Alchemical Thoughts

Posts Tagged ‘reference

(Note: This is moved over from Blogger, which is being a pain in the ass and unresponsive again. Apparently, it did not want to handle a somewhat long post. Anyhow, you can read it here, and I just linked this over there, which it seems Blogger can  handle. If you want to comment, you can do so here, or back on the Blogger page, where the comments are a bit more open).

Citation for the article:

O'Gorman, Jack and Barry Trott, "What Will Become of Reference in Academic and Public Libraries?" Journal of Library Administration 49 (2009): 327-339.

Read via Interlibrary Loan.

This is basically a speculative piece; it looks at some current trends, and then authors try to tell us what the future holds for academic and public libraries in terms of their reference services. I found a lot here that made me think, and I found myself making a lot of notes on the margins. Some things I agree with, and others I have reasons to disagree. Either way, the article is worth reading, and it may provoke some conversations in libraries, especially at a time when the value of libraries is constantly questioned by those who either do not really use the library or those just looking to save a few bucks.

The article looks begins with an introduction discussing the contrast between the number of people who visit libraries and the number of people who consider the library as a source of assistance with questions. On a positive note, it seems that people are still coming to the library for their information needs once they have tried the Internet and failed. The authors argue that libraries will continue to have a role in working with patrons, even if those roles will evolve and/or change. We may need to have a serious look at our core values as well.

As usual for me, I am just going to make some notes of items that caught my interest with some comments.

