Reference. Each graduate of the Master of Library and Information Science program is able to use service concepts, principles, and techniques to connect individuals or groups with accurate, relevant, and appropriate information.
Information service delivery is the anchor of reference librarianship. The purpose of reference service is threefold: (1) to facilitate access to information; (2) to provide information literacy instruction; and (3) to provide readers’ advisory service. “As reference and user services librarians, we believe that access to information is a human right,” the Reference and User Services Association points out (2012), emphasizing provision of equitable access to information for all library users; ensuring long-term access to print and electronic information through robust preservation and access programs; and facilitating digital and information literacy among library users—among the other values it shares with the parent organization, American Library Association (Reference and User Services Association, 2012).
Two types of reference service have been distinguished: proactive and reactive; both types are equally important. Proactive reference service anticipates users’ needs and assists users in finding information independently. Examples of proactive reference service include: research guides on a particular topic or subject, information literacy instruction (face-to-face and asynchronous), and roving reference (librarians circulating within a reference area and offering assistance to users). Reactive reference, on the other hand, requires that users initiate contact with the reference librarian on their own, in order to request assistance for an information need. This type of reference occurs when patrons approach the reference librarian in person, via phone, email, IM, or chat.
Library users approach reference librarians with various types of questions, including directional (asking for a specific location in library stacks), ready reference (seeking a particular factual answer), research questions (extended reference), and bibliographic verification (book authorship, publication date, etc.)—to name a few. During personal interactions with users, both synchronous and asynchronous, reference librarians use a reference interview technique to service information requests.
“The reference interview is a questioning technique discussed widely in the professional literature, with Brenda Dervin’s work on neutral questioning as the foundation,” Simmons maintains. “The purpose of the reference interview is for the information professional to understand the questioner’s query fully before embarking on the searching segment of the reference interaction. By using neutral questioning techniques, the information professional is able to determine the precise information need from the patron without the information professional’s own assumptions affecting the result” (2015, p. 131).
There exist several guidelines for high-quality reference service in the professional literature: the Reference and User Services Association Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers (RUSA Guidelines), the International Federation of Library Associations IFLA Digital Reference Guidelines, with emphasis in digital reference service, and others. RUSA Guidelines, in my opinion, offer the most comprehensive coverage of various types of reference, including general guidelines that can be applied to any type of reference interaction—both in person and remote transactions—as well as in-person recommendations that are specific to face-to-face and video-based reference encounters. Focusing on technology-based reference interactions, RUSA’s remote guidelines apply to phone, virtual, text-based (e-mail, chat, texting, IM), and internet-based voice-only transactions (Reference and User Services Association, 2013).
Reference service in digital environment
Digital reference has several manifestations, depending on the information environment and medium. Chat reference, for example, according to Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science, is a variety of digital reference, which is defined as “Reference services requested and provided over the Internet, usually via e-mail, instant messaging (“chat”), or Web-based submission forms, usually answered by librarians in the reference department of a library, sometimes by the participants in a collaborative reference system serving more than one institution” (Reitz, Western Connecticut State University, & Libraries Unlimited, Inc., 1996). It is synonymous with online reference, virtual reference, e-reference, and real-time reference.
In the age of advancing information technologies, the new technology trends expand the scope of professional guidelines to include standards for digital reference. As Schwartz aptly notes, “These virtual reference encounters lack traditional visual and nonverbal cues. Thus a new set of standards needs to be created for the reference interview in addition to defining a different form of library-patron interaction” (2014, p. 8).
In order to accurately evaluate the effectiveness of digital reference interview, in addition to the established in-person reference interview evaluation guidelines, one needs to factor in new criteria, based on the variables that are brought about by the virtual mode of delivery. Text-based reference, for example—conditioned by the 160-character per message limitation, as well as messaging cost—requires a set of skills that are specific to texting as a communication channel, according to Luo (2012). “It is not practical to engage in in-depth reference transactions via the exchange of text messages, hence librarians need to be perceptive and efficient in determining what users are looking for, and be clear and succinct in providing the information,” the author points out (ibid., p. 50). Skills specific to text-based reference include ability to interpret patrons’ information needs with limited context in text messages and ability to answer questions politely and professionally regardless of language or content that might be deemed inappropriate—among others.
Finally, results of the study described by Radford et al. (2011) reveal the techniques that can improve the effectiveness of online chat reference: the use of follow-up questions and the use of open questions, as they relate to query clarification process in the virtual reference service encounters. While applying these techniques, the authors report a shift in the application of interpersonal communication theory—“from a librarian-centric perspective of the reference interview to a focus on the entirety of the reference encounter as being maintained jointly by the librarian and user” (ibid., p. 263). This finding reinforces Doherty’s reference dialogue approach (2006), wherein instead of a librarian patronizing a user, both librarian and patron learn from each other during the reference interview. Add to this the benefits of virtual service delivery and you get the best of both worlds, as Radford et al. note, “by combining the benefits of synchronous, remote technologies with the human touch of reference librarianship, users can have the best of both worlds—the convenience of the digital environment and the value-added assistance of professional librarians” (2011, p. 273).
