2004 Annual Minutes


Reference Services in Small and Medium-Sized Research Libraries Discussion Group, Reference Services Section, RUSA

ALA Annual Conference, Orlando

4:30-6:30 p.m. Sunday, June 27, 2004



Linda Harris, Chair, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Jan Lewis, Member-at-Large, East Carolina University

Colleen Seale, Past Chair, University of Florida


I. Introductions:

The RUSA RSS Reference Services in Small and Medium-Sized Research Libraries Discussion Group met on Sunday, June 27, 2004.   Linda Harris, Chair, welcomed the group of 20 attendees and called the meeting to order at 4:35 p.m.


II. New Business:

Job Announcements:

Vacancies were announced at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Texas Woman’s University, and University of Nevada-Las Vegas. 


Election of Member-at-Large:

Victoria A. Nozero from UNLV was elected Member-at-Large.


III. Discussion Topics:

Five topics were suggested.   After voting, the rankings were as follows: 

1. Reference desk design; combined Reference/Circulation desks

2. Federated searching; URL resolvers

3. Teaching critical thinking skills

4. What can public libraries do to better prepare students for their first year in college

5. Virtual reference


First Topic: Reference desk design; combined Reference/Circulation desks


Librarian from Penn State gave a presentation on this topic on Saturday.  The wave of the future is “mobile”. [University of North Carolina Charlotte (UNCC)]


Boston College will have a mobile desk, i.e., a desk on wheels with a laptop.  They will move to where it is busiest.


An ADA review is leading Texas Woman’s University (TWU) to change the height of their entire reference desk, to 29 inches.  They are also widening the distance between rows in the stacks and redoing bathrooms.


At UNCC, some sections of the reference desk are ADA-compliant.  They are on the back side of the desk and seldom get used.


Gallaudet has a combined Reference/Circulation desk.  They have not been able to separate tasks between Reference and Circulation staff who are working at the same time.  Everyone needs to know how to do everything.  Before the desks were combined, Circulation staff didn’t refer questions.  The combination has helped with this problem.


At the University of Oklahoma (OU), there is some support for putting Reference staff at a designated portion of the Circulation desk and provide cross-training.  One reason for doing this is a decrease in the number of staff.


It seems like most public libraries that have combined Circulation and Reference have seen patron confusion and haven’t been happy with the combination. [New Smyrna Beach Regional Library]


The main library at the University of Florida has been closed temporarily (two years).  The reference desk is now located in the lobby of a different building.  They are checking out videos and DVDs, working with current serials, and have access to part of the Reference collection.  A new building is being planned and they want information on how to plan the Reference desk and account for traffic flow.


Visibility is so important.  Architects often don’t seem to be interested in library functions and needs. [TWU]


Make sure some public computers are near the desk.  [UNCC]


The presentation on Saturday focused on wired spaces.  Have laptops that people can move to where they want and provide plenty of connections in case they bring in their own laptops.  Go back to design principles that were used 50 years ago, but include the requirement that the area be wired. [OU]


East Carolina University (ECU) used a small, low desk while its reference desk was being moved.  This experience was quite positive.  Patrons seemed to like being able to sit down and have mini-consultations.


As with so much, flexibility is the key.  [OU]


Second Topic: Federated Searching / URL Resolvers


   OU looked at four vendors for each and narrowed it down to two for each.  How do we teach federated searching?


Librarians from three different institutions in North Carolina (UNCC, ECU, and High Point Public Library) discussed the One Search feature that the NC LIVE statewide service provides.  After independently evaluating One Search, all three libraries decided not to use or promote it.  Criticisms included it being “overkill” for freshmen and sophomores; slows down searching; and causes problems when run against databases which do not provide for an unlimited number of simultaneous users. UNCC offered a combined search option for the catalog, e-journals, FAQs, and databases.  Users didn’t like it.  In many cases, they thought they were searching just the catalog and didn’t understand the results they were getting.


OU noted that another problem was that federated searching defaults to the “lowest common denominator” of available search features.


Miami Dade College noted that students at that two-year institution were often under-prepared for library research and that it wasn felt that federated searching would be too confusing. 


UNLV just implemented SFX.  UNCC has Serials Solution.  University of Florida and ECU have SFX.  Everyone drew distinctions between federated searching and URL resolvers.  URL resolvers were unanimously endorsed.


Third topic: Teaching Critical Thinking Skills


Graduate students in Social Work at Boston College often lack critical thinking skills, just like undergraduate students do.   They expect to be able to search one database, conduct just one search on their exact topic in that database, and get great results,  What are some ways to help them understand that research is more complicated than that?


This is a characteristic of the Internet generation.  This attitude is seen at public libraries, too. [New Smyrna Beach Regional Library]


Many librarians noted that they have seen this problem.   One characterized it as a “give them what they want” mentality versus a desire to develop critical thinking skills and suggested that Google encouraged this attitude, since it always found something, whereas the library catalog often did not. 


TWU suggested letting students try to search in a database at the beginning of a BI session, then show them the “better way.”  He also sees a conflict among library staff.  One camp believes in precision searches, use of thesauri, etc., while the other believes in being thorough, which can often result in hit lists of thousands of items.


It is our role to reach critical thinking skills.  The ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards support this.  At Miami Dade College, they often use individual research consultations to help teach critical thinking skills.


At Williams College, reference librarians ask the student, “What, in a perfect world, do you want to find”, then follow up with “Who do you think would gather/produce this information?”  This forces the student to think through what they are asking for and analyze their true information need.


Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has a First Year Learning Program which focuses on critical thinking skills.  BI is part of the program.


Sometimes a patron may not accept the information / suggestions / referrals we make.  [OU, Miami Dade College]


Can ALA partner with high school teachers to help develop critical thinking skills in high school?  [AARP]


Fourth topic: What can public libraries do to better prepare students for their first year in college?


In Nevada, the state provides tuition for any student who graduates from high school with a 3.0 GPA.  This has led to grade inflation and the admission to college of students who need remedial courses.  Colleges should ensure that students have a basic level of competence.


82% of students at Miami Dade College need remedial work.


Some of the things students need to learn before coming to college are how to interpret citations for books, journals, etc.; that being able to use a computer is different from knowing how to use a database; and that there are resources that are not available on the Internet. [OU]


They also need to know that one of the goals of an academic library is to teach them how to research and find information on their own, rather than being given the information by a helpful librarian.  [U. Ala.Birmingham]


We want them to know that there are tools available to use for finding books, reviews, articles, etc. [Williams College]


Outreach from university libraries may help with this. [University of New Brunswick]


Several academic libraries indicated that they conduct some outreach to high school students, including BI and orientation sessions.  High Point Public Library also provides BI for middle and high school classes.


Gallaudet noted that they decided to use language students understand.   They tell them that the library offers “scholarly search engines.”  For example, the library catalog is a search engine for books. 


Linda Harris announced that the time for discussion was drawing to a close.  She noted that the Chair-Elect of the Discussion Group had missed the last two discussion groups and had not replied to Linda’s emails.  She offered to check with RSS leadership to determine what to do.  [Linda subsequently sent an email indicating that Jan Lewis, who was scheduled to become Secretary at the end of the 2004 Conference would become Chair, and that Victoria A. Nozero would become Secretary, rather than Member-at-Large.]


The meeting was adjourned at approximately 6:15 p.m.


Respectfully submitted,



Jan Lewis