  • "Students would not pick up a printed reference book to save themselves hours of time" (327). One thing these students need to learn is not so much "don't use Wikipedia" as when to use Wikipedia and when to go beyond it. Another thing: in many of my library instruction classes I do teach about printed reference books. As I always tell my students, a good reference book will do three things for you: it will give you a good overview of your topic; it will give you suggestions and ideas of keywords and terms you can then type into an article database to expand your research, and it will give you a small list of items for further reading. A good reference book can save students research time as well as expand their research. But this is something that we librarians need to point out to them.
  • The authors are citing the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which "notes that while 53% of all Americans visited a library in the previous year, only 13% considered the library as a source for assistance in dealing with a specific question" (328). I thought of this as I had a little bit of a tiff over at Digg. Yes, I do use and read items from Digg. I rarely if ever comment because I do have the account linked to my Facebook, so it shows my real name. Should I have considered setting it up with a pseudonym? Probably, but that is another post. Anyhow, what happened was someone dugg a story about Matthew Lesko. I made the comment that much, if not all, the information that Lesko puts in the books he peddles are things that anyone could find for free. The nameless person who replied said that who cared because Lesko was making it convenient (actually, he or she, probably he, was less polite than that, but this is an online forum not known for civility). I replied that, if a person did not want to do their own research, that any good librarian would be happy to help them do it, for free, and without trying to sell them anything. In the end, the pseudonymous commenter still preferred the sub-par "convenience" of paying Lesko money for a book of dubious value than asking for help from an expert. I learned a couple of things from the encounter. One, people who do not put their name on a profile rarely are reasonable or willing to listen to alternatives even when the alternatives may be favorable (ok, I sort of knew that one, but this was a reminder). Two, I thought of incident as I was reading the article and found the statistic from Pew. Most people do not think about going to the library (or calling the library or even contacting it online somehow) to answer basic questions. And let's not even go into the issue of verifying any information there is out there for things like accuracy, so on. Again, as long as there are people who prefer "convenience" over accuracy, I will have a job.
  • "Librarians have an important role to play in teaching patrons how to use online resources and in helping users sort through the vast amount of information that is available in electronic format" (328). It is not just pointing them to the databases and hoping for the best. We will need to teach them how to use the database, but more importantly how to focus and create a search strategy, how to come up with keywords, etc. In other words, we will teach them not only how to use a database but the skills they need to go from one electronic resource to the next. The authors also argue that librarians will have a role in the mediation of information, that is, someone who can sort through all the chaff in order to get the good, relevant stuff.
  • "Reference work has always been about helping the user find the best information, and the skills librarians have developed in this area will prove useful in the coming years–that is, if librarians are willing to take on this role" (328). The key operative words in that sentence are "if librarians are willing to take on this role." If they are willing and able to take the role seriously instead of just keeping an illusion of strict neutrality. If they are willing and able to take the role seriously instead of just falling back into the role of technolusty 2.0 toy peddlers.
  • Another reason why I expect to remain employed: "If anything, in this complex information environment, students and public library users require even more assistance. Finding and critically evaluating information are skills that are necessary, yet are not necessarily being taught" (329). Guess who should be doing that teaching and educating. 
  • The authors go on to mention common suggestions about librarians need to rove, for academic librarians to have office hours in academic departments, and to do a better job in promoting what they do. This is not new; it has been mentioned in the literature, but it is still a good reminder. The part about roving is especially important. You have to get up from the reference desk and at least walk around your library once in a while to engage your patrons. The attitude of "if they need anything, they can come ask" (which I have heard from other librarians) is not going to cut it.
  • Some questions I commonly ask: ". . .what happens to electronic collections when the library decides it can no longer afford a particular database. For many users, there will be issues relating to access to these resources, particularly remote access for users without Internet connections or using dial-up connections" (330-331). Issues with remote access are pretty common at my library, especially with folks in more rural areas who may still be on dial-up (if they are lucky). I always get the vibe that a lot of the profession works on the assumption that everyone has a fast Internet connection no matter where they are, so therefore no need to worry about those who may not have access. The vibe seems to be to make services for those with the fast connections, often disregarding the rest. It's something that personally and professionally bothers me.
  • Then again, librarians have their bad habits too: "Nonetheless, the trend for many librarians is to start with electronic resources first. If librarians are going straight to the Web, then we certainly cannot fault our users for doing the same" (331). Give me a librarian who knows his/her reference collection well and knows how to use it. That seems to be a decreasing skill in the new and upcoming librarians. I try to balance things depending on the request. Articles? I do online to our databases. Ready reference? I will try for the reference book. In the end, it is about what the patron needs, so I use whatever resources I have on hand.
  • "The question is, do we have enough to serve the information needs of our clientele? If the answer is yes, then we need to ask if we are doing enough to encourage the use of the content we already have?" (332). We have to promote our resources as well as teach users how to use them. Buying another database is not always the solution, even if some faculty member thinks so (yes, another little experience I've had to deal with). If we have the resources to meet the information needs, we need to make sure promote and educate the patrons on how to use those resources and what needs such resources can meet.
  • "There are a lot of tools out there, but librarians do not always make the best use of these resources. Continued staff training on these databases and continued awareness of what these resources are useful for is essential for maintaining staff skills that will then translated into useful assistance for library patrons" (332). This points to the importance of good, substantive, and continuous professional development. This is a big reason also why I take time on my own to review resources in print and electronic formats. It is so I know what is available and how to use it in order to help my patrons. A good exercise in this regard has been posting to the library's blog on reference resources. When I implemented our library's blog, I put in a feature known as "The Reference Book of the Week." This type of post allows me to highlight a reference item from our collections for our patrons. In reviewing the item, I learn more about the item or, if it is an item I know already, I get to review its usefulness. I write those posts keeping the following question in mind: why would I want to use this? Here is a sample post. 
  • "Librarians have a strong professional commitment to finding information that is both accurate and has the backing of some authority. However, in the Wikipedia culture, there seems to be an increasing willingness to accept electronic information as accurate without critical analysis of the sources" (332). This reminded me of an article out of LOEX Quarterly I just read
  • "Librarians could simply respond to user disinterest in these areas by giving the user what they want without regard to accuracy or confidentiality concerns" (332). And a good number of librarians already do that; it's not something I agree with. The authors continue to write, "we would argue, however, that librarians have a responsibility to uphold an important foundation of the profession, a commitment to accuracy and the best information as well as to intellectual freedom and privacy. Only by doing so in a visible fashion will we ever be able to communicate the importance of these concerns to our users" (332). I think the part about the commitment to accuracy and best information and intellectual freedom and privacy should be engraved in plaques and placed in every reference desk as far as I am concerned. I think also we should make sure, both in library school and in the field, that the librarians we hire meet and embody those values. If they do not, fire them for they are not giving our patrons the best service possible. We have to lead by example, and we have to continue to educate our patrons and promote our services and values and show they best serve our patrons. It is those values that make us who we are as a professionals and what sets us apart from the Internet noise, misinformation peddling pundits, and other poor substitutes for good accurate information and resources.
  • The authors additionally discuss reader's advisory briefly, which is a topic of interest for me. Personally, I don't think academic libraries are paying enough attention to recreational reading needs of their students, but I think things may be getting better. I know that I do get the occasional question about "what can I read that is good?" or similar. I also try to post awards lists on the library's FB as a way to promote reading when I can. While I do post book reviews of items I read in my GoodReads page (the page is linked on the right side column of this blog, and some of those reviews make it to my blogs), I would like to do some reviews for the library blog. I do read one or two of the new books that arrive now and then. I think it could be a good promotional tool. However, that has not proven as easy. For one, the writing style would be a bit different (probably a bit more formal for the library blog), and it would be nice to get other librarians and library staff to contribute (a suggestion I made that met with some indifference at the time I suggested it). Anyhow, I still like the idea. The authors writes, "the role of extracurricular reading in academic institutions is also being more carefully examined (Elliot, 2007). Readers' advisory services offer academic librarians an opportunity to expand their role and to reach out to their users in new ways" (336). The Elliot citation is an article I have read. Here is the link to my note on it. And while we are on the RA topic, my two readers may also want to see this article by Smith and Young on the subject as it applies to academic libraries. 
  • Finally, the authors conclude that "coupled with a user-centered focus, reference librarians should also reaffirm their commitment to the essential foundations of our profession: service to users, intellectual freedom, and an openness to change" (338). I don't think we need to say much more. Let's get to work.

