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The Art of the Reference Interview Ontario Library Association Conference February 2005 Catherine Sheldrick Ross and Kirsti Nilsen Faculty of Information.

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Presentation on theme: "The Art of the Reference Interview Ontario Library Association Conference February 2005 Catherine Sheldrick Ross and Kirsti Nilsen Faculty of Information."— Presentation transcript:

1 The Art of the Reference Interview Ontario Library Association Conference February 2005 Catherine Sheldrick Ross and Kirsti Nilsen Faculty of Information and Media Studies The University of Western Ontario

2 Librarians As a Keystone Species zAnthropologist Bonnie Nardi and librarian Vicki ODay write, zWe believe that the diverse services available in the library are still important and useful, and we believe that the increase in online information presents more opportunities to leverage the skills of professional librarians than ever before. Through our fieldwork in libraries, we have identified librarians as a keystone species. zBonnie Nardi and Vicki Oday Information Ecologies.

3 zBut is a reference interview really needed?

4 The Library Visit Study zTo gather data about what happens in reference, users did three things: z* They produced a detailed step-by-step account of exactly what happened in the reference transaction z * They reflected on their experience by summarizing which aspects of their experience they had found helpful and which aspects they had found unhelpful z * They filled out a questionnaire evaluating their experience as a user of reference service, including would you be willing to return?

5 Would You Be Willing to Return? Percent Reporting YES zFace to face visits z (Of 261 visits) zTotal YES 65% zPublic libs. 61% zUniv. libs. 75% Virtual visit z (Of 59 visits) z Total YES 61% z Public libs. 70% z Univ libs. 56%

6 Four Common Problems zWithout speaking, she began to type zBypassing the reference interview zTaking a system-based perspective zThe unmonitored referral

7 1.The Without-speaking-she-began-to- type Manoeuvre zOccurred in about one quarter of the library visit transactions zAn example: zThe user asked, do you have information about about optical character recognition? zWhat happened? zI stood there for several minutes while she searched. I could not see the screen and she did not ask me any questions. The silence grew a little awkward as I watched her mutter and purse her lips as her searches seemed to render negative results. Finally she said, this may be too technical.

8 2. Bypassing the Reference Interview zReference interviews are conducted only half the time zAn example: zThe user asked do you have books about Richard Wagner? zWhat happened? zThe user was given call numbers for books about Richard Wagner. He returned to say that none of the books on Wagner contained the desired information. At this point, the librarian discovered belatedly that the user needed a plot synopsis for all of the Wagner operas and recommended an opera guide. The librarian admonished, you could have saved a lot of time if you had just asked for that initially.

9 3. Taking a System-based Perspective zEven when the library staff member does conduct an interview, too many of the librarians questions relate to the library system, not to the context of the users information need. zSome examples: zDid you check the catalogue? zHave you used this index before? zWhat were the indexing elements? zDid you come up with some call numbers? zHave you checked the 282s? zI suppose youve checked our circulating collection?

10 4. The Unmonitored Referral zThe unmonitored referral was reported in somewhat more than one third of the time. zAn example: zThe user asked for information on cellulitis, which is a skin infection, and was given a call number for a book: I found the book (not quite in its right place). It was called Cellulite: Defeat it through Diet and Exercise.

11 Negative Closure: or How to Make Users Go Away zHere are some strategies, apart from providing a helpful answer, for getting rid of the user. We call these strategies negative closure: z* The librarian provides an unmonitored referral. z* The librarian immediately refers the user somewhere else, preferably far away. z*The librarian implies that the user should have done something else first before asking for reference help. z*The librarian tries to get the user to accept more easily found information instead of the information actually asked for.

12 Negative Closure... zMore ways to get rid of the user: z*The librarian warns the user to expect defeat because the topic is too hard, obscure, large, elusive, or otherwise unpromising. z*The librarian signals non-verbally that the transaction is over by tone of voice, by turning away, or by starting another activity. z*The librarian claims that the information is not in the library; is unavailable; or else doesnt exist at all. z*The librarian tells the user hes going away to track down a document but then never returns.

13 Moving to Virtual Reference zDo things change when we move from the physical reference desk to the virtual reference desk?

14 A Definition of Virtual Reference... zVirtual reference is reference service initiated electronically, often in real-time, where users employ computers or other internet technology to communicate with librarians, without being physically present. zCommunication channels used frequently in virtual reference include chat, videoconferencing, voice over Internet protocol, , and instant messaging. (ALA, RUSA, 2004)

15 The Library Visit Study: Phase 3 Comparing face-to-face and virtual reference interviews: z*We use the same method to gather data, but now the questions are asked at a virtual reference desk at a Canadian university or public library that offers such a service via an ask a librarian or similar link. z*Service can be or chat. Advantage: copies of s or transaction records of chat sessions provide more data for analysis.

16 Remember the Measure of Success? Willingness to Return. zFace to face visits z (Of 261 visits) zTotal YES 65% zPublic libraries 61% zUniv. Libraries 75% Virtual visit z (Of 59 visits) z Total YES 61% z Public libraries 70% z Univ libraries 56%

17 Would You Return to Chat? To ? % Reporting YES zChat services y (Of 17 visits) zTotal YES 71% zPublic libraries 75% zUniversity libs. 67% z services y (Of 42 visits) zTotal YES 57% zPublic libraries 67% zUniversity libs.50%

18 What Behaviours Lead to User Dissatisfaction? zBypassing the reference interview zUnmonitored referrals zFailure to ask follow-up questions

19 How Often Do These Behaviours Occur? Face-to-face virtual (261 visits) (57 visits*) zNo reference interview 51% 83% zUnmonitored referral 37% 30% zNo follow-up 64% 68% z*2 virtual visits had no response at all

20 The Unmonitored Referral… a Patron Comments After Receiving a List of Unhelpful URLs: zBy simply giving me some URLs of various sites,... the librarian assumed that I would be able to effectively navigate these sites. The thought hadnt occurred to her that I might not be able to surf the sites properly.

21 Lack of Follow-up zAfter asking for biographical information on Albert Camus: zI was happy with the answer I received in terms of its accuracy [but the information I really wanted to know was not provided]. I cannot say I was entirely satisfied. I am uncertain about sending an additional message to pursue the question further… since a follow-up offer is lacking. I feel I am not encouraged to do so.

22 Out of 57 Virtual Visits Only 10 (17%) Included an Interview Chat (17 chat visits) (40 visits*) zNumber 8 2 z*2 visits had no response at all

23 Reference Interviews in Chat zOnly 8 of 17 chat transactions included an interview. zThis is 53% with no reference interview, similar to the 51% without reference interviews in our in-person data.

24 Reference Interviews zOnly 2 of 40 transactions included an interview. zWhat was different about these 2 transactions? zThe Ask-A-Librarian form substituted for the reference interview.

25 Options for the reference interview z1. Lots of back and forth sBAD IDEA z2. We can provide a good detailed form that substitutes for the reference interview.

26 The Internet Public Librarys Ask-A-Question form is a good model. zIn addition to Name and address, and question, za good form asks questions that clarify the information need, such as: z* What specifically would you like to find out? z* Please give us some background that will provide a context z for your question z* How do you plan to use this information?

27 For more information on the art of the reference interviews, see: zConducting the Reference Interview, by Catherine Sheldrick Ross, Kirsti Nilsen, and Patricia Dewdney (New York: Neal Schuman, 2003).

28 Questions??

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