A Contribution to Debates on Public Library Reference Libraries

Around a year ago the department I work in at the Leeds Central LibraryBusiness and Research* – was faced with a fairly significant set of proposed changes. This was (or, rather, is) to involved the department partnering with the British Library to create a new Intellectual Property centre (set to open next year). Staff within the department were asked to respond to these changes, specifically in relation to how they saw the existing reference-enquiry-research services developing in the future. I used this opportunity to suggest we launch a user-survey in order to more accurately ascertain the needs of our current customer base. I was specifically interested in discovering what kinds of enquiries the department was answering and also trying to find out a little but more about what types of customers requested book stock from the stack holdings managed by the department, and for what purpose (study? leisure? work? etc). I then used those results to create a 26-page analysis of the department’s customer base, alongside suggestions for the development of our services alongside those Intellectual Property and Business Start-up services that were to form the core of the new IP Centre. I have recently had reason to review this document and found it surprisingly interesting even a year later. I have decided to upload it to this blog- partly for my own archival purposes, but also so that it can form a contribution to wider debates on the future of reference/research departments within the public library sector. The report is available here. I have made no changes to the document since I first wrote it.

*The title of the department is – or, at least, was – slightly misleading. The department really focuses on responding to information enquiries, providing customers with access to specialist subscription-databases, and retrieving stock from our voluminous stacks/archives. Business services are – again, were – the purview of a slightly separate department, Business & Patents (BAPIS); though that distinction is collapsing in light of the proposed departmental changes.

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