A patron comes to the reference desk where the librarian is alone, has been dealing with the phone and questions all morning and is trying to finish the grant application that’s due that afternoon. The patron gruffly asks, “Where are the books on Spain?” The librarian, who is stressed and in need of a break, assumes that the patron is just a curt person and directs him to the 973 section of the library.
The patron comes back in a few minutes, because it’s the wrong area and now has to wait while the librarian helps another patron. This patron, on his lunch break, gets very angry and has to leave empty handed. He complains to the circulation desk on his way out that he didn’t get help finding his book and ends by saying loudly “This place stinks!”
The example given above illustrates problems with communication occurring at a reference desk between a librarian and a patron seeking information. The patron and the librarian are not sharing the same field of experience and the sensory input is vastly different. Specifically, a patron might be thinking of visiting Spain to show his children their family heritage, but the librarian who has answered other questions on the history of Spain would be hearing the phrase "books on Spain" and think "I know that answer." Each participant is in their own field of experience, not fully expressing their thoughts and providing adequate feedback. If we add in the noise factors of the librarian being busy and overworked and the patron being in a hurry, we end up with miscommunication. The presence of noise and the lack of common fields of experience and feedback result in an ineffective cycle of communication.The reference desk is often not a comfortable place for patrons to approach. The librarian might appear to be very busy and the patron may be unsure of how to ask a question. This process is further complicated if there is a language barrier to overcome and English is not the patron's first language. The actual physical space might also inhibit sensory input. The placement of the reference desk is often in a high traffic area which might deter the patron from approaching to ask questions of a highly sensitive nature.
The simple example stated above gives one instance of a dissatisfied patron, but the dynamics of communication in Schramm's model explain, and our experience as librarians concur, that miscommunication can easily occur during any patron request at the reference desk.
Communication problems like this one between a librarian and a patron can be resolved by understanding the communication model established by Wilbur L. Schramm. Dr. Schramm's model of communication was selected for this problem to show the circular nature of communication involving a sender, the message, the channel and the receiver. Schramm's model involves a more human communication component (vs. mechanical) involving feedback between the sender and receiver. An explanation of the model can be found on the following page.