MOUSS Reference Services in Medium-Sized Research Libraries Discussion Group

1999 Annual Meeting Minutes
Tuesday, June 29, 1999
Convention Center, R-07
ALA Annual Conference
New Orleans, LA

Chair John C. Hepner, Texas Woman's University, called the meeting to order at 9:35 by introducing himself and welcoming all the participants.

Steering Committee members introduced themselves: Elliot Gertel, University of Michigan, Past Chair Chris Hannon, Smith College, Secretary Patrick Oberholtzer, Gallaudet University, Member-at-Large Kay Womack, University of Oklahoma, Member-at-Large All participants then introduced themselves to the group.

The following institutions were represented: American University in Cairo, Egypt; Baylor University; Claremont Colleges; California State University, Fresno; DePaul University; Gallaudet University; Getty Research Institute Library; Indiana State University; Louisiana State University, Shreveport; Loyola University, Chicago; North Carolina State University; Smith College; Texas Woman's University; University of Arizona Health Sciences Library; University of Maine; University of Michigan; University of North Dakota; University of Oklahoma; University of South Florida at St Petersburg; University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

There were 23 people, including the Steering Committee, and one bird in attendance.

Change of Meeting Day and Time: At the 2000 mid-winter meeting in San Antonio, this Discussion Group will meet on Monday from 9:30 - 11:30. Aiming to improve both convenience and attendance, this change results from an e-mail survey of the group's mailing list and subsequent discussion at the 1999 Philadelphia mid-winter meeting. Dave Tyckoson, RUSA/MOUSS representative to the Discussion Group, reviewed the status of ALA's plans to reorganize the annual conference through program tracks and RUSA's consideration of scheduling for committees and discussion groups.

Important Note: Due to subsequent decisions on scheduling made by the MOUSS Board, we may need to move to Sunday or stay with Tuesday. We'll keep you posted.

This Discussion Group now has a presence on the RUSA/MOUSS web site with a listing of the Steering Committee and an archive of minutes and Reports.

C. Job vacancies were announced by a number of participants.

Suggestions from the floor and subsequent voting resulted in five topics identified for discussion:

1. Management of electronic reference services.

2. Results of getting rid of the reference desk.

3. Deciding when to cancel print subscriptions when electronic versions are available.

4. Keeping reference librarians up-to-date with rapidly changing resources.

5. Declining use of bibliographic resources in favor of full-text.

Other topics identified were: 1. Appropriate use policies for computers/Internet. 2. Current legislation on filtering. 3. Impact of exhibits on reference services. 4. Networked and authenticated printing.

