Reference Desk: What to Call It?

The phone rings at the Reference Desk. I pick it up to answer:

Me: Library Reference Desk, may I help you?

Patron: Umm…I don’t need you to be a reference. But can I ask a question?

Me: (Not missing a beat) Absolutely!

So, did the library patron really think the Reference Desk was the place to call to have someone vouch for them on a resume? Sigh.

What should it be called? Information Desk, Research Desk, Help Desk? I just don’t think the term reference registers with a lot of users. I also struggle with using the term reference when I do library instruction. I generally don’t even say “reference books”–instead, it’s background info, encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc.

I worked at a library where the Reference Desk was known as the “Research Assistance” desk. That made sense to users (this was an academic library). The students knew to go to this desk and get help from the librarian.

I also like “Information Desk”: questions = information. That’s easy to understand. “Help Desk” is a perfect description, too. However, it has been co-opted by information technology departments. Would users assume that a “Help Desk” is only for technology questions? Although, many libraries do already answer many tech questions anyway.

Which name do you prefer?

The library I currently work at recently installed a merged circulation/reference area. Now I struggle whether to refer separately to them as “circulation desk” and “reference desk,” (they are technically two desks, separated by small opening) or some new name?

After the re-model:

I’d love to hear from other librarians who have merged circulation/reference areas. What do you call it?

5 thoughts on “Reference Desk: What to Call It?

  1. I suppose it depends what kind of library you are in and how broad your duties are. If you are willing to show the way to the washrooms as well as answering reference questions, then the KISS principle applies. If you need help with anything, go to the ‘Help Desk’.

  2. Pingback: Periodicals and Other Library Jargon « Mr. Library Dude

  3. We have an information desk. I think it’s even more confusing than “reference” since so many places have “information” areas that are really meant to point people in a direction. I see information kiosks at hospitals and airports all the time. I assume our users think we’re the same thing

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