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Evaluation of Reference Sources

Sloan, Bernie.  Electronic Reference Services.  Reference & User Services Quarterly 38 (Fall 1998), 77+

 

            Though electronic reference services have not been offered for many years, guidelines had not been developed as of the writing of this article.  Issues that need to be covered include administration/management, services, primary clientele, personnel, infrastructure/facilities, finances, and evaluation.   Administration was an issue, because the service might have been established under a person who later left the library.  If the administration had not bought into the idea, there might be great loss of service, time, and money.  The campus computing personnel should also be brought into the discussion since they will be providing equipment and support.

            A big question involved deciding what services would be provided and to whom these services would apply.  The library must decide how extensive the service would be, how it would be delivered, and whether it would be available to the general public.  Also, the reference librarian must be provided with the necessary equipment to probably handle electronic reference.  If the equipment is faulty, out of date, or unwieldy, the service will not be effective and will only frustrate the patron.  Finally, there must be some way to evaluate the service without violating the patrons confidentiality and privacy.

 

Tenopir, Carol and Lisa Ennis.  A Decade of Digital Reference: 1991-2001.  Reference & User Services Quarterly 41 (Spring 2002), 264-274.

 

            Digital reference was analyzed through the use of surveys sent to academic members of the Association of Research Libraries in 1991, 1995, 1997, and 2000.  Both open-ended and factual questions were used in order to get the facts as well as opinions.  The surveys indicated that by 1996 almost all academic libraries had access to the Internet, commercial bibliographic online databases, and CD-ROM databases.  It must be remembered that the Internet did not exist until after 1991.  By 2000, most electronic resources used the Web as a platform and included databases and online catalogs.  The Internet completely changed the way digital reference was administered.  Since most patrons were familiar with the Web, little instruction was needed in finding the databases.  However, instruction was needed in determining which database to choose.  It was also noted that most reference librarians do not record what resources they use when helping patrons, though they recognize that the online catalog and fee-based online databases generate the most reference answers.  CD-ROM was considered a dinosaur breed by 2000, with few being purchased for digital reference. 

            In conclusion, the writers stated that, regardless of the reference resources available, personal interaction is still the key to providing quality service.  The article ended with several tables showing the results of the four surveys.  It would have been helpful if the tables had been included in the article near accompanying text.

 

Janes, Joseph, David Carter, and Patricia Memmott.  Digital Reference Services in Academic Libraries.  Reference & User Services Quarterly 39 (Winter 1999), 145+

 

            This study also included a survey of academic libraries.  Of the 150 libraries randomly surveyed, 45% had digital reference services.  Academic libraries were sampled, because their web sites were easier to find than those of public libraries.  Each academic library was classified as a Baccalaureate College I or higher by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. 

            The first step was to define digital reference service.  Since no definition was found in the literature, the writers composed the following:  a mechanism by which people can submit their questions and have been answered by a library staff member through some electronic means (e-mail, chat, Web forms, etc.), not in person or over the phone.  The study showed that approximately one-half of the libraries had a direct link to reference services from the librarys homepage.  Also, about one-half used a simple Web form (name, question, and authentication), while smaller numbers included an e-mail address for questions or provided a detailed form.  Most had stated policies, and only one limited the hours of service to specific hours of the day.  A noted problem was that about had technological barriers (such as password protection) that made it difficult to impossible to access the services.  It was found that private institutions were more likely to have these barriers than public institutions.  Many questions were left unanswered, and the writers suggested that further research be done to determine attitude toward digital reference, how much staff time and effort was used, how many questions were received, etc.

 

Annotated Readings