Roaming Reference: Reinvigorating Reference through Point of Need Service

  • Kealin M. McCabe University of Northern British Columbia
  • James R.W. MacDonald University of Northern British Columbia


Roaming reference service was pursued as a way to address declining reference statistics. The service was staffed by librarians armed with iPads over a period of six months during the 2010-2011 academic year. Transactional statistics were collected in relation to query type (Research, Facilitative or Technology), location and approach (librarian to patron, patron to librarian or via chat widget). Overall, roaming reference resulted in an additional 228 reference questions, 67% (n=153) of which were research related. Two iterations of the service were implemented, roaming reference as a standalone service (Fall 2010) and roaming reference integrated with traditional reference desk duties (Winter 2011). The results demonstrate that although the Weller Library’s reference transactions are declining annually, they are not disappearing. For a roaming reference service to succeed, it must be a standalone service provided in addition to traditional reference services. The integration of the two reference models (roaming reference and reference desk) resulted in a 56% decline in the total number of roaming reference questions from the previous term. The simple act of roaming has the potential to reinvigorate reference services as a whole, forcing librarians outside their comfort zones, allowing them to reach patrons at their point of need.

Author Biographies

Kealin M. McCabe, University of Northern British Columbia
Research and Learning Services Librarian
James R.W. MacDonald, University of Northern British Columbia
Digital Initiatives Librarian
Theory and Research