Pathways To Best Practice 2: Helping users whilst on-site – roving support


Helping users on-site (within and outside the library) by utilising mobile technologies to provide help and support.

State of maturity

Becoming mainstream, particularly as tablets are becoming more common.

Explanation of area

Helping users at their point of need via roving support (i.e. librarians on duty moving around the library) or having librarians located in areas around the library (and wider campus) is a trend that has been gathering momentum for a number of years, with numerous courses, workshops, conference presentations and blog posts on the topic. CILIP groups such as CoFHE (Colleges of Further and Higher Education) and UC&R (University, Colleges and Research) ran a number of workshops on ‘Roving with a purpose’ in 2008-9.

Roving support has been greatly enhanced by the developments in mobile technologies, enabling library staff to utilise these technologies in and around the library (or further afield). Mobile devices such as web-enabled smartphones and tablets now mean that library staff are able to access many library resources whilst with the user away from the helpdesk and without needing to be at a desktop computer. They can also be used during drop in or booked one-to-one sessions with library staff.

Common uses for roving support using mobile devices include:

  • Helping users locate a book using a mobile OPAC
  • Helping users search for relevant research resources using databases (via dedicated apps or through the browser)
  • Enabling staff to provide further information at exhibitions/special collections
  • Making notes whilst roving (general notes about enquiries, or specific notes for each enquiry which could be sent to enquirer)
  • Collecting statistics about the library (occupancy, use of space, enquiries etc.) whilst roving

Examples of work in area

Library Sector Country Overview of work Links/resources
University of Warwick Higher Education UK Using iPads and mobile phones to support roving enquiries by Enquiry Support Team.
Also developed in house app for recording enquiry statistics.
Mobile technology for mobile staff: roving enquiry support (from MMIT journal)
Series of blog posts on roving (from Katharine Widdows’ blog)
University of Huddersfield Higher Education UK Using tablets to support roving in areas of the campus under the ‘Roving Librarian’ brand The roving librarian: keep taking the tablets (from LILAC 2012)
The roving librarian (article in ALISS Quarterly)

Lessons learned from work so far

  • Work with IT staff early on and get them on board with your requirements. Do you want each member of staff to be able to ‘log in’ to device so they can use their own email to send notes for example? What apps/content do you want loaded on the devices? Will you use one account for apps/content or multiple ones?
  • Ensure library staff are comfortable using the mobile devices before they are expected to use them whilst roving. If you have not yet purchased the devices, could the staff who will be using them be involved in the purchasing decision? Are training sessions or teaming more experienced staff with less experienced staff a possibility? Can staff spend time using the devices for their own work and research to help them get used to them?
  • Think about how users will know they can get help from rovers
    • How will they be identified? University of Warwick wear t-shirts when on duty.
    • How will you market the service? University of Huddersfield developed a Roving Librarian brand with accompanying logo and use plasma screens, email and social media to promote.
  • Use the technology as a conversation point – staff have been able to gain valuable insight this way into how people are using mobile devices.

Key contacts

Katharine Widdows (University of Warwick) –
Alison Sharman (University of Huddersfield) –

Useful links

Enquiry services go mobile at LJMU – discussion of a project utilising iPod touches and portable netbooks to support enquiries.
From table to tablet – how a wireless tablet PC could help to deliver a new customer service paradigm in a public library – written before iPad launch, includes some interesting advice about the practicalities of roving support and approaching people to offer help.
Roving reference with iPads:  A study of the use of iPads as technological support and service assessment – contains some really valuable information on feedback both from library staff and users.
Using the iPad for reference services – overview of project investigating iPad use for reference services at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.

Updated: 23 August 2012 by Jo Alcock as part of JISC m-library community support project.

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