MOUSS Reference Services in Medium-Sized Research Libraries

Midwinter 1998 Meeting Minutes
Tuesday, 13 January 1998
ALA Midwinter Meeting
New Orleans, Louisiana

Elliot Gertel, Florida Atlantic University, Chair, called the meeting to order at 9:30 a.m. and introduced himself and other members of the Steering Committee:

John Hepner, Texas Woman's University, Secretary
Margaret Power, DePaul University, Past Chair
Chris Hannon, Smith College, Member at Large
Vicki Wainscott, Southwest Missouri State University, Member at Large [not present]
Christine Whittington, University of Maine, Past Chair [not present]

The Chair announced that an election for a new Steering Committee Member at Large will be held at the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C. He noted that service on the Steering Committee is a five-year commitment.

The Chair also announced that the discussion would continue uninterrupted until 11:30 a.m. and then adjourn to allow persons in attendance to meet scheduled airline flights.

The Chair asked for announcements of job vacancies. Positions available at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Utah, and California State University-Fresno were announced as either currently advertised or soon to be advertised.

The Chair explained that topics for discussion are now chosen at the meeting instead of in advance because changes in technology and reference services and resources move so rapidly. He pointed out that topics 6-8 from the last summer conference had not been discussed and were eligible for discussion at the current meeting. Other topics were suggested from the floor. The following topics were selected for discussion by a show of hands from those present:

1. Evaluating the effectiveness of reference departmental web pages and using web page contributions in annual professional evaluations.
2. Methods of authentification for remote users of electronic resources.
3. Being reference librarians for the world: handling remote questions received via the Internet.
4. Reference department input into decision-making for selection of electronic resources.
5. Dealing with the wide divergence in salary levels among reference librarians and suggestions for raising salary levels.
6. Charging for printing.
7. Staffing of computer labs in reference areas.
8. Manual and electronic weeding and management of reference collections.

All present were asked to introduce themselves to the group. In addition to the steering committee, representatives from the following institutions were present: St. John's University (New York), University of Okla homa, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Pennsylvania, Mt Vernon Nazareene College, Santa Fe Community College, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, University of Delaware, University of New Orleans, East Bank Regional Library (Matairie, LA), Claremont School of Theology, Appalachian State University, University of Utah, Rutgers University, University of North Carolina-Charlotte, University of North Dakota, California State University-Sonoma, University of Notre Dame, NASA/Goddard, Columbia College, North Dakota State University, New Mexico State University, Brooklym College, Kansai Gaidai Hawaii College, and Washington University-St. Louis. Thirty-four individuals attended the discussion.

Topic 1: (Reference Department Web Pages)

