Alchemical Thoughts

Article Note: On studying use of an academic library refence collection, with some rough ideas

Posted on: October 23, 2008

I am not sure where I want to go with this piece. Initially, I just wanted to do a basic note on the article for my professional blog, but then I was interested in the questions the article posed. I listed the questions as part of the note. I guess I would like to expand the piece and answer the questions, using them as a way to explore a bit about how I think about reference services and collections. Maybe it would go along with the eventual statement of philosophy for librarianship I would like to finish writing out someday. Of course, as usual, time is a bit tight for me at the moment to work on a good draft, so I am storing it here for now in the hopes I can revisit it later.

* * * * *

Citation for the article:

Colson, Jeannie. "Determining Use of an Academic Library Reference Collection: Report of a Study." Reference and User Services Quarterly 47.2 (Winter 2007): 168-175.

Read via WilsonWeb.

With the summer over, the weeding in the reference collection is done for the moment. There are still items that can go, but they will have to wait until next summer (probably) when I might have some time for the project. Then again, given certain changes going on, I may either get back to it a lot sooner (if the space issue suddenly becomes more urgent), or we might put it off further in the future (if other things take precedence). I will spare my two readers the details. At any rate, this article goes well with some others I have been reading on the topic of reference collections and weeding (see here and here for examples).

In brief, the article describes a five-year shelving study at a small academic library. The study does not seem hard to replicate, and the author does include lessons learned from the study. What caught my eye was some of the questions that the study prompted, questions drawn from references in the literature review of the article (goes back to Nolan's 1991 article on "The Lean Reference Collection" published in C&RL).

Some of the questions I wanted to ponder on:

  • What is the intended purpose of a reference collection?
  • Should a librarian limit selection of reference items to the heavy use areas? Should areas with lesser use be weeded out with no new additions? What about new areas of knowledge?
  • What about subject bibliographers? What is their role in ensuring a balanced collection? Should they select items because they are "right" or because they will be used?
  • As for the Z call number range, like the author, I think subject bibliographies should be in their subject area to facilitate browsing and finding by the users.
  • From the article, to consider: "Generally, online databases do not contain the content found in the high-quality volumes that populate academic reference collections. If print reference use is decreasing, can it be assumed that our students, faculty, and even librarians are less scholarly in their quests for information?" (174). I don't think it is as simple as that. A lot of the content in Gale books, to pick an example, is present in their virtual collections, which means, in theory at least, we could stick with the electronic and do without their print. But, having said that, it is not always the case. There are a lot of good print reference sources without an online counterpart.

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