To support my skills in this competency, I present the following examples of my work:
- The Virtual Reference Interview Reflection assignment from LIBR 210 (Reference and Information Services)
- The Research Guide assignment from LIBR 210 (Reference and Information Services)
- The Reference Service Management assignment from LIBR 204 (Information Organizations and Management)
LIBR 210 Virtual Reference Interview Reflection assignment
The first piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency I is a Virtual Reference Interview Reflection assignment from LIBR 210 (Reference and Information Services). In this assignment, I worked with a classmate to role-play two reference interactions: (1) from the librarian’s perspective and (2) from the patron’s perspective, so each of us gets a view of reference work from both sides of the desk. Afterwards each of us individually analyzed both transcripts, applying professional reference evaluation criteria and reflecting on our experience in both roles. This evidence piece presents my individual analysis of two synchronous online chat-based reference interviews that I and my classmate conducted on March 18, 2015 using a synchronous communication technology, Blackboard IM.
The transcript analysis is structured around the evaluation criteria set forth by the Reference and User Services Association in Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers (Reference and User Services Association, 2013). The transcripts analyzed in this paper are enclosed in Appendix A; the evaluation criteria used in this paper are listed in the Appendix B.
The analysis presented in this paper demonstrates my competence in digital reference and my acknowledgement of the importance of adherence to professional guidelines while providing reference services to library patrons. The ideas I present in this paper support my digital reference skills, as I reflect on my experience in the role of the librarian and in the role of the patron, and identify the ways in which the librarian-patron interactions might have been improved.
LIBR 210 Research Guide assignment
The second piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency I is the Research Guide assignment from LIBR 210 (Reference and Information Services). In this assignment, I developed an online reference guide, Linked Data for LIS Professionals and Graduate Students, and wrote a paper to accompany the guide.
Linked Data is a complex concept that crosses over several theoretical domains, including computing, information technology, and library science. Geared toward the Library and Information Science professionals and graduate students, the online reference guide I have designed presents personalized recommendations of literature on the topic of Linked Data as they are relevant to library and information professionals. Rather than aiming at being an exhaustive bibliography of everything available on the Linked Data topic, in scholarly literature and other sources, this reference guide is intended to provide the target audience with a selective and annotated list of useful sources for conducting research on the topic. Designed primarily as an online resource, this guide is not tied to any particular geographic location; rather it is location-agnostic. It is intended for academic libraries, LIS professionals, and graduate students in the field of library and information science, and related disciplines. The resource types featured in the guide include readings (books and scholarly articles), guides and tutorials, online resources, journals, reference works, and blogs.
The companion paper focuses on the methodology of the reference source selection for the Readings section of the guide. In particular, it discusses the criteria for inclusion of the academic books and scholarly articles from peer-reviewed journals, featured in the Readings section, and the challenges encountered in the selection process. The paper provides a bibliography of sources included in the research guide’s Readings, with annotations describing the source and explaining why each was included. Finally, the paper includes a bibliography of sources consulted but not selected, explaining why the sources were not included. The research tips provided in this guide are intended to serve as additional guidance in the research.
While working on this assignment, I learned to apply in practice the main principles of proactive digital reference service by producing the web-based research guide on a topic of interest for library professionals and MLIS students. The results of my work demonstrate my skills in the methodology of the reference source selection while tailoring the research guide to a particular target audience. A broad range of the sources presented in this guide will help current and future LIS professionals to get a good start in researching the Linked Data topic.
LIBR 204 Reference Service Management assignment
The third piece of evidence to demonstrate my mastery of competency I is a Reference Service Management assignment from LIBR 204 (Information Organizations and Management). In this assignment, I act as a manager of an academic library dealing with a reference service issue. In my analysis, I briefly describe the library and concentrate on the background information related to the library reference services. I then discuss the reference service challenges the library is currently experiencing, explore several alternatives of reference service improvements, and provide a final recommendation.
During my work on this assignment, I learned about different types of reference service models, including the reference triage model, the reverse-tier service, the consolidated service desk, Information Commons, peer reference, roaming reference, and mobile reference. This knowledge helped me understand the different approaches academic libraries take in managing reference services, finding ways to adapt to shifting organizational environments while maintaining their mission of supporting the discovery, creation, and preservation of knowledge.
When I think of facilitating access to library resources as the primary purpose of reference service, the equitable access to information; professional commitment to intellectual freedom and fair use; robust preservation and access programs; along with provision of digital and information literacy programs that meet the changing information needs of diverse populations—speak to me the most. As the body of human knowledge, and the technology impacting the mode of delivery of that knowledge to the people with diverse information needs, continue their steady growth—reference librarians need to keep up with the latest developments in order to provide effective reference services, while ensuring continuous improvement in the management of reference materials and communication technologies.
Doherty, J. (2006). Reference interview or reference dialogue? Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 11(3), 97-109.
Luo, L. (2012). Professional Preparation for “Text a Librarian”. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 52(1), 44-52.
Radford, M. L., Connaway, L., Confer, P. A., Sabolcsi-Boros, S., & Kwon, H. (2011). “Are We Getting Warmer?” Query Clarification in Live Chat Virtual Reference. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 50(3), 259-279.
Reference and User Services Association. (2013). Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/rusa/resources/guidelines/guidelinesbehavioral
Reference and User Services Association. (2012). Our Statement on Access. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/rusa/strategic-priorities/access
Reitz, J. M., Western Connecticut State University, & Libraries Unlimited, Inc. (1996). Online dictionary for library and information science: ODLIS. Westport, Conn.: Libraries Unlimited.
Simmons, M. H. (2015). Finding information: Information intermediation and reference services. In S. Hirsh (Ed.), Information services today: An introduction (pp. 130-138). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.
Schwartz, H., & Trott, B. (2014). The Application of RUSA Standards to the Virtual Reference Interview. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 54(1), 8-11.