A busy reference desk presents a problem … how do you allocate resources, people, when the laws of chaos state that business will come and go, peaking at unexpected intervals?
From the management side of things you do the best you can. From the reference librarian’s point of view you learn how to dance.
Dancing here doesn’t mean the solo display of technical brilliance a la Baryshnikov. It’s a dance with partners, more of a slow pavane, occasionally something much faster, even sometimes approaching a square dance.
It’s about attention, giving it and receiving it, with the reference librarian moving from partner to partner as the situation – and complexity of the question – warrants. Direct eye contact, a warm smile and an “I’ll be right with you” should be enough to let the next person in line know that he or she will not be forgotten.
A good reference librarian not only dances, but involves library patrons in the dance. This is often necessary when confronting a difficult question at a busy desk, especially while the telephone is ringing and e-mail is arriving. The patron who knows that he or she has your attention will generally not begrudge having to share it, as long as they’re sure to be included in the dance.