Evaluation of Reference and User Services Committee

Saturday, June 15, 2002, 9:30-11am

Meeting Minutes

Members present: Lisa Horowitz (Chair), Jake Carlson, Suzanne Lorimer, Barbara Mann, Elaina Norlin, Lanell Rabner, Nancy Skipper, Judy Solberg, Lou Vyhnanek, Susan Ware

Visitors present: Betty Gard, Maira Liriano, Diane Shonrock

-Minutes of previous meeting were approved.


ARL/SLA 2-day workshop: Measuring Library Service Quality (Sept. 27-28, 2002)


  • Jake Carlson distributed a “Definitions of Reference” handout

    The RUSA Evaluation of Reference and User Services committee was asked by the RUSA board to review RUSA’s current definition of “reference” and “reference transaction.” As the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) revises its standards for libraries, RUSA wants to make sure that we lobby organizations like the Association for Research Libraries (ARL) and the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) to use our definition. The Definition of Reference handout included:

  • RUSA’s current definition of reference (

  • ARL definition of reference or reference transaction (

  • National Center for Education Statistics definition of reference transaction (

Suzanne Lorimer, Barbara Mann, & Lanell Rabner distributed three reviews of the journal literature on the definition of reference service. Based on their findings, they reported that:

  • Major figures in librarianship have grappled with a definition of reference over the last 75 years. The bulk of the literature is old.
  • The terminology used in recent literature (example: 1989 survey of librarians) is much the same.
  • Designing multiple measures for longitudinal and cross-institutional analysis remains a challenge.
  • In the 40s, reference transactions were reported in terms of ratios rather than raw numbers. These ratios were used to develop standards.
  • What is missing in the literature is representation of reference work that goes on behind the scenes and how the status (professional v. non-professional) of the reference staff affects our definitions of reference.
  • Debra Warner's article
    A New Classification for Reference Statistics, (
    RUSQ, Fall 2001) is one example of new directions in defining reference.
  • Chris Ferguson’s article, “
    Shaking the Conceptual Foundations, Too:” (
    CRL, July 2000), discusses new roles for librarians and addresses the problem of documenting behind the scenes reference work.

Further discussion generated the questions:

  • What is the best way to handle directional questions?
  • How do we handle mediated v. non-mediated reference work?
  • How do we accommodate a tiered definition of reference?
  • What is our goal in collecting and analyzing reference statistics?
  • Can we write a definition that is useful in all types of libraries- academic, public, school, special?
  • How to define direct versus indirect reference?
  • Don’t we need separate definitions of reference and reference transaction?
  • What is the timeframe for a reference transaction, and how do we measure it?
  • Who serves on a desk and how does that impact the definition of reference?

Lisa suggested that the Committee write an article on the definition of reference and include both the history and how we are coming to a new definition. She also recommended that the 3 literature reviews submitted by Suzanne, Barbara, and Lanell be combined and posted on the RUSA MOUSS web site. This document can also become the basis of our work on developing guidelines for reference. Suzanne offered to integrate the documents.

Diana Shonrock informed the Committee of the RUSA Section Review in progress. RUSA is planning reorganization and is considering the creation of a new committee to focus on frontline reference services, rather than management. The 2003 RUSA Program will address frontline reference. Everyone was encouraged to join the listserv MOUSS-L and consult the RUSA web pages for a comprehensive list of forms and committee documents. All appointments must go through the Vice Chair – Diana Shonrock.

Guidelines Subcommittee:

Judy distributed notes she had compiled from the Midwinter Forum and a Guidelines timeline Christopher Coleman had prepared. It was recommended that the Guidelines questionnaire (in progress) be used to gather definitions of reference both reference “work” and reference “transactions” from librarians from all types of libraries – academic, public, school, special. Nancy and Barbara noted that different library associations (public, school, special, archivists) have already published a definition of reference, and they agreed to gather these for the Committee. Nancy also recommended that we pretest the Guidelines questionnaire/survey with the Committee. It was agreed that we should obtain a draft of the work of RUSA Guidelines Committee, and consider the “Draft Guidelines & Procedures for Assessing Digital Reference,” by McClure and Lankes. In particular, we should look closely at their instructions for field testing. Further discussion of the guidelines work will be on agenda for the MOUSS ERUS meeting on Monday, June 17.

The Committee meeting schedule for ALA Midwinter 2003 was announced. We will meet again on Saturday (9:30-11:00) and Sunday (9:30-12:00). During ALA Annual 2003, RUSA/MOUSS will meet Saturday (9:30-11:00) and Monday (9:30-12:00).

Meeting was adjourned.

Respectfully submitted,

Susan Ware