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Since I take a good degree of pride in the work that I do, I do not take kindly to certain members of my profession who spend a bit too much time questioning whether a librarian is a professional or not. Personally, if they have the time to be asking that question, they probably have a little too much time on their hands. No, I am not being charitable to those raising the question, especially the ones who just plain say no, but it because at a time when there are plenty of people who would love nothing better than to shut down libraries and send their librarians and library workers on the road to extinction, I don't think I need to also have to worry about my own colleagues denigrating my work or the work of my coworkers in my library because they do not fit some label on the basis of some technicality or other. It is pretty much one of the abstract questions that I stay away from in my professional blog. However, I have been clipping posts as I see them on the topic, and this is just a small listing of what I have found. I am just compiling it here mostly for reference purposes.

The list (so far, pretty much in reverse chronology). I am not commenting on any specific post; I am just jotting them down.

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I have been doing some reading on reference services assessment, in large part due to a push in this regard by my administration. I have blogged about some of them over in the main professional blog (see here and here and here). I am running out of time, plus there are other topics in LIS I would like to explore, so I am making a quick post here to jot down some things I have read recently and others that I may or not read later.

The ones I have read:

  • Gremmels, Gillian S. and  Karen Shostrom Lehmann, "Assessment of Student Learning from Reference Service." College & Research Libraries 68.6 (November 2007): 488-501. In brief, this article looks at whether students see reference interactions as learning experiences, and it tries to assess this. The article includes some survey instruments in the appendix. (Read via Library Literature and Information Science database). 
  • The Gremmels and Lehmann article above was reviewed by Megan von Isenburg in here for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice
  • Neville, Tina M. and Deborah B. Henry, "Reference Classification–Is It Time to Make Some Changes?" Reference and User Services Quarterly 48.4 (Summer 2009): 372-383. This one deals with the issue of whether librarians can consistently classify reference transactions. In other words, what is a directional question versus more of a reference question. Survey instrument included as well. It advocates for use of the Warner classification system. (Read via Library Literature and Information Science database).
  • Novotny, Eric and Emily Rimland, "Using the Wisconsin-Ohio Reference Evaluation Program (WOREP) to Improve Training and Reference Services." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 33.3 (May 2007): 382-392. I did not get to read this one, but I am keeping it to read over later. (Read via Library Literature and Information Science database).

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I may use some of these links as part of a short post later in my library's blog. For now, I am parking them here for reference purposes. As always, if any reader out there finds them helpful, feel free to explore. This list is in no particular order.

  • From the Reason Foundation, a "Taxpayer's Guide to the Stimulus." According to the site, the guide "breaks down each section of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to explain just how all that money is being spent, who is spending it, and what the whole stimulus means in layman's terms." The site does feature a section on how to read the guide and then links related to the act's provisions. They also provide links to other outside sources. 
  • ProPublica has a complete website on "Eye on the Stimulus" where they are "tracking the stimulus from bill to building, and we're organizing citizens nationwide to watchdog local stimulus projects." The site also features a very good FAQ for the federal website. They also feature a Recovery Tracker database where you can see what is going to your county, or you can just click on your state to see contracts and spending at the state level. They have added items to the database that may not have been reported to the federal government (the fed does not require all recipients to report to 
  • is "is the U.S. government's official website providing easy access to data related to Recovery Act Spending and allows for reporting of potential fraud, waste, and abuse."This is the place to start to learn about the economic stimulus efforts. The site contains a lot information.
  • The Columbia Journalism Review has put together "Bailout, Stimulus–Your Essential Guide." From the site, "in a specially commissioned study, The Audit [the CJR section that covers business journalism] here takes a look at online resources tracking the bailout and stimulus money, from government web sites to independently run operations. It’s not comprehensive, but it’s pretty good. No need to thank us. It’s what we do." This is a very good and accessible overview.
  • And if you want to know some of the people and enterprises that should be held accountable, the Center for Public Integrity has compiled "Who's Behind the Financial Meltdown? The Top 25 Subprime Lenders and their Wall Street Backers." This investigation is worth reading. 
  • And for a little bit of serious humor, which I would not include on the library post I am pondering, gives a Campus Squeeze Douchebag Report on the Big 3, that is, the CEOs of the big American auto companies, who also took stimulus money and became even more infamous when they were asked about their private jets during Congressional hearings. 


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    (Crossposted from my professional blog, The Gypsy Librarian).

