Best Practices: Book a Librarian for Training and Reference Assistance

Marc Webb and his colleagues at the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) want library users to “Book a Librarian”—and it’s working.
This simple and easy-to-implement project, which Webb first proposed 10 years ago in his master’s thesis paper at San Jose State University, combines in-depth reference assistance with one-on-one training for library users. Book-a-Librarian clients make appointments to spend up to 30 minutes with a librarian. The staff member helps the library user with anything from Internet or email assistance to in-depth reference assistance in a subject area familiar to the librarian—far more than customers can gain from brief exchanges with staff at busy reference desks.
“It’s been booked about 60 days ahead for the entire time we’ve been doing it, and we’re expanding the hours,” Webb said recently.
The project began at SFPL in April 2007. It is now expanding to include four librarians who each provide one hour of assistance per week in the Main Library. Branch managers at SFPL are also beginning to consider the program for their users, according to Webb. Participants use a library space such as a computer training lab which provides a sense of security for staff and users and which, at the same time, allows them to carry on an extended conversation without disturbing others who are using the library.
“For me, it’s been very satisfying,” Webb noted. “It’s about improved customer service. I think it’s the next wave in reference services.”
Those interested in the program will find contact and scheduling information on the Library’s online calendar of events as long as the service continues to be offered.