MOUSS Reference Services in Medium-Sized Research Libraries Discussion Group

Midwinter 1996 Meeting Minutes
ALA Midwinter Meeting
23 January 1996 9:30-12:30 a.m.

Margaret Power, DePaul University, Chair of the Steering Committee, called the meeting to order at 9:33 and introduced other members of the Steering Committee:

Mary Mintz, American University, Past Chair
Christine Whittington, University of Maine, Secretary
Elliot Gertel, California State-Fullerton
John Hepner, Texas Woman's University, was not present

After introductions and announcement of job openings, the group proceeded to the discussion topics:

1. How Reference Departments Deal with Telephone Reference Service
Brooklyn College does not do phone reference service and has not for many years. They are considering starting an e-mail reference service and are curious about others' experiences.
The University of Nebraska-Omaha is a commuter school that gets lots of phone calls. They tried to set up a behind-the-scenes phone service, but loss of staff resulted in the elimination of this program. They then started an e-mail reference service, despite the fear of being overwhelmed. However, they get only 2-3 questions per week. When a general reference question comes in, the reference coordinator answers it. More detailed reference questions are forwarded to subject specialists. Response time is advertised at 24 hours. Guidelines for the services are posted on the library's Web page. The service is so popular that it has been expanded to include ILL forms.
California State University - Fullerton has separated reference calls by using a phone tree. Faculty/staff have a special number for calling the reference department. This cuts down on calls, but they still get a fair number. There has been no staff increase to cover phone reference.
Utah State uses voice mail for telephone reference service. After four rings, the caller gets a message saying that the reference librarians are busy. Librarians answer the phone at the desk only when they are not busy helping another patron. There have been no problems or complaints with this arrangement. Callers cannot leave a message but are told to try again.
University of Massachusetts-Amherst responded to complaints about unanswered telephone calls by using a telephone tree. This intercepts calls about the computer lab, circulation, and hours. There have been fewer complaints.
Rider University has found that voice mail at the reference desk is overwhelming without a phone tree.
San Francisco State University has had a telephone tree since 1989. The tree answers basic questions. Nine options are offered and the phone will be answered by a person if the patron stays on the line. Unfortunately, people have figured out other library phone numbers that ring directly to individuals and are beginning to call odd places in efforts to ask reference questions.
At Texas Christian University, librarians still answer the phone when possible. When it's not possible, a phone message says that the librarians are busy and that the person should call back. People can leave a message, but they are not told to do so. Only those that have figured out the system know how to leave a message.

2. How is Internet Training Provided for Students?
University of Nebraska - Omaha cooperates with the computing center in providing joint workshops. The library does the subject content while computing handles the publicity.
San Francisco State University provides Internet training for credit courses as well as for regular bibliographic instruction and also has a workbook program. A new tenure-track librarian is doing a credit course on the Internet. Enrollment is limited to 27 students and the course has a waiting list at least that long.
College of Charleston provides a one-hour credit course on electronic resources. The class consists of seven 1 1/2-hour sessions and is limited to 20 students with room for some overflow.
Utah State has just begun offering an Internet navigator class. The course will be taught completely on the Web and it serves the entire state. It includes personal contact, exercises, and tests. Anyone interested should e-mail for more information..
Three Penn State campuses are doing Internet classes on the Web as part of a pilot program. IBM loaned desktop computers for students to use with this course.