    I bet my four readers at The Gypsy Librarian were expecting the next installment in my small series on blogging mistakes and library blogs (first installment here). I am taking a break today to highlight a very important issue as well as let my four readers know about some of the good work going on in my campus. Ok, this is kind of to let people know where I was last night too. The series will resume next Friday.

    * * * * * * * * *


    October has a few observances associated with it. One of those observances is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (link to President Obama's proclamation). Last night I attended a candlelight vigil held on our campus to recognize the issue of domestic violence and to educate people. The event took place at 7:00pm last night in the fourth floor meeting room of the library. They were going to do it outdoors, but the weather did not cooperate. Nevertheless the event was successful, and from a quick glance, I think we had about 50 people or so. We did get some representatives from our campus police, a very strong Greek presence (ladies and gents), and some students. I was the only representative of the library present. The room's lights were down, and the room was lit with candles. At the entrance, there was a display with educational materials.

    The event started with an opening statement by Ms. Samantha Dwight, who among her many hats has done work for the Campus Assault Response Effort (CARE) and is an educator/facilitator/presenter extraordinaire on this and other gender issues. She does a bit of everything, so if she reads this I apologize in advance if I can't quite "put her in a slot." At any rate, she read a statement, including a recognition of the important role that law enforcement officers have in domestic violence prevention. Those men and women in uniform when they get a call never know what they may be walking into. So our thanks go to them.

    Next, the ladies of Alpha Chi Omega took the stage and did a dramatic reading. Members of the sorority took turns reading statistics and facts related to domestic violence in the nation. This had a moving effect on the crowd, and we learned a thing or two in the process. The last member on stage sang a song.

    The activity would come to an end as a prayer was said for the victims as well as those involved in caring for them as well as for us all. And silently the event closed.

    Whenever possible, I think it is important for me to attend events like this. In my role as outreach librarian, this is another way for me to reach out to our campus community, another way for the library to say present and that we support the cause. Personally, I just think this is important and needs to be supported. We have a long way to go in educating people, and events like this are a way to do it.

    I would like to wrap this up by offering some links and resources that I hope people will find useful. Please, if you happen to be a victim, or you know someone who is, know that there is help out there. Some of the links will include phone numbers and contacts. On our campus here, the folks at C.A.R.E. are one such resource. Need more information, and you are local, you can contact them, or you can contact me, and I will refer you to the right place or find you the information you may need.

    The resources then:

    • The Domestic Violence Awareness Project. These are the folks who promote and maintain activities for the observance, which started as an awareness "Day of Unity" back in October of 1981. The Project is coordinated by the National Center on Domestic Violence. You can learn about campaigns, find educational materials, and get links, and phone numbers if you need help. Of course, if you are in imminent danger, dial 911.
    • The National Coalition on Against Domestic Violence. Among the things this organization does, "the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), in conjunction with Ms. Magazine, started the Remember My Name project in 1994 to create a national registry of names of those who have lost their lives to domestic violence. Since then, NCADV has continued to collect information on incidents of people who have been killed by an intimate partner and produces a poster each year for Domestic Violence Awareness Month listing the names of those submitted to the project. To date, over 7,753 people have been memorialized through the project." Names are added daily to the list, which you can view on the website.
    • The U.S. Department of Justice has an Office on Violence Against Women. In addition to listing national hotlines, the site contains a lot of good information, including statistics.
    • The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a handbook on domestic violence awareness. This seems geared to employers so they can be supportive in the workplace. Provides some good information.
    • The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The number is 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224. Their contact form can also be used to get assistance if you prefer, though they encourage calling more. You can also find some information on the site.
    • The National Youth Violence Prevention Center also has resources related to the observance here. Yes, it is not just spouses or significant others; children and youths in families where an abusive situation exists suffer too.
    • The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) is also a good resource.
    • In Texas, the Attorney General has some resources here. A bit more geared to sexual assault, but still good information.
    • There is also a Texas Council on Family Violence.
    • Locally, you have the good folks of the East Texas Crisis Center. If you need help locally, this is a place to go.

    This small list is certainly not comprehensive. I have tried to put out some resources that I have looked over and seem to provide good information. Readers are invited to comment, respond, and if they have other suggestions for links, add in the comments as well.

    And yes, I tagged the post under "celebrations and holidays." It is not because I think domestic violence is to be celebrated; it is not. But this is also about a monthly observance, which is what I use the tag for. Just to be clear.

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    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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    I came across this post on "Think Local" over at the GovGab blog. It discusses a variety of ways to find local government information on a broad range of topics. For me, this works as a bit of an update on my previous entry about local information. Previously I was thinking about looking for local blogs. This takes things a step further to think locally in other ways. The GovGab blogger is pointing to a section on the website with various ways of finding local information about the government and other services. Definitely worth a look, and it can definitely be something to find resources to add to our guides. 

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