MOUSS Reference Services in Medium-Sized Research Libraries Discussion Group

2002 Midwinter Meeting Minutes
New Orleans, LA
Jan. 21, 2002, 4:30-6:30 pm

Patrick Oberholtzer, Chair, Gallaudet University
Kay Womack, Past Chair, University of Oklahoma
Linda Harris, Member at Large, University of Alabama at Birmingham
Colleen Seale, Secretary, University of Florida

Participants representing the following institutions introduced themselves: American University; Baylor University; Brigham Young University; California State University at Fresno; Claremont Colleges; Cornell University; Dartmouth; East Carolina University; Gallaudet University; Georgia Tech; Indiana University; LeHigh University, Samford University; San Francisco State University; St. Edwards University; Texas Woman's University; Trinity University; University of Delaware; University of Findlay; University of Missouri at Kansas City; University of North Carolina at Greensboro; University of North Dakota; University of the Pacific; University of Rhode Island; University of San Francisco; University of Texas at Dallas; University of West Florida; University of Wisconsin at Madison; Wellesley College.

Patrick Oberholtzer welcomed everyone to the meeting of the Reference Services in Medium-sized Research Libraries Discussion Group. He announced that the format of the discussion group meeting at Midwinter was changing, beginning with this meeting. The format change would be the addition of a guest speaker to speak on a topic for 10-15 minutes and an open forum to discuss the speaker's topic for the first hour. The second hour would follow the regular format with a call for topics followed by a vote by participants for the nominated topics. The topics would be discussed in order of vote counts from highest to lowest, time permitting.

Patrick introduced Dave Tyckoson, Head, Reference Department, California State University at Fresno as our first guest speaker. Dave spoke on the topic, "Reference Past, Reference Future." He introduced his topic by saying that "Reference Past" is the part we know. "Reference Future" is the controversial part. It's important to remember our beginning (library history) and some basic principles: the library doesn't exist in a vacuum, the library serves the parent institution and the community; we are all similar in structure but also different. The three things that libraries do are 1) libraries are collections, we select and acquire information for our community; then over time libraries took over a second function 2) organizing the collection which was followed by 3) references services to help people use the collections. He discussed the history of reference service from its first formal discussion by Samuel S. Green of Worcester Free Public Library in "Personal Relations Between Librarians and Readers" published in 1876. Dave then asked, "Why do we help people?" He noted that we are still performing the four roles outlined by Green: 1) Teaching readers in the ways of the library; 2) Providing information; 3) Aiding the reader in the selection of good works and 4) Promoting the library within the community. He concluded his discussion with a pronouncement that the golden age of reference service is now and thinks that it will get better.

The second hour was devoted to different topics for discussion. The following five topics were nominated for discussion: 1) assessment of information literacy 2) ideas raised by Dave's talk - personalized reference service and how technology is going to become part of it and 3) customized information- and its evolution; 4) creating value for what we do as a profession 5) the adequacy/inadequacy of training for new librarians.

We voted to discuss: 5) the adequacy/inadequacy of training for new librarians and 3) customized information- and its evolution.

The adequacy/inadequacy of training for new librarians.

The high points of the discussion were:

  • A general feeling that some of the basics/practical classes were no longer be offered in Library School leaving new graduates ill-prepared for reference work.
  • Graduates want to build web pages but don't seem to be able to answer questions like: what is your favorite reference web site; what's your favorite reference book
  • It seems now that library schools don't understand how we apply cataloging to reference and cataloging seems to be a dying art. Catalogers make some of the best searchers; you can't be a good reference librarian if you don't know how to use the technical side of your system.
  • Interviewed distance educated graduates for job vacancies and felt that they didn't have any context for what academic libraries do and that the librarians aren't getting adequate training through distance education programs
  • They also need to know the philosophical underpinnings and theory as well at library school. The history and philosophy of reference should be imparted.
  • UT Austin requires cataloging in their program as well as a class on the organization of information. A practicum has been added to get work experience as part of the program. Some libraries make it a practice to hire students that work while enrolled in a library school program.

Customized information- and its evolution.

The high points of the discussion were:

  • Library schools are focusing on the creation of information within a shared system. We'll evolve into generating our own products. Will we be eliminated as reference librarians? No! Personal services such as AskJeeves are still horrible. We can still interpret information better than machines. It also goes back to knowing the community; we can make certain assumptions.
  • A mental model of subject areas is needed, concerned that there will not be enough librarians with advanced expertise.
    We need to promote libraries within the community through library instruction, also faculty need to bring students into the libraries.
  • ACRL had a discussion on in-reach rather than outreach, the whole notion of focusing on the library as a place, what can we do to market ourselves as a place, the center of the university. Establishing exhibit areas, doing away with food policies, accommodating student needs and setting up collaborative zones.
  • It's also important to look at statistics and usage, gate counts but accessing online journals should be considered as valid as gate counts. We should define the library in a way that makes sense.
  • What we really have to make a case for is that we're the best providers of information.
  • There is a relationship in the reference interview, elements of socialization and emotion that can't be understood by a machine.

The meeting concluded at 6:30 pm

Respectfully submitted,
Colleen Seale