3. Moving Beyond CD-ROM in Electronic Data
DePaul University is trying to find the best way to provide access to electronic information. For example, which is better-CD-ROM or remote access like First Search? They currently have 20-30 products networked, and the state provides databases on FirstSearch. DePaul is trying to evaluate the best formats, comparing gains and sacrifices in searching power, as well as price. The whole field is becoming very confusing again.
S an Francisco State University reports that the California state system has someone in the Chancellor's office who arranges consortial agreements for all 21 campuses. These include Encyclopaedia Britannica and GaleNet (Encyclopedia of Associations and BGMI).
Cal State Fullerton is also experimenting. They are mostly providing access through FirstSearch, although this was not the most popular choice with librarians.
Brooklyn College went in on the Encyclopaedia Britannica trial through the CUNY central office. Paying for it has advantages, but they are not sure if it is worth the money.
Baylor University uses FirstSearch with remote login and the Information Access Internet products. Besides printing problems, they have also had problems with downtime. However, they like it in general.
San Francisco State University has problems with using STN for Chemical Abstracts. The search runs, but they cannot get the results downloaded.
Tufts University reported that FirstSearch locks up sporadically on them.
University of Texas - Arlington notes that the technology of FirstSearch is odd. The message path is long and any glitch can slow it down. The heavy load is also a factor. They are trying to load as much as possible with their direct connection to Austin rather than relying on the Internet connections. SUNY Albany links the catalog to the ERL server, giving patrons the advantage of the SilverPlatter search engine while still providing remote access.
Willamette University noted that accreditation agencies still look at the numbers of volumes, so access to databases does not count in this area.
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee just went through a North Central accreditation and the accreditors focused on access. Specialty accreditation agencies are also doing this.
University of Florida canceled Dissertation Abstracts in print and on CD-ROM after bringing it up on their online catalog. They are considering doing the same for Psyclit.
University of Pennsylvania has networked access to Dialog, with a set of sci-tech databases. They have a 12 simultaneous user limit and a print limit. They are still feeling their way with this program. Users can go in through the Web or by telnet. They have a more limited contract than Drexel or Cornell have had.
College of Charleston asks how the decision process should work. What is the role of reference?
UT-Arlington has an electronic resources committee (ERC) with members from cataloging, acquisitions, systems, and bibliographers. It is charged with deciding what to buy and in what format. It gets input from all bibliographers. They must cancel print to get new electronic databases.
At Cleveland State University, bibliographers make recommendations to a team that considers electronic products. They must demonstrate the product before a purchase is made. Needs to consider include equipment, etc. Being part of Ohiolink often takes the decision-making out of their hands. While they have some input to Ohiolink, decisions are being made at a very different level than in the past. They are constantly increasing the complexity of the system with new software that everyone who works at the reference desk, including classified staff, needs to know.

4. Entrepreneurship in Reference
There was no discussion. Power noted that the person who contributed this topic evidently was not present.

5. Outsourcing in Reference
Southwest Missouri State heard a comment at a meeting about outsourcing in technical services: "As soon as they hooked up our OCLC terminal we were outsourcing." For reference, we did this when we started dialing into Dialog. When we use things that we have no control over we are outsourcing.
Brooklyn College noted that this concept is usually linked to distance learning.
University of Toledo will be doing a pilot project in a few weeks with a satellite reference station. There will be one in the College of Engineering and one in reference department. The workstations have video conferencing capabilities between the two locations. Users at one location will have live video hookup to a librarian. They have not yet set the service hours.
College of Charleston wonders if this type of program increases the need for reference librarians or just transfers it? It has not decreased the need for reference librarians at Southwest Missouri State. They still have a need for one-on-one assistance. They have eight new distance learning sites that will need library service and need to increase staffing rather than decrease it. Administrators do not consider library service when instituting distance education programs.
At Wright State University outsourcing in technical services has been a gain for reference. Staff have been transferred from technical services to reference.
Willamette University provides all library services for a private school across the street that has no library. This is done as a contract with that institution. Students from the other school have more limited access to Willamette resources than their own students.
The University of Pennsylvania notes that the concept of the Engineering Village is outsourcing. This program uses engineers to answer information needs at any time 24 hours per day.
University of Maine notes that CARL Uncover has a reference service now that will answer questions (in the form of a bibliography of sources) for a fee. Nobody in the attendance had experience with this service. 6. Interactive Reference Services
Willamette University includes hot buttons for questions, comments, and suggestions on all Web pages. They have also placed a form for asking reference questions on the online catalog. Every two hours someone checks the central e-mail file. ILL forms are also available. This works because all staff and students have e-mail accounts.
Southwest Missouri State uses e-mail for ILL and for collection development requests. Forms are available for either function to everyone on campus.
San Francisco State University does not do any e-mail reference or phone reference. The new director has suggested that they look at starting this. A literature search found a Reference Services Review article indicating that these formats were not successful because they are not interactive. Patrons do not ask for what they really want and it is difficult to carry out a reference interview on e-mail.
At Southwest Missouri State, the faculty contact the liaison for the college of business in any way possible. The library does not offer formal e-mail reference, but some librarians get lots of e-mail from constituents. An interaction may take many messages over several days, but it does work. E-mail reference also provides a paper trail of the question negotiation, plus answers can be cut and pasted from various electronic sources.
At Baylor University, electronic reference is an option on the OPAC. There are not many questions that actually come in this way -- they get mostly blank forms from people who select this by mistake. Some questions that they receive in this way are much too detailed. They reserve the right to simply provide direction when that is appropriate.
West Texas A&M wonders whether the response and satisfaction of the user to e-mail reference varied by type of user (student, faculty, etc.). Students often need last minute material and cannot wait for e-mail.
University of Florida has e-mail throughout the campus. Graduate students can usually wait for a response and the faculty really like e-mail.

