  • Merge circulation staff and reference librarians into an integrated staff office area
  • Adjust signage as appropriate for these new areas
  • Train circ students to to answer basic informational questions (day long training on August 28, 2010)
  • Tested out on-call reference service/IM Chat, with ref help being provided as needed in the integrated staff offices.
  • Promoted new changes via signage, blog posts and campus-wide email notifications.

Go Live (Beginning of Fall 2010 semester, Aug. 30, 2010)

  • Still have ref librarians "on duty" in our new Research Consultation Area to take referrals, do IM chat, answer phone, etc...
  • Librarians will serve ref duty assignment in the new Research Consultation area during the transition (Fall 2010 semester) to make sure the transition to the new model is as seamless as possible.(in the meantime, we will be researching options for summoning them so they can truly be "on-call" just in time to help.
  • Implement the Research Consultation marketing plan (for both Student and Faculty research)
  • Ongoing training for Service Desk student workers and staff via workshops and the myCourses training module.

Next Steps

  • Spring 2011, Reference Librarians are on-call for research consultations/reference help.  They will be paged when they are needed (this has been changed to Fall 2011)
  • Ongoing Assessment (user surveys, libstats statistics, ALEPH and ILLiad statistics, ongoing monitoring of student/staff triage)
  • Determine/purchase system for summoning on-duty librarian
  • Analyze and assess the software and processes of Research Consultations and on demand reference scheduling


Milne Library has decided to undergo this change to help address some issues with the traditional reference model:

  • The library has a talented and busy staff in addition to talented and underutilized student workers.
  • Departments and student workers are arranged in such a way that it can be confusing for students to know where to go when they have a question.
  • Different departments in the library rely on one another for quality and efficiency, yet do not always work closely enough with one another to maximize productivity.

In creating this new model, we hope:

  • To improve service to SUNY Geneseo students, faculty and local community members by empowering Service Point employees to answer simple questions and redirect more difficult questions to the appropriate department.
  • To more efficiently utilize the time and skills of reference librarians, library staff, and student library workers. 
  • To insure that reference librarians work closely with the service desk staff to meet the needs of library users.

Reference department’s values and goals:

The change in our reference service will enable reference librarians to concentrate on in-depth questions and research consultations by allowing the service desk to answer directional and basic informational requests.  Questions that might currently be cut short due to the nature of reference service at the desk can be extended into a longer research consultation. In addition by moving reference to a less busy and quiet area it allows students/faculty and the librarians the privacy needed to work on longer research questions.



Ensuring a sound model:

Staff/students at the Service Desk will be the initial service point for all library questions.  When a question meets certain criteria (complexity, length, etc.), staff/students will suggest either a meeting with the on-call librarian or scheduling a Research Consultation. 

We will maintain a reference schedule in order to accommodate those students with immediate needs, in addition to monitoring our new IM reference.  For students/faculty who need to consult an on-call librarian, the staff/students at the desk can walk the person to the new research consultation area located behind the desk.

To make scheduling a Research Consultation easier, the library "Express Stations" will have a desktop shortcut to the SRC request form.  Other ways of marketing the SRC's will be explored, including incorporation into myCourses, adjustments to the library website, etc.

All students and staff were trained in reference triage. Staff attended three sessions and students attended a full-day training session. In addition to the training days a myCourses class was developed to maintain a high level of service. All students and staff must monitor this class throughout the semester for new content and review questions. This class also serves as a communication tool for students and staff. The software program, libstats, will also be monitored by reference librarians to keep track of the types of questions asked and answered at the Service Desk. This will keep us informed of not only the number and type of questions being asked but how the students are answering them and whether or not they are being referred when necessary. 

Students were surveyed prior to the changes made at the desk and we will be repeating this survey to see if our new model is meeting student's needs. We will be heavily promoting this survey with the hopes of collecting more data than we were able to gain through the first survey. Specifically we will be putting the names of any students who fill out the survey (and opt to leave their name) into a raffle to win an iPod.

