Q: How does a reference assistant work effectively with librarians in serving together to meet the needs of patrons?
A: Reference Assistant positions are great places to start your library career. Typically, you will learn a ton of stuff from the librarians you work with, and you will get invaluable experience behind the reference desk. These are usually sought-after appointments and can lead you far in your career. I should know, I worked as a reference assistant in academic libraries for two years before getting my library degree. I probably learned more from those positions, and the people I worked with, than I did in library school.
Working effectively with others can be tricky, and changing an ineffective or stale work environment can be hopeless. But, when your goal is the same — to meet the needs of the patrons — it should make things easier. From my experience, the job of a reference assistant is just that, assist the reference librarians and do a lot of reference work. If you feel like you can and should be doing more than what you are doing, you need to talk to your supervisor.
Reference assistants typically spend much of their time behind the reference desk, which means that you might have a better sense of what the patron needs or wants than the librarians do. It is your job to communicate this to the librarians: to share patron feedback, discuss problems, and throw around new ideas and solutions. The librarians will appreciate this feedback and information. If you do not meet regularly in person with the librarians, you could communicate via email on a regular basis. Communication is key. Try your hardest to get the lines of communication open.
Ask your supervisor for more responsibility, and get the “go ahead” to develop something new that might benefit the reference staff and the patrons like a social software tool [blog, Facebook page, wiki, bookmarks, etc.], and show off your skills and motivation at the same time. Perhaps you want to try your hand at creating or updating web pages, surveying the patrons, creating new user guides and handouts, conducting library tours, trying out a chat widget, evaluating new databases, designing marketing tools/signs, teaching a workshop (either for the librarians or for patrons). You must have some ideas of what you would like to do, if you’re asking this question, so share your ideas with the librarians, and show them that you are willing and able to run with them. If this does not impress them, then I’m not sure what will.
If there is one librarian who you admire or you can relate to better than the others, ask your supervisor if you can shadow him or her for a while. Learn more about what this person does in your library, and see if you can get involved in, and offer your assistance with, their work. If you are able to prove to this person that you are a valuable asset to the library, you will have an important ally, advocate, and collaborator.
Finally, learn as much as you can in this position, but also share your knowledge with those you work with. Divisions within libraries, whether based on age, professional status, department, or role, need to be torn down. They only hinder growth and progress for the library as a whole.