We often joke at my library about how my co-worker and I are always on reference duty even when we’re not at the desk because our offices are the first two in the row of offices along the reference room wall. I had been thinking of it as just one of those things… kind of annoying sometimes but not a huge deal. Now I’m wondering if I can learn from it.
I’m sure his experience is similar to mine, but here’s mine. Students pop in to ask me where a call number is even when someone’s at the desk not 25 feet from me (and far closer to the entrance to the reference room). During the summer when we have “on call” reference, I’m basically always on call, even when I close my door. Today a student worker from the post office asked if she could leave a package with me since the Archives door was closed. (The archives are three floors downstairs.) Last week I was out in the reference area and a student hovered around my closed, dark office door. When asked if he needed to talk to me, he said he just needed help finding if we had the full text of an article. He’d walked right past the staffed desk to find an office, any office, even if it was clearly uninhabited at the time.
This has made me wonder about several things, but two in particular.
- Are college students that much more comfortable looking for an office than looking for a desk? Office hours are a fundamental part of a college student’s experience, and maybe there’s something either more legitimate or simply more private about an office.
- We designed our desk to be unimposing. It’s not a fortress; it’s a desk much like the other computer tables in the room, except that it’s got a sign hanging over it that says “Research/IT” and it’s positioned so that you walk directly at it as you enter the room. Maybe unintimidating a red herring. Maybe they’re looking for more of a Structure. More of an office… After all, closing my door (and sometimes even turning out my light) should be a bit intimidating, but it clearly doesn’t get in their way. They’re looking for an academic authority figure, and apparently that comes with trappings that don’t include “unintimidating.”