Caitlin Plovnick

Instruction and Outreach Librarian

Faculty Center Short Throw Project Summary: Pop-Up Reference and Instruction Pilot

My objective for the project was to extend and reinforce library services (particularly research help and instruction) beyond the physical library. The portability of the short throw projector and iPad presented an opportunity to set up a spontaneous reference desk almost anywhere on campus. My hope was that making ourselves available in new locations would allow us to both reach more students and increase visibility of library services.

To implement this project, I worked Public Services Librarian Nicole Lawson. We began by identifying various gathering points on campus that are used as study spaces. We then determined which spaces could accommodate a pop-up reference desk, and scheduled different times to set up in each. These spaces included:

  • Stevenson
  • Charlie Brown’s Café
  • Student Center 2nd floor

We did not advertise the pop-up reference desk ahead of time, as we wanted it to feel truly spontaneous. We used the iPad to connect to the library homepage and databases, and projected them on the wall behind us using the short throw projector. Our set-up included a small folding table, a sign encouraging students to ask us questions, and a basket of giveaways including buttons and pens.

The equipment was easy to use and relatively easy to learn. I had not owned a tablet before this project, and I appreciated its portability. Additional equipment was necessary in order to use the projector and connect to the internet at the same time, and the faculty center was helpful in facilitating this.

While it was useful to gain familiarity with student study habits and locations outside of the library, the pop-up reference project as implemented did not increase student engagement. Our spontaneous presence in campus gathering spaces felt more invasive than we had predicted, and students generally steered clear. Some did express interest in the short throw projector, but were reluctant to stop at our table. This generated many discussions on concepts of spontaneous reference vs. reference on-demand.

I would like to repeat this project, but with some strategic changes. I still believe the pop-up reference desk is a good idea, but in order to best suit students at point of need it should be scheduled and promoted ahead of time. I would also like to offer it upon request: less of a pop-up reference desk and more of a reference desk on-demand.

I greatly appreciated the opportunity to participate in this project: beyond the value of experimenting with new equipment, it also encouraged experimentation with how we provide library services and how we can best engage with students. It enabled me to connect with my colleagues and inspired several upcoming projects.