Encouraging staff buy-in and acceptance of a new service model:

The design and planning of this new model was (and is) a lengthy process and has demanded countless meetings of all the staff involved, not just the librarians. Every step in the process was discussed and staff were consistently asked their opinions, as changes to this area would have the greatest impact on them and their job duties. All field visits to other libraries included the staff so that they could see what other libraries have done (and why) and they would therefore have a better understanding of what was needed to make this new model work. Staff was also involved in the training of the service desk students so that they could share the goals and objectives with the students which in turn reinforced their understanding of these goals.

Building geography:

 There were several issues that needed to be overcome in developing a new physical layout:

  • Keeping the service desk near the main entrance of the library so that staff and students can monitor the gate alarm
  • Limited Space--needed to keep circulation in the same area, but add shelving for expanding IDS and course reserves and add a space for a Research Consultation area near our new Service Desk.



Civil Service or other staff union issues:

In this new model staff are being asked to answer basic reference questions. This could be troublesome if staff feel that they are being asked to perform functions normally done by reference librarians and are not part of their normal duties. Staff at the desk may be resentful of these new duties and librarians may be worried that the quality of service will decline.

When exploring this issue we visited the job descriptions of our service desk staff and found that answering basic reference questions did align well with what was already expected of them. All of the job descriptions included a section on providing answers to library patrons about library services and resources, this was all that we were asking of them in this new model. In addition, most of the staff and students at the desk were already doing this, they just didn't know it as it was never formalized. To address the concerns of the librarians we shared our training plan with them and had one of the reference librarians involved with the training of the students.

Other library staff or other campus departments:

Because this is the only true public service point in the library, every department is represented by the operations of the service desk.  As a result, it has not been difficult to garner support and/or assistance from the other departments in the library.  Reference staff for example are eager to ensure that students are properly trained and adept at both basic reference skills and referrals.  Information Delivery Services wants to ensure the fastest turn-around time possible, and is works closely with Service Desk staff to develop efficient programs and processes. 

It is necessary to have the support and assistance of other library departments for such a service model to operate effectively.  Without the appropriate support, even the simplest of questions will be answered incorrectly, or referred to that department rendering the whole concept of the single service point ineffective. 

In order to ensure a smooth transition to this new service model, it is imperative to communicate certain details of the move and the rationale behind the renovation to other campus departments.  Not every student on campus is a library regular.  We need students that come to the library infrequently to get reliable and accurate information about library services.  Other academic departments can also serve as a nice source of constructive feedback for how they feel about the changes, and how their students feel about the changes.


The importance of training is amplified in our style of a service desk.  First of all, the students and staff working at the desk are usually the first and in some cases only representatives of the library that come into contact with the public.  It is imperative that they represent the library positively to ensure patron desire and/or willingness to return.  By extension, those working at the desk must know their role, the tasks they are expected to be able to complete, and who to refer to when they cannot handle questions or requests themselves.  The successful operation of other departments in the library relies on effective operation of the service desk.  

We have provided training for both the staff members who work at the service desk and of course the students staffing the service desk.  The students include traditional Circulation students, Circulation Supervisors, and Tech Help students.  We have also offered brief training to other librarians and staff in the building who are not expected to work at the service desk.

The training for the students covers traditional circulation responsibilities such as check in and check out, shelving, handling fines, course reserves and Information Delivery Services (Inter-library Loan) materials.  We also train all of the students to handle basic technology related questions (the Tech Help Students handle any advanced or difficult Technology related questions and any classroom technology questions.)  Finally we train all of the students to handle basic reference triage.  They are expected to be able to use the library catalog to find a book if they have a title or the call number.  They should also be able to use the journal finder to find a specific article when they are given a citation or part of a citation.  Any research related question more difficult than this they are expected to refer to a librarian.

We trained all of the returning student workers on the Saturday prior to the start of classes.  We offered a 6 hour training session with a lunch intermission where we covered everything.  A single long session is admittedly not ideal, however both getting the students on campus prior more than a couple of days before the semester, and finding time during the semester when all of the students are available are both very problematic.  As it is, not all of the students were able to attend, and several students, particularly in the fall, do not start until a few weeks into the semester.  We have to train these students individually which can be very time consuming.

There are between 60 and 70 total students who work at the service desk.

We also offer continuing training through an online "MyCourses" module for the students.  We periodically have them review information and take quizzes on the responsibilities they seem to be struggling with.  We also make sure that either a staff member, a librarian, or a student supervisor is on duty at all times to help with the more difficult situations and serve as a mentor to the newer, less experienced students. 