IV. TOPIC 1: Management of electronic reference services.
U. of AZ Medical School: We serve doctors throughout the state and 4th year students in Phoenix. All medical questions were routed to us, and we were getting lots of questions from people we didn't know. We established a policy that we would not answer questions where the user was not identified; we use an interstitial page to request name and institution. Our purpose is to serve residents within the state of Arizona or people with questions related to Arizona. Elementary school children are referred to public libraries willing to answer. There is a problem of how much time to spend and we may put up a disclaimer "Intended for brief answers to uncomplicated questions. Who was going to answer was another question. We take turns among 7-8 reference librarians, one month at a time. Questions are checked every day with Saturdays and Sundays done by weekend staff. There is also a link to electronic reference from the Medline search page.
Indiana State: We have had phone in reference that rotates among reference librarians. We see a growing trend but it's not yet overwhelming. Are Arizona's questions mainly consumer health or professional?
U. AZ: Mostly consumer health. Andrew Weil's being at U. of AZ generates a lot of questions.
LSU/Shreveport: I was formerly in charge of e-reference at UC San Diego. We put on our front web page a disclaimer that it was for our primary clientele (faculty, students and staff of UCSD). We used canned messages if a question did not fit. Those messages were: service is for primary clientele; service is for short answers - your question is too complicated - come in to the reference desk; your question was forwarded to a subject bibliographer. I did all of this. There was a backup and a backup for the backup. Questions were checked every day. Many needed to be referred (for example, to Circulation) and we would respond to that effect. If research questions took more than 20-30 minutes, I'd send a message to come in. If too specialized, questions were referred to subject bibliographers. I tried to respond within 24 hours, if only to say that it will take longer for an answer. Loyola/Chicago: There is a new ERIC document about "Ask a…" services. We also use a FARQ page - frequently asked reference questions. The Internet Public Library in Michigan is happy to answer questions ( Look at their pages and a new book, The Internet Public Library Handbook (Neal-Schuman, 1998) by Joe Janes, et al. At the University of Michigan graduate library, I helped design the virtual reference desk for the Reference Center. A list of sources with annotations. I also answered a lot of questions mostly about connectivity; I developed canned responses and kept them on file. At Loyola, I helped rewrite reference services pages. If a question takes over 5 minutes, the person has to come in. The service is limited to the Loyola community, including alumni, and we sometimes can help others if it's not too busy. In defining electronic reference, we need to develop better pathfinders, FARQs, better reference sites. Reference librarians across the country need to collaborate - we need a site with reviews and annotations.
U. of Oklahoma: At my former institution, we had templates limited to faculty and graduate students for factual and brief questions. One person opened them and one served as a backup. For the most part it was not problematic. We would farm questions out to subject specialists. At my current institution, we do nothing. Staff are afraid of the workload but people find us anyway.
Cal State Fresno: Using e-mail for electronic reference is over-hyped and underutilized. It's most unsatisfactory.
Getty Research: LC is piloting an electronic reference program. It's a cooperative venture with 24 international libraries to offer 24/7 reference service.
Loyola: A good book to look at is Designing Web Interfaces to Library Services and Resources, by K. Garlock and S. Piontek (ACRL, 1999). I would like to respond to a previous comment. We need to reconceptualize reference as instruction; remote reference is distance learning.
U. Michigan: Questions are following me from Florida Atlantic University with my e-mail being forwarded. I'm still getting grade-school level questions and referring them to a public or school library.
Indiana State: We have telephone and now web reference and also an 800 number for distance learning students of ISU. We keep checking and respond or refer if it's going to take a while.
Gallaudet: Several good ideas have been mentioned. Is this really a management question? We're going to web reference and still doing lots of traditional stuff. What should we do? Can we do it? We need management to ask how we can do both?
DePaul: We're trying to do what you're saying by combining several things. E-mail reference rotates quarterly with a back-up and is underutilized. We may centralize phone and e-mail and have it regularly staffed. Canned answers don't always do it.
Cal State Fresno: We're not as far. We have it but usage is low. What is the percentage in relation to overall reference questions?
U Michigan: At FAU, it was very high; it was getting out of hand. At Michigan we have a lot.
LSU/Shreveport: Sometimes it's not even one a month.
Cal State Fresno: It fails because it's not interactive. Geography has disappeared - your resources are available to me but the institution is designed to serve a community and the Internet brings together all kinds of people not in your area. It becomes very unsatisfactory to people on both sides.
U. AZ: All questions are answered anonymously but we can tell by the month. We keep statistics and no question is ever erased. We have a manager of the service who does boiler plate. Regarding the interactivity, it's an opportunity to invite people to come on site and sometimes you need to ask for more information. It's convenient when the phone is ringing off the hook. We try to e-mail responses to phone questions. It's very convenient to do that with the web - you can copy text and include URLs.
Loyola: I agree that e-mailing is problematic. It's related to library anxiety. That's why it's so important to have pathfinders, etc. Instruction is proactive versus reference which is reactive. We need to provide and promote these mechanisms.
Smith: Has anyone centralized e-mail reference in a consortium or state system?
Loyola: The University of Michigan does with all camp us libraries.
Cal State Fresno: The North Suburban system in Illinois has one place for homework help by phone or e-mail.
U. OK: I'm not aware of anyone doing it that way. People don't know how to use pathfinders, etc. You've got people asking questions at times when no one is in the library.
NC State: We have reference librarians on duty 24 hours (done with extra funding). Online courses use chat packages for courses. We're trying it at the library this year. Faculty have expressed reluctance to send to an anonymous reference link.
Cal State Fresno: Faculty want to know librarians. It goes back to community. They send me e-mail but it's not anonymous. It's the anonymous approach that's not working.

