Tag Archives: reference

8: accurate reference service #blogjune

[I have no idea why this didn’t post yesterday as it was meant to.]

The “55 percent rule” – that unobtrusive studies tend to show a 55% success rate of librarians answering reference queries fully and accurately – seems to have been written about most in the mid/late-1980s so my quick-and-dirty Google Scholar search isn’t bringing up much handy full-text to link to. (Some, but closed access and gigantic files that freeze my computer for a minute so needn’t be inflicted on anyone else. Who decided to scan black-and-white Library Journal articles in as colour???) Anyway, my quick-and-dirty impression of the literature thus surveyed is that the number was so shocking that it prompted vast flurries of a) studies to try and replicate/refute the results, and b) studies to say that users don’t care about full and accurate answers anyway.

I have a different response, inspired by today’s date, which is: If the reference service we’re providing is so incomplete and inaccurate, why not save our time/salaries and just hand users a Magic 8-Ball instead?

[NB: This post is not guaranteed to be more than 55% indicative of the actual definition of the rule nor the state of the literature, but it is at least 55% flippant. What I actually think is that we should be developing clever chatbots to staff our virtual reference service. Or at least 55% of it.]

Links of interest 7/4/2011 – reference and webdesign

A bit of fun: Book Sculptures

College & Research Libraries (C&RL) will become an open access publication beginning with the May 2011 issue.

Citation Management Software: Features and Futures (RUSQ) compares RefWorks, EndNote, and Zotero from both a user and librarian perspective.

Reference and virtual reference
Search for the answer, not the question – “Assume the answer to your question is out there, and think about how the answer might have been written.” I’ve been teaching students something like this, focusing on thinking about who would have written about something and where they would have published.

“Are We Getting Warmer?”: Query Clarification in Live Chat Virtual Reference (RUSQ)
“Results indicate that accuracy was enhanced for librarians who used clarifying questions in answering ready reference (factual) questions.”

Mu, X., Dimitroffa, A., Jordana, J., and Burclaffa, N. A Survey and Empirical Study of Virtual Reference Service in Academic Libraries The Journal of Academic Librarianship 37(2) pp. 120-129.
“Virtual Reference Services (VRS) have high user satisfaction. The main problem is its low usage. We surveyed 100 academic library web sites to understand how VRS are presented. We then conducted a usability study to further test an active VRS model regarding its effectiveness.”

Website usability
One-Pager is a simple, mobile-friendly, user-friendly “library website template that allows your patrons to find what they want” – described elsewhere as a solution to messy library websites.

A couple of papers from Computers in Libraries are reported:

Reference / Info-literacy links of interest 21/4/10

Singer, Carol A. (2010) Ready Reference Collections: A History. RUSQ 49(3)
Ready reference collections were originally formed, and still exist, because they perform a valuable function in providing convenient access to information that is frequently used at the reference desk. As library collections have been transformed from print to electronic, some of the materials in these collections also have inevitably been replaced by electronic resources. This article explores the historical roots of ready reference collections and their recent evolution.

A post on the Oregon Libraries Network notes some differences between the old and new RUSA Guidelines for Implementing and Maintaining Virtual Reference Services.

Library instruction classes
A Librarian’s Guide to Etiquette suggests: A librarian should begin each library instruction class by plucking headphones from students’ ears, confiscating cell phones, and searching all bookbags for contraband food. If there is any time remaining, show them all how to become fans of the library’s new Facebook page.

In Getting Students to Do the Reading: Pre-Class Quizzes on WordPress (at the Chronicle of Higher Education) Derek Bruff cites the idea that learning involves both transfer of information and assimilation of that information, and that as the assimilation is the hard part it should be done in class time while the transfer is handled before class through readings (or videos). He then discusses how he’s tackled the problem of motivating students to actually do their pre-class readings by creating pre-class quizzes — the answers to which he can then skim before class, and alter his lesson plan if students are finding some topic easier or harder than anticipated.

In the Library with the Lead Pipe is a group blog that posts longer, heavily referenced articles. In Making it their idea: The Learning Cycle in library instruction Eric Frierson quotes the idea that people learn better by putting the pieces together for themselves, and discusses ways to use this in library instruction classes, using the topic of “peer reviewed journals” as a case study.

Steve Lawson blogs about Making time at the beginning for questions – starting a library class with the projector off and just chatting informally with the students about their assignments/projects – he says, “It’s like a mass reference interview.”

For myself, I’ve had a lot of success with adding more interactivity into classes (even some large ones with 250+ students) but one series of my classes in term 1 turned clunky because (as I discovered too late) when I was chatting with students about what they needed to know for their assignment, none of them bothered to mention that they hadn’t actually read the assignment instructions yet.

So for my next class I started off by asking them to explain the assignment to me – fortunately these ones had read it and could talk about it, but my fall-back position would be to stop and give them five minutes to read it, because they’re not going to learn anything in class if they don’t know why they’re being told about it.

I spent the rest of the class alternating between asking them how they go about research and adding other sources/techniques they can use. The students were awesome and the class went like a dream. I used a PowerPoint presentation in edit mode so when I asked a question I could write their answers onto the blank page – colour-coded with white pages for my set-speech stuff, yellow pages for their stuff (and my very occasional additions when they reminded me of something) – and embed it into their subject guide after the class:

What about you: what other techniques have you read about / tried for library tutorials?

