Advanced Reference
Unit 2


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Annotated Readings
Evaluation of Reference Sources

Mary Ellen Bates.  Finding the Question Behind the Question.  Information Outlook 2 (July 1998), 19-22.


Conducting a reference interview is like negotiating a sale.  The reference librarian is selling time and resources, and negotiating the question to one that is answerable is the prime objective.  It is the reference librarians job to determine how best to spend the time and with what resources.  For every question asked, there are a number that must be returned in order to provide the exact information requested.  The article concludes with questions that might be appropriate for any reference interview.  Written by an information broker and library consultant, this article helps the reference librarian narrow the information to the specific question.


Marie L. Radford.  Communication Theory Applied to Reference Encounter: An Analysis of Critical Incidents.  Library Quarterly 66 (April 1996), 123-138.


            The author discusses whether the reference interview is an interpersonal exchange or merely a yardstick for measuring success in finding resources.  In addition to information, the reference librarian is communicating body gestures that form a relationship with the user.  Whether this relationship is positive or negative depends on how well the librarian expresses himself/herself and results in satisfaction or dissatisfaction on the part of the user.  By collecting interview data at three academic institutions from librarians and users, the author determined that reference librarians and users see the reference question from different standpoints.  Librarians views could be categorized into themes of attitude, information, knowledge-base, and relationship-quality, while users themes were attitude, relationship-quality, information, approachability, and knowledge-base.  The finding was that users respond more favorably to the communication-centered approach and relational information, while librarians tended to center on content.  However, attitude was ranked highest by both parties.  Thus, the future of successful reference encounters depends on how the user perceives that he/she is treated and human dynamics should be primary to the librarian in dealing with all patrons.


Catherine Sheldrick Ross and Patricia Dewdney.  Negative Closure.  Reference & User Services Quarterly 38 (Winter 1998), 151-.


            Not only is it important for the reference librarian to understand the question, but he/she must know when the patron is satisfied that the question has been answered and is ready to leave the reference desk.  One hundred MLIS students served as subjects for this studying, asking personal questions of choice of reference librarians and determining whether the reference librarians provided positive body language, asked open questions in the interview, and followed up properly.    Unfortunately, many librarians perceive the solution as one of providing the correct information as quickly as possible so that the user will go away.  Since only about 55% of cases end successfully this way, it is important to know why the other interviews are not successful.  The author finds that most failure is caused by negative closure the librarian simply walks away from the user or refers the person to someone else, never allowing the user to obtain the needed information.  Ten scenarios of negative closure are included.  In order to provide even more data, the users aggressively sought information even though negative closure had occurred.  Though some failure still occurred, in some instances, the librarians became more interested in the question as the users volunteered more information.  Solutions include more staff training, positive help even when the person must be referred, followup questions, and use of roving librarians.


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Annotated Readings