naked reference

This is a two part post.

The first part is an interesting reference idea called Reference in the Raw an experiment where reference staff bring nothing to the desk, no other work, no projects, nothing. Yes, they are clothed. The idea is to be approachable and available and patron oriented. I didn’t see a follow-up post, I’d be interested to know how the experiment worked.

The second part of this post was spurred by my looking at my Google Sitemaps statistics and realizing that the Naked Librarians page over at is the third hit on Google for the words naked photos (seventh if you put the words in quotes). So, with great power comes great responsibility, I guess. I decided to update the page, purge the old links using the W3C link checker and maybe go trolling around for some new…. data. If anyone has some images they would like to send my way, or preferably links to other sites, I’d appreciate it. As always, naked pictures of yourself are unwelcome in most cases, unless you are standing in front of a bookshelf.

4 thoughts on “naked reference

  1. Maybe you can find interesting stuff in “la cage aux bibliothécaires” (the librarians’ cage) [] available at the blog Bibliobsession [] – best regards

  2. Hi there : )

    If I remember well, I’ve seen a half year ago a question on the “Naked librarians” page, what was “How do you say ‘ex libris’ in Hungarian” or the same. The answer is: we have no other word, we say it just “ex libris”. Anyway, I would call your collection “sex libris” ; ) Nice!

  3. Hi Jessamyn,

    There were two purposes to the Naked Reference Experiment:

    First, I felt that it was important to give my staff the opportunity to see what life would be like if we removed all distractions from one of our three public desks. Our customer service philosophy is to be proactive and opportunistic, to seek out patrons, to reach out to them instead of expecting them to initiate reference interviews with us. Moreover, I regard our work at the public desk as the most important priority for my staff. Therefore, as their manager it was important to me to give them the chance to see what it would be like to be unburdened by the pressure of off desk tasks. I wanted this project to get them thinking and talking.

    Second, I believe that ineffective multitasking is a significant barrier to high quality public service in libraries. It takes all sorts of forms, subtle and blatant- typing while a patron asks us a question, stacking a pile of papers or books on the surfaces that are meant for patrons’ stuff (and elbows), feeling rushed, reading email while patrons pass by- these things occur at every library where I have worked and visited (I visit other libraries’ and test their customer service…for kicks). I want to push my staff hard to pay attention to the details of customer service because those details make a world of difference in how our patrons perceive us. Yet, if I pile work onto my staff without regard to the pressures they may feel to get this work done while at the desk, then I am not being responsible to them or our patrons. In other words, Naked Reference was also meant to be a learning experience for me, to test the idea of relieving staff of the pressure to feel that they had to turn their attention away from the public. I mean, I have been doing this for twelve years and one of the most frequent complaints from public service librarians I have heard is that they don’t have enough time to get their off desk work done. It has always made me wonder whether management expectations of public line staff are fair.

    How did this work? I would love to post the results of all the comments and conversations this project generated, however because most of it involves the opinions of those who work in my department, I don’t think it would be fair to do so in such a public way. What I can say is that the experiment did what it was supposed to do by creating a meaningful and positive conversation about customer service among my staff. That is how we make progress.

    Lastly, I have been asked what kinds of things I would allow people to bring to the desk, and my response is always the same- I don’t care as long as it doesn’t prevent them from providing service according to the high standards we should be setting for ourselves. Basically, it’s a personal decision. My job is to keep peoples’ attention on the details and to help them move in the direction we have charted. Me? I hardly bring anything to the desk because I have difficulty splitting my mind up that way.

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