UNCC: All reference librarians are involved with the reference department web pages. Learning HTML was added on to their original duties. Evaluation is based on service statistics analyzed for the number of hits for each page. Log file analysis software has not been acquired. Core technical competencies were developed. Each reference librarian and subject specialist was required to create a web page. Free software (Dr. HTML) was used to check accuracy and format of web pages. 90% of hot links are required to be functional. No more than one misspelling or syntax error is allowed. Pages are required to be updated at least once every six months. Some librarians do no more than the minimum required, but others go much farther in their web page design.
R : Evaluating on the number of hits seems unfair.
UNCC: Web page analysis is quantitative. No other objective measure was found. Individuals are expected to market their web page.
R: The analysis does not take into consideration web use behavior: there is no analysis of how long a page is used nor how much of the page is used.
UNCC: Depth of use is trackable. Bibliographies of student papers are also examined for citations to internet sources.
R: Perhaps use should be adjusted for enrollment.
UW-M: Some page use may be affected by the varying laboratory versus library focus of academic disciplines.
UO: Measures for web site usage might be affected by users downloading a copy of the page and then using the downloaded version at their local terminal.
NDSU: What is to be done with the statistics? Can they be realated to a ranking system?
UNCC: Trying to develop standards for web evaluation to determine minimal versus outstanding or adequate versus exceptional performance. The reference unit's web pages are accessed more than those of any other university department. That librarians taught themselves HTML is justified by web page access statistics. Trying to deal with fairness in the evaluation.
FAU: Web page is only a part of overall performance. Give "brownie points" for exceptional web page design and use. FAU has a large systems department with one person designated to help anyone who wants to create a web page. Librarians are finding the time and energy to learn. Standards for evaluation are needed.
DeP: Consider both qualitative and quantitative evaluation.
UNCC: All disciplines are not necessarily web friendly.
UND: The younger staff seems more eager to work with the web. One person has overall supervisory responsibility for the web pages.
CST: Too much time can be spent on web page HTML markup. The reference libraians should be interacting with people.
R: Web pages are part of what we do to make resources more accessible to our users. The Internet lets us provide access to our libraries outside the library building. Web pages are a part of how a librarian makes all library resources accessible. Web pages are not entirely separate from the rest of a librarian's functions.
NDSU: Perhaps web pages should not be evaluated as closely. What counts as an update?
UNCC: Last date is changed to indicate an update. Software also shows when the web page was reloaded.
UU: The size of the university and the university/library strategic plan need to be considered. Many universities have a standard form for personnel evaluation.
UO: Involve reference librarians in the discussion of how to evaluate web page contributions.
SC: Consider use relative to subject matter.
UWM: After database searching decreased, the search librarian took responsibility for the web page. Subject specialists check links.
AP: Consider self-evaluation of a web page. Ask the librarian to describe what is unique, why it is successful, future plans, and how much time is spent on the page.
R: Survey faculty and students in departments. Do they use the web? Why do they use the web? How do you use the the web?
R: Even within a single department, professors differ in the use to which the put the web. Possible include a survey on the web page.
CST: A survey on a web page is passive. Observe use on the floor of the library. Librarians can check with people using web pages.
FAU: Cite web pages as a source of information for people seeking basic information about a library's collections.

Topic 2: (Patron Authorization)
SC: Electronic resources TCP/IP controlled but need to provide access to students all over the country.
TWU: Validate students locally by providing a user authorization step before accessing a local gateway page to the service.
FAU: Some resources may allow universal access. LUIS system uses 14-digit library ID numbers for access to restricted electronic resources.
UO: FirstSearch and Carl Uncover require local authorization and password. IAC databases are accessible through the university network with passwords but cannot be used through AOL.
CSS: Use a homegrown proxy service with passwords. Distributing passwords to distance education students is a problem. Security of passwords is a consideration.
R: A dial-in registration was found secure enough.
FAU: Remote access may be accomplished through dial-up with a modem. Frequently-called numbers may be charged at a local rate by some telephone companies.
UP: A proxy server was taken as an approach to the problem to get around a slow computer service. The database of valid users needs to be kept up-to-date. The library has the proxy control.
NDSU: E-mail addresses have been used for validation/authentication. This doesn't address the out-of-state users.
DP: Remote access is more of a concern for vendors. Librarians are being cast in the role of policemen.
UP: Using a proxy server, everyone logs in at their particular machine: anytime Netscape is invoked, the user must enter a password.
SC: Free access is a contractual agreement. R: At George Washington University, Lexis/Nexis was located in a separate room. The Information Desk was responsible for policing Ids.
SC: Reference librarians don't want to get into policing roles.
FAU: At Cal State, users had to show Ids to use Lexis/Nexis.
SC: Try to minimize annoyance for both librarians and patrons. ?: Users are assigned passwords and IDs to access databases via telnet or web.
CSUS: With Ovid, vendors charge per user. The amount of money to budget and actually spent is based on the number of users accessing the databases.
FAU: At Cal State, simultaneous users are controlled automatically by the system.

