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Sarah Hammill's picture

Lindsay Johnston

Monday, February 10, 2014 - 9:00 am to Friday, February 14, 2014 - 5:00 pm

IAmRUSA Interviewee for the Week of February 10th is

Lindsay Johnston

Ask her a question!

Lindsay Johnston (non-member)'s picture

Hi! I'm Lindsay Johnston, Public Services Manager & Slavic Studies Librarian at the University of Alberta Rutherford Humanities & Social Sciences Library in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. In my position as a library manager, I'm responsible for public services at our Humanities & Social Sciences Library and Law Library. This includes supervision of library technicians and student employees, team coordination, scheduling, and training. One of the challenges of leading a team involves being both a leader and a participatory member of that team. At the HSS Library, we provide reference, circulation (borrower services), and computing help from a single service desk, as well as by chat, texting, email and phone. Our team includes librarians, library techs, and library school students. We work from a broad knowledge base and through a system of referral. I join my colleagues on a library-wide Public Service Council. We work on public service issues for the library system. We started using Desk Tracker to gather information about all of our service transactions in the fall. These stats give useful information on fluctuating levels of service demand at the service desk. I am currently preparing to a survey of Public Service Staff Perceptions of Fluctuating Service Demand and Handling Multiple Modes of Service. I'll miss ALA Annual this year, because I'm actually going to present my research at the Canadian Library Association Conference in Victoria, BC this summer.

A bit about my background... I was born in Toronto and grew up in Ottawa, Ontario. I have a BA in Russian Studies from Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1995), an MA in Russian Literature from Ottawa U (1996), and an MLIS from the U of Alberta (1999). I started at the U of A with a contract at the Business Library in 1999, and have worked here in various positions ever since: Government Publications Librarian (2000-2006), Science Librarian and Public Services Manager at the Science & Technology Library (2007-2012). I moved back to the HSS Library in the summer of 2012 and am trying to remember what I learned so long ago in order to be a successful liaison librarian to Slavic scholars and students.

I love ALA. I find the conferences so energizing. I've belonged to various committees. When I was a Gov Docs librarian, I found out that American Gov Docs Librarians are freedom fighters and I have great memories of GODORT. I'm currently the chair of the MARS Management of Electronic Reference Services (MERS) Cte. I belong to RUSA, ACRL, and LLAMA, so that I can learn about all of the facets of my job through ALA programming and committees. I've benefited hugely from the fact that ALA is so welcoming to Canadian librarians.

I've been a manager for 6 years now, a supervisor for 7, and reference librarian my entire career. My experience is all in academic libraries. Please ask me anything you like about librarianship and I'll take a shot at a response! 

Kirk MacLeod's picture

First of all, thanks for taking part in IAmRUSA,

Two quick quesitions on two different topics:

1) When did you attend your first ALA conference?  As a student or after you began practicing in the firld?  Would you say it is a worthwhile experience for studnets?

2) Although I don't personally have any experience with Desktracker, do you find it's a useful tool in terms of reference services?  Does it differentiate between simple reference and more complex question and how does it work as far as front desk application - I'm always anxious that these various tracking softwares have staff spending more time keeping stats than helping patrons!



Lindsay Johnston (non-member)'s picture

Hi, Kirk. Thanks for your questions.

I attended my first ALA Conference when I was a practicing professional. It was the joint CLA/ALA Conference in Toronto (Annual 2003) and I worked on conference programming with GODORT. It was excellent.

I definitely recommend ALA Annual to library school students, if you can secure the funds to attend. Membership and conference fees for ALA are lower than other organizations, in my experience. The online Conference Scheduler is an excellent tool (2014 isn't up yet - here's 2013). Because it's such a huge conference, Annual has something for everyone. Also because it's so huge, you need to plan ahead. You can search the scheduler by what's offered by RUSA, MARS, RSS, etc. Map out where you need to be for each session, because sometimes it won't be possible to attend sessions back-to-back that are in venues in different parts of the host city. As a first-time attendee, I recommend attending events such as First-Timers Breakfasts and a Committee meeting at an All Committees Meeting (eg: the MARS All Committees Meeting is held in a ballroom with a round meeting table for each MARS Cte). New members are most welcome. You can meet the committee members, find out what they do, and decide if you want to join. Once you're on a committee, that anchors you when you are deciding what programming and meetings to attend. Here is a list of all RUSA Committees. Midwinter is also a great conference. It makes the most sense to attend Midwinter when you have committee business to carry out. It is a working conference, but it also has great programming.

Lindsay Johnston (non-member)'s picture

So, far, I find Desktracker to be very useful. It is quite flexible. When I was at ALA Annual last summer, a colleague and I asked for demos of Desktracker and LibAnswers at the Trade Show. They both looked useful.

Desktracker allows you to build your own surveys, so you can set it up to gather information any way you want. The survey we use at our service desks asks staff members to fill out a form for each transaction. It does not take long to fill out -- they just have to click check items off, and rarely need to type in text. We have a standard survey that we use at all of our service desks, and Desk Tracker is flexible enough to allow individual desks to add more questions. Our standard survey has 4 variables: Duration of Interaction, Type of Question, Mode of Service (in-person, chat, etc.), and Collaboration/Referral. "Type of Question" has 10 possible responses, including "Reference Basic" and "Reference more involved/advanced".

Using Desk Tracker accurately can be challenging during busy times at the desk. When you are out on the floor or up in the stacks helping someone, and two more patrons come along and ask questions, then you have to try to remember each interaction when you get back to the desk and fill out the survey. During steady or slow times, it is easy to fit into workflow.

We also use Desk Tracker to log instruction statistics, head counts, and so on.

Once you've collected your stats, you can use it to generate reports - it will build graphs for you, or you can download .csv files.

At the end of April, we'll have two terms of data, and I'm hoping to be able to use it to help inform desk staffing decisions.

Sarah Hammill's picture

Hi Lindsay!

I hope you will report back your findings on the survey about Public Service Staff Perceptions of Fluctuating Service Demand and Handling Multiple Modes of Service.  It sounds interesting and really pertinent in today's world with less resources and expectations to do more!


Sarah J. Hammill

M. Kathleen Kern's picture

Hi Lindsay,


Very interesting research, I am eager to see the results as well.


We've been using DeskTracker for about five years with similar fields to your form.  I use the data extensively for staffing and service hours/locations decisions.  I'd be happy to talk to you about what we've done here. 



M. Kathleen Kern

RUSA Past-President