7. Full Text and Multimedia
University of Nebraska - Omaha is small enough to have just one centralized library. Multimedia is going to function as part of reference. Librarians will be developing their own multimedia presentations and teaching faculty. The Audio-Visual services will also be doing this, not just the library. This arrangement involves the library in both the use and production of multimedia.
University of Maine has had a couple of multimedia experiences. They currently provide Netscape on terminals without video or sound. A multimedia lab has been purchased through special funding for faculty and librarians to develop CD-ROM, multimedia, etc. No one knows how to use it and they do not have sufficient staffing. It is very frustrating. Brooklyn College has the vision, but not the resources. They have created a media center. When they changed to Web, there was no place for CD-ROM terminals. They are always moving and juggling.
Willamette University does not have as much as in a previous job in Toledo, where a coordinated effort was done. WU has an Audio-Visual department combined with computing and the library. The lighting is terrible in every place with computers and needs to be considered in developing such a service. 8. In-house Research in Reference David Tyckoson (SUNY Albany) announced that the guidelines for behavioral performance in reference service have been approved and will be published in RQ by the ALA Annual Conference. They become official when they appear in RQ or on the ALA Web page.
UNC-Charlotte talked about analyzing the reference collection from in-house usage data.
DePaul University has started a project in rethinking reference. They took hash mark statistics and for two weeks had people write down every reference question. Some common questions were put in categories and those that did not fit written out. Each question was ranked on a scale of 1-4 on difficulty, from 1 = student could handle it to 4 = absolutely needs a reference librarian. She tried to see how the traffic broke down by the various levels of questions. She did not complete the study, but we are all interested in the results.
Cleveland State University tries to determine who else could answer the question. Anticipates organizational changes that will put more non-reference people on desk.
University of Florida wonders if there is a minimum number of hours per week that a librarian should work at the reference desk in order to maintain skills. Are electronic resources causing us to lose touch with keeping up reference skills?
San Francisco State agreed that we should think of a minimum number of hours as well as a maximum.
Brooklyn College used to have two librarians at the reference desk whenever the library was open. These librarians worked at the reference desk 20 hours per week. It seems more stressful to have to train someone else to do reference work while continuing to do it yourself. Librarians do give brief classes to those working at the reference desk. Mary Mintz wondered whether heads of reference have desk hours and whether hours are subtracted for special activities. Most of those who responded indicated that heads of reference had some reference desk time, ranging from 6 to 15 or 16 hours per week. While some worked fewer desk hours than other librarians, others worked the same number. Some did not work nights or weekends because of the need for reference heads to be available on weekdays. Some reference heads who did not ordinarily work as many desk hours as other librarians did take on additional desk hours so that other librarians could be released for special activities.

prepared by Chris Whittington, June 1996