Topic 3: (Internet Reference)
UO: Receiving lots of questions via the internet which jave not been received before. K-12 students sending questions from Georgia and Illinois. E-mail question has been received from London. What policies exist to deal with this situation?
R: "Ask a Librarian" function on the web. Questions are answered by alternating reference librarians.
CP: Remember that the local public library can often handle these questions by referrals. Sometimes it is easier to answer the question directly instead of referring to another library.
UWM: Questioners are asked for UWM affiliation. If they are not affiliated, librarians will answer the question only if related to information about the campus or to a library resource.
UND: The amount of traffic is a factor to consider. The situation is no different from receiving questions through regular postal mail. Librarians usually answer questions received.
UO: Treat these like any other question. If the question is unique to the state or institution, librarians are likely to go further in answering the query. Some people know little about how to use libraries. Refer to local sources of information.
UWM: When the Congressional Information Service received inappropriate questions, they would sent a leaflet on how to find information at your local library with the response.
UP: This is a hot button item for reference service managers. Consider why remote questions are being received. The situation says something nice about libraries.
FAU: Questions are received from all over the world. A person may ask a question remotely because they would be too embarrassed to ask it locally. Librarians can always refer to appropriate local sources for information or service.
EBR: Burgeoning access to the internet and the ease of e-mailing another library contributes to the proliferation of questions.
R: Think of this as positive. People are now able to ask questions remotely. Take credit for promoting the university to non-students. This can be a selling point for administration provision of support for internet accessibility.
UO: Librarians really don't mind answering questions received, depending on the questions asked. Documents the questions asked and the response to include with tenure/evaluation documentation.
FAU: Also include "thank you" notes received.
CSUS: Answering questions through the internet is often more time-consuming than answering the same question face-to-face.
MO: Or on the telephone.
R: If you don't have the resources for the service or if it is taking too much time, delegate the service to others. Student helpers can assist with simple questions and the usuual library hours requests.

Topic 4: (Reference Librarians and Decisions for Electronic Resources)
SJU: Database acquisition decisions are being made by assistant dean or department heads without line librarian input. Databases arrive without staff prior knowledge.
FAU: Some areas are using statewide consortial arrangements to provide access to databases, with additional databases acquired locally on CDROM. Librarians are more likely to have a voice about local needs locally than with statewide consortium.
UWM: There should be a number of channels for input. More actors should be involved in the decision-making. Relate to collection development for the library.
NMSU: Collection development is being driven by consortia. Often trials are available and input is requested from reference librarians, but little input is received.
UP: We are in a period of change. Vendors want to price through consortia. This gives individual reference departments less influence over choices. Expertise resides in the local reference department about what is useful locally.
UO: Faculty get into the act by promoting particular resources.
UWM: Automation departments also come into play.
NDSU: With consortia, selection control is not local. Consortia also like to get feedback from faculty.

Topic 5: (Salaries)
FAU: Wide variations exist in librarian salaries across the country and even in regions with similar conditions.
UND: The library director argues about how uncompetitive salaries are.
NMSU: When a librarian receives a job offer at a higher salary, the library makes a counter offer. This can cause problems with other staff.
FAU: Sometimes to get a raise, a librarian needs to get an offer from another library.
UP: Negative newspaper publicity can be influential in reaching legislators.
FAU: Non-professional and clerical staff are even worse off.

Topic 6: (Charging for Printing)
FAU: We charge for all printing. Most printers operate with copycards. No complaints have been received. The printing service maintains the machines and someone is always on call.
R: We have taken away all printers. Users must use e-mail or download to a disk. Users are very upset. E-mail time delay is a problem for short-term undergraduate research.
FAU: E-mailing is an option. LUIS does not support printing but other resources do.
R: One CDROM printer is available.
NDSU: Students are assessed a technology fee of $45 per year. We do not charge for printing. Access to full-text resources cut down on photocopying. Printing is free from interlibrary loan or the web. A laser printer is being used. A few abuses have been noted.
FAU: A mechanical sabotage problem has been observed, particularly with people changing options to produce multiple copies.
CSUS: Centralized printing option to replace deteriorating equipment.
UND: Centralized printing operation includes three laser printers behind the circulation desk. Citations are free but full-text and abstracts are charged at ten cents per page. Named all terminals after authors to identify printing source.
NMSU: Centralized printing in reference area. It is reliable and fast. Cost is eight cents per page with the first page free.
SJU: Free printing is available for CDROM resources. Centralized printing is being considered for the OPAC.
UNCC: Pay station was abandoned: people lined up to wait for prints. Graphic items caused significant delays in printing.
NMSU: During problem periods there is no charge for prints.
NDSU: Color printers are provided. Non-students also get free printing. 5.

With thanks to everyone for attending the discussion, the Chair announced that it was time to adjourn and noted that topics 7 and 8 will have to be postponed. He issued a reminder that the next discussion will be held in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, 30 June 1998, at 9:30 a.m. at a location to be announced at a later date. The Chair adjourned the discussion at 11:30 a.m.

Submitted by John C. Hepner, Secretary