Links of interest 13/1/10

Web collaboration

  • Tinychat lets you instantly set up a temporary chatroom with its own short url you can share with anyone you want to join you. Once everyone has left the chat it disappears.
  • Flockdraw does the same for the virtual whiteboard.

Virtual reference



Here, there and virtually everywhere

library services for distance learners
Anne Ferrier-Watson
abstract (pdf)

[Argh, network cut out in this room.]

History of Virtual Education Reference Desk (VERD)
1997 – BTeaching started distance services
2000 – need to streamline processes so VERD was created
2008(?) – Moodle has taken VERD to a new level

Philosophy to “give students the fishing line, not the fish”
Over 3000 education students are enrolled in online papers

1.75 EFTS supporting VERD. Busier at some times than others.

Asynchronous service – answering Monday to Friday. Many questions asked have been answered before so they’ve got an ongoing work in progress of making previous answers easy to find

5 sections:

  • Request items or information (can fill out a webmail form or ask for help on forums – 7500 views in the last 12 months)
  • Library FAQs (started as answers to easy common queries; now starting to use it for standard answers for more complex questions too)
  • Help with APA referencing (“our favourite section” – laughter – 2500 views in semester B – a few pdf guides and a link to the forums too)
  • Catalogue guides (not high use – many just use it for the link to the library catalogue; starting to think of putting in video tutorials)
  • Guide to finding journal articles (high use – includes videos for using ebsco, proquest, indexNZ; also pdf guides to various databases)

Jing screen capture software – easy to use, free-as-in-beer but not open source.

Feedback from students includes:
“The video instruction is fantastic too as I find it easier to do something if I see it in action.”
“now if I forget a step I can use [the online tutorials] to find the right path again”
“you are like the referencing angel”

Can look at individual activity reports so when someone asks a question you can see where they’ve already looked for help.

Can look at overall activity reports to give an idea of where most activity is happening and most work is best spent.

Q: What’s providing the format?
A: Working around the Moodle format. Not actually a fan about the format but it’s the best they can do.
Suggestion: Worked with McGovern to create ManyAnswers.co.nz which can be put on your own website. (Me: ? Not sure whether she meant the whole manyanswers service or the platform to support your own FAQ.)

Q: Forums available to all students or just distance?
A: Available to those enrolled in those papers.

Q: Are guides available on public site or just private forums?
A: Some static guides (not interactive) are available on the public website. Looking at redeveloping some of this too.

Q: re answering repeat questions
A: Some refer back to previous answers, some move them into FAQs and refer there.

Links of interest 14/9/09

The National Library of China is celebrating its centennial.

Nga Upoko Tukutuku korero is a new blog for discussion on Maori Subject Headings – each week they post a new question for readers to answer/comment on.


  • Promoting Library Reference Services to First-Year Undergraduate Students: What Works? (feature article in RUSQ this month) “describes a study that sought to answer three questions:

    1. What percentage of first-year undergraduate students are aware of reference services?
    2. What percentage of first-years seek information from reference librarians?
    3. Through which media are first-years comfortable communicating with reference librarians?”

    The summary on page 4 begins “At least in their first year of college, students respond most strongly to library reference service promotions given in person.”

  • The Swiss Army Librarian posts a “Reference Question of the Week” describing the question and the way he found (or didn’t find) an answer. His recent post on “What’s in your ready ref?” is also fascinating.


  • The British Library Sound Archive has made over 23,000 sound recordings available for listening online (where copyright permits) to anyone anywhere in the world. This includes music (classical, popular, traditional), oral history, nature, and linguistic recordings.
  • The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre has released 1000 NZ classics in e-book format

There seems to be a revival in posts about Twitter recently – in the last couple of weeks I’ve come across:

(And for those interested in New Zealand birds, Twitter accounts Kārearea (kakarapiti) and newzealandbirds.)

We don’t know until we try

A couple of weeks ago I gave a lecture on library resources to about 20 fourth-year students. Included in the show-and-tell was our new libguide-based subject guide, and my new meebo widget. I took the opportunity to ask, “So you can contact me by phone, email, meebo, or face-to-face. Which do you think you’d be most likely to use?”

The responses were: email or face-to-face. A bit disappointing (after I’d spent some time explaining to colleagues and managers the advantages of the meebo widget) but interesting.

But. That was Friday. On Monday I got a Meebo query, and on Tuesday I got another Meebo query. So even though the class had said they would use some other method to contact me, 10% of them, while browsing the subject guide, saw that I was online and thought they’d contact me that way after all.

I officially approve of asking users what they think about things – but it’s not perfect. The only way to be sure whether something’s useful or not is to try it out (and market it!)

[Obligatory acknowledgement that we can’t try out and market everything. But we were already using a meebo room for online reference, so adding a widget to my libguides took me less than 10 minutes.]

Library on Location

Last year a colleague and I took a laptop and some borrowable material out of the library to a couple of places by student cafes to see what kind of interest we’d get. (We originally planned to call the service “Laptop Librarians”, but some of our other colleagues have very dodgy minds, so we ended up calling it “Library on Location” instead.) We ran six trial sessions, then Christmas and various other projects intervened, but we eventually wrote up our Library on Location report (pdf, 166kB).

Short version: it was fun, feedback was positive, staffing is not always easy.

We felt it was definitely worth further investigation, so we’re now running a second trial with a fixed time and place to see if having a regular service increases usage through familiarity. One of the things we’re doing for that is getting our wonderfully cooperative colleagues to collect desk statistics back at our respective home branches to see how statistics “on location” at the same time compare.