Caitlyn Bovard

Caitlyn Bovard

by Caitlyn Bovard

As a reference librarian, certain times of the day are quiet. Then, all at once the computers are full and there is a line up of people waiting for an open station. Every single person requires your full attention and many of the things they need help with take a significant amount of time to do. With only one reference librarian on duty at a time, helping everyone can become a challenge. Thankfully, there is a solution to the madness.


Offering one-on-one appointments as a free information literacy service in your library can make things easier on you and your patrons. It allows you the opportunity to help patrons with their more time-consuming projects when you also have the time yourself. Patrons are happy to find out that they can get the help they need individually and have all of their questions answered. I have found it often relieves the stress patrons have from trying to complete a task that is difficult for them while trying to vie for your attention against other patrons. It also prevents a librarian’s frustration with not being able to help everyone to the fullest extent. I consider it a win-win for both parties.

Getting Started:

Create a form for patrons to fill out. You may use this sample form for your own if you wish. The patron will need to provide their contact information, a few times in which they are available to meet for the appointment and what they wish to receive help with during the appointment.  At the Butler Area Public Library, our form states that we will contact them within approximately 3 business days to schedule an appointment. This allows you time to decide who on staff has a schedule that works well for helping the patron and who on staff might have more knowledge on the topic or device requested. Before you get started, agree as a staff what you are able and willing to teach during one-on-ones.

Common one-on-one requests:

Online Job Applications – Help guide patrons through the online process that more and more hiring parties require. While you can not help patrons answer questions, you can assist them in navigating through the web pages, uploading a resume if needed and providing them general peace of mind in their own successful completion of an application.

Email or other personal account setup – When  assisting with account set ups, be sure to let a patron know they can ask you to avert your eyes or step away if they are entering information they do not wish you to see. Often, patrons trust you as a librarian and the person who is helping them, but it is good practice to offer privacy. After the account is set up, be sure the patron feels comfortable with how to navigate around the account. Also, make sure that he or she has written down the account website address, their username and password.

PA Forward Logo of Five LiteraciesResumes/Cover letters – While many libraries now offer classes on writing resumes and cover letters, many patrons prefer help on an individual basis. Use your own knowledge and experience to review a patron’s existing resume or cover letter, provide feedback on it and examples if desired. Sometimes this kind of help is also related to just needing to know some of the finer features of Microsoft Word.

eReader/Tablet/iPad/Laptop – This is probably the most requested one-on-one service. Because there is so much to cover with these devices, be sure to have the patron come prepared to the one-on-one with questions they would like addressed. You are then able to assess what they need to know to use and enjoy their device.

Challenges to be aware of:

As with almost anything, there are a few challenges you may come across, but there are also ways to handle them so they are not a big deal. For example, occasionally you may experience individuals asking for an appointment for help with the same topic repeatedly. If this happens and you do not have the staff time to help in that manner, simply tell the patron that appointments are not meant to be used on a regular basis, but rather are for one time only or occasional use. If at the end of the first appointment, they seem like they want to schedule another right away, encourage them to instead experiment on their own and to practice everything covered in the one-on-one. They can schedule another appointment if they are still experiencing difficulties after having spent some time practicing. Also, encourage them to stop by and ask “quick” questions anytime.

Stay away from broken devices. We are librarians and educators, not computer technicians. It is important to not to be too hands-on with the individual’s device during one-on-ones. Sometimes you might want to do something yourself because it will be quicker.  Refrain from this. Instead, talk them through it. If you do touch something, do it step by step just to show them how, explain what and why you are doing something and then have them try it. The patron will learn more and it prevents any situation where someone might try to accuse you of breaking their device. If you are concerned about this, be sure to include a  clause on the initial form they signed.

One other challenge that hopefully will not come up for you, but to be aware of is coming across rather personal materials during an appointment. Most public libraries have blocks on any inappropriate material from the internet, but that doesn’t always prevent the viewing of explicit email headings, saved files and pictures you may come across while helping. If something like this does occur, it may or may not be an accident, but regardless I would encourage you to end the session promptly. This is also a good reason to pick a space in the library for your one-on-one that is in or has visible sightlines to a general public area.

Now that the challenging scenarios have been covered, consider all of the positives to offering one-on-one appointments in your own library. Patrons will have access to a service that can help improve their information literacy a significant amount and let you keep your sanity during those busy reference hours. If you do decide to offer one-on-ones, there is just one more thing…be prepared to receive the absolute nicest thank you notes.