V. TOPIC 2: Getting rid of the reference desk.
Texas Woman's Univ.: How many people have changed their reference desk?
Ind. State: We have an intermediate step. There's a trained "how to" crew who roam around to see if people need help, in addition to the reference librarians.
U Michigan: The graduate library Reference section has a traditional desk and is staffed by professionals in the day and by students in the evenings until 2 am. In my section, Area Programs, we don't have a reference desk or area but we do have a reading room and people can find us in our offices or can make appointments. We also help people by e-mail and phone calls.
UT Knoxville: We could never do that with hordes of undergraduates. I agree with Dave's article in American Libraries ("What's right with reference?" American Libraries 30(5), May 1999, pp.57-63.)
Cal State Fresno: We should give credit to Brandeis for experimenting.
UT Knoxville: The University of Cincinnati has that model because the director mandated it. Virginia Massey-Burzio said that only 6% of questions are referred when they anticipated 40%. We have the reverse Brandeis model. We have students at the desk with us and we say go help with the OPAC, etc.
U. Michigan: Reference librarians do a good job at the first line. Gallaudet: About students and paraprofessionals. For students, it's not their profession or main interest. What are we saying when we put students and paraprofessionals on the front lines? It's a customer model: usually the person at the desk is not the most important person.
Cal State Fresno: Yes, all the students show 50-60% accuracy and I agree. But these are faculty answers and not what we do. Only about 10% are factual questions. (survey of user satisfaction)???
Gallaudet: When we talk about it, the instruction business, I feel it's not the best use of our time. It's an old debate in the literature. We see the same students with the same questions. Reference - that's where answers are being given.
U. OK: I like what I'm hearing. It confirms my thinking. We've moved our desk twice recently. People were so glad when they found the new location. Our sign says Information Desk but we call it the reference desk. It's important that we have librarians there - we're training graduate assistants. Other models have validity but I still like a reference desk.
U. AZ: The tiered thing doesn't work. To reduce traffic, we don't take phone calls. They're all handled in the back office. We're open 24 hours a day and staffed at might by students and paraprofessionals. We had to design a training program and all workers are required to take a training module. They take a 6 page test - how to recognize book versus periodical citations, where to find journals, different types of call numbers, etc. We started with the question, "What is the minimum someone needs to know to work in this library?" We designed a form (which was never used) to leave a question but people do leave questions on the answering machine.
Cal State Fresno: To tie together the first and second topics, John Richardson at UCLA is studying the application of expert systems to reference. Question Master is the best and it's horrible. In an early 1999 C&RL News there is an article on steps in the reference process. I encourage you to look at this - it's a great article.

VI. TOPIC 3: Canceling print reference sources
UTK: It took a long time. Use of the print is very low. Electronic resources are updated more frequently. It's a joint decision. We compile and circulate a list; there's open discussion and give and take. Money plays a part. I do worry if the system is down and there's no backup.
TWU: We made a big mistake. We canceled many of our Wilson indexes and withdrew all bound volumes covered by the database. Then we switched databases and it starts two years later so we have two years without print or electronic indexes. We rarely use Wilson indexes anyway; we go right to the professional literature.
Gallaudet: For so much of what we do, we need the faculty to talk to us so we know what they want.
U. Michigan: The problem is you won't get them to agree. Smith: We have canceled print with no problem. Now we have the problem of low use of the Wilson CD-ROMs and are looking at their poor full-text product.
U AZ: Don't you get a price break if you keep the print? Smith: For many vendors, that's gone by the wayside.
U. OK: We compile a list and take it to a collection development meeting to see if there are any problems.
Gallaudet: Publishers are wishy-washy about full-text. They drop in and out.
UTK: Listen to the subject specialists and have more than one person review. For example, Psyc Abstracts costs more if you cancel the print.
Cal State Fresno: We're getting homogenized reference collections. The big databases duplicate so we pay 5-6 times for the same thing.
U. OK: There was a large electronic service I desperately wanted to buy. I compared Expanded Academic ASAP with Social Sciences Index to see the overlap.

The Chair adjourned the meeting at 11:30 am.

Submitted by Christine Hannon, Secretary, July 14, 1999.