The staff training we provided focused on Reference triage.  They were given lessons on how to find books, articles, how to read citations, and how to conduct a reference interview.  Emphasis was placed on knowing when to answer a question, when to refer the question to a librarian and exactly who to refer the question to.

We provided training to our staff towards the end of the semester prior to implementing the service model.  The idea was to give them an opportunity to practice some of the new skills and processes they would need prior to implementing the actual service model.  This training consisted of 3 separate 1-1/2 hour sessions.  We offered it to the entire library and received excellent turnout even from departments not involved with public service.

We also provide continuing one-on-one training for the student supervisors to ensure they are comfortable with all aspects of the service desk. This includes slightly more advanced training with our collection management system (ALEPH), Opening and Closing procedures for the library and Emergency Procedures among several other things. These are students that stand out for being both proactive and reliable.  We provide them with the more personalized training because one of them will always be on duty when no librarian or staff member is available.  We want to make sure they are comfortable with (and of course that we are comfortable with) their added responsibilities. 

The hand-off:

At this point we have a reference librarian staffed in the research consultation area located behind the Service Desk. If a patron comes to the desk with a reference question the student at the desk brings the person to the librarian. If there isn't a librarian in the area, the students have a calendar of who should be in the area and can call the librarian (or another librarian if needed). If it is during a time when there is no reference librarian on duty the student will recommend that the person makes an appointment to meet with a librarian using our online research consultation form or comes back when a librarian is on duty.

All Service Desk computers have a bookmark to the Google Reference Calendar so they can quickly tell which librarian is on call.  Since the librarian on duty is covering IM chat, those on the Service Desk will notify the librarian via IM chat when assistance is needed in the Research Consultation area.



Financial resources:

We had a limited budget for this project and re-purposed many items we already had in the library. One of the biggest expenses we had was adding glass to our new area. This was a place where we were not able to use material already in the area. We also needed new computers, tables, chairs, and printers. We were able to re-use laptops, printers and some furniture for some of of areas. We did need to buy several new computers as well as new chairs and tables though. We would recommend an inventory of current library material and match it to the list of items needed for the new area.

Utilizing non-staff resources to help with the transition:

One of  the biggest software applications we are using in this new area is libstats. Students and staff at the desk record questions they get and how they answered them. This will serve as both an assessment tool and a learning opportunity for those involved. We are also utilizing myCourses as a training and communication tool for students and staff. We have developed a myCouses training module that houses content about the service desk and quizzes about this content. It also contains a message board  and an email function where students and staff can post or send questions or comments. We specifically use the message board as a daily log for our student supervisors, they are required to post something about their shift every time they work. This has been useful as we see where they (or other students) need additional training and are able to monitor issues or problems that occur when staff are not present.

Outside Consultantion:

We did not use a professional consultant as our library staff is accustomed to new projects and how to manage them properly. We did count on staff from other areas of the library to help in this project and this support led to the implementation of the new model without much outside help. We visited other libraries during our development stages and surveyed the staff involved in the projects about their experiences. This information was helpful as it showed examples of single service desk models that were successful or not. We also did an extensive literature review which again gave us insight into what others have experienced and what worked and didn't work. We did find that we were the only library not including a reference librarian in their new model so this reinforced our reliance on our own staff for input. Finally, we were part of the Single Service Task force formed by the Rochester Regional Library Council where we could talk about our experiences and hear from others exploring this model as well.


One of the biggest assumptions we made was that students were confused by the fact that we had two desks. We assumed that it would be easier for them to go to one desk to ask all of their questions. We mainly based these assumptions on anecdotal evidence. At the reference desk we would see students wander around the area and seem unsure as to where they should go. We also entertained many questions at the desk that were directional such as "where should I go to check these books out?" or "where can I get help with my computer?". Circulation students and staff would likewise get questions such as "where can I get help with research on my paper?" We did have signs in our area indicating reference and circulation had signs indicating "tech help" and "check out" but students didn't seem to notice them. We did facilitate a survey at both desks asking whether students felt that they were getting the help they needed before we began this process. Unfortunately the response was light and it didn't help inform us much in our decision making process.