Reference is not dead: A case study of patron habits and library staffing models

Christina E. Holm, Kennesaw State University
Sarah Kantor, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga


For decades, declines in library reference use have been inextricably tied to technological improvements. This article asserts that reference staffing models may be a significant predictor of a decline in reference questions. Using two years of data, collected from a large public university, the researchers determined user preferences among five staffing models: (1) staffed and visible reference desks, (2) on-call and visible reference desks, (3) staffed, unseen reference desks, (4) on-call, unseen reference desks, and (5) chat reference, where librarians and users “talk” to each other in real time using special software. The researchers found that library users seem to prefer staffed and visible reference desks. When staffing does not match that model, users turn to chat reference rather than on-call or unseen reference services.