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Meeting student needs at the reference desk

Amy Gratz (Gustavus Adolphus College, Saint Peter, Minnesota, USA)
Julie Gilbert (Gustavus Adolphus College, Saint Peter, Minnesota, USA)

Reference Services Review

ISSN: 0090-7324

Article publication date: 16 August 2011




The purpose of this paper is to investigate student use of the reference desk at a residential college, so that academic libraries can better understand the role of in‐person assistance to meet the information needs of students.


Survey respondents answered open‐ended questions related to ways they ask for help in the library; data were coded and analyzed for salient trends. Photo diary entries and interviews with smaller groups of students were also used to illuminate findings.


Students express a need for the kind of help provided by the reference desk in terms of how students use and describe the desk. Usage patterns can also be predicted in terms of class year, gender, and major, indicating a way for the library to provide specific outreach to students who underutilize the reference desk.

Research limitations/implications

The study investigates student use of the reference desk at a single institution. The unique characteristics of the institution might limit the implications that can be drawn from the study's conclusions for institutions that are not residential and do not serve a primarily traditional‐aged college population.


As information and our users move increasingly online, libraries must consider the value of reference desks. Findings at a residential institution demonstrate the value‐added benefit of this service in helping students with their research.



Gratz, A. and Gilbert, J. (2011), "Meeting student needs at the reference desk", Reference Services Review, Vol. 39 No. 3, pp. 423-438.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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