Reference Research Review 2008



Items selected and annotated by members of the American Library Association, RUSA/RSS Research & Statistics Committee (2008-2009).



An annual bibliography highlighting selected works in the reference literature.


Burnett, G., Jaeger, P. T., & Thompson, K. M. (2008). Normative behavior and information: The social aspects of information access. Library & Information Science Research, 30, 56-66.   An analysis of three case studies extends our understanding of information access by adding the social to the traditional physical and intellectual factors. The researchers develop a framework based on Elfreda Chatman’s Theory of Normative Behavior to explain how the norms and attitudes of communities influence information access methods. With attention to social factors, reference staff will better match information provision to patron expectations and norms.

Chu, M., & Meulemans, Y. N. (2008). The problems and potential of MySpace and Facebook usage in academic libraries. Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 13, 69-85.
This article explores how higher education students interact with social networking applications, and how these can be leveraged by academic librarians. Survey and focus group data provide insight into students’ use of MySpace and Facebook, and how these might prove viable in an academic context. The authors consider the instruction, reference, and outreach potential of these social sites in a university library setting, finding that while social networking sites are dynamic and nascent in terms of library applicability, their local use can prove productive and should be predicated on user needs assessment.

Duncan, J., & Holliday, W. (2008). The role of information architecture in designing a third-generation library web site. College & Research Libraries, 69, 301-318.

This article outlines how the Utah State University Library redesigned its website through the application of the principles and methods of information architecture. The library began by assessing stakeholder needs through multiple methods, then progressed through a series of steps that included card sorting, label development and testing, and site architecture development and testing. The authors believe the principles of information architecture enabled the creation of a more usable and cohesive site.


Fitzpatrick, E. B., Moore, A. C., & Lang, B. W. (2008). Reference librarians at the reference desk in a learning commons: A mixed methods evaluation. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34, 231-238.    A multi-model (focus group, staff survey, and transcript analysis) study investigated preferences for a separate, librarian-only reference and research assistance desk in a learning commons. The discovery that patrons readily distinguish when to go to a specialized research desk over the general technology desk has building design, staffing, training, and marketing implications.


Goda, D., & Bisshop C. (2008). Frequency and content of chat questions by time of semester at the University of Central Florida: Implications for training, staffing and marketing. Public Services Quarterly, 4, 291-316.  The authors analyzed chat transcripts over the course of four semesters examining the types of questions asked during a chat reference session. After creating a categorization scheme and classifying each of the more than 4,000 questions, the authors were able to notice some patterns in the number and types of questions asked. The article demonstrates how analyzing what questions are asked and when chat is busiest can be used to assist library marketing and staffing levels.


Haglund, L., & Olsson, P. (2008). The impact on university libraries of changes in information behavior among academic researchers: A multiple case study. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34, 52-59.  Information searching approaches were studied at three Stockholm universities.  Ethnographic participant observation and interviewing of eight researchers at each school revealed the perception that libraries are overly complex and that a researcher can find all they need through Google and simple online searches. The results revealed that librarians should work alongside researchers in their spaces to build search skills.


Hepburn, P., & Lewis, K. M. (2008). What's in a name? Using card sorting to evaluate branding in an academic library's web site. College & Research Libraries, 69, 242-250.

This study examined whether library-created brand names helped promote usage. The authors used card sorting, in which the participants sorted cards (each labeled with the name of a library resource, service or web page) into groups and named the groups. The participants showed little recognition of the library brands, even though they used many of the services. The authors recommend using descriptive language and distinct names in future branding initiatives as well as increased marketing and instruction of the services.


Luo, L. (2008) Toward sustaining professional development: Identifying essential competencies for chat reference service. Library & Information Science Research, 30, 298-311.  Chat reference practitioners (reference listserv subscribers) rated the essential chat reference competencies identified in LIS research in a web-based survey. The results inform training and assessment programs because they distinguish between competencies for all reference modalities and those specific to, less important in, or highlighted in chat.


Luo, L. (2008). Chat reference evaluation: a framework of perspectives and measures. Reference Services Review, 36, 71-85.  This paper aimed to provide a holistic view of the current practice of chat reference evaluation and to suggest a framework that could help reference practitioners evaluate chat reference services in multiple contexts.  A thorough review of the literature on chat reference evaluation is conducted and the studies are grouped by their evaluative perspective and measures. A framework of perspectives and measures for chat reference evaluation is proposed based on the literature review.


Rowlands, I., & Nicholas, D. (2008). Understanding information behaviour: How do students and faculty find books? Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34, 3-15.  A quasi-experimental, multivariate analysis of how faculty and students at University College London report they locate desired printed books. The results of a web-based survey conducted in late 2006 revealed seven types of researchers (age, gender and academic status as descriptive variables) based on their preference for library versus alternative (Google, etc.) discovery techniques. Significant results (such as females are significantly more independent of libraries than males) indicate the need for replication in other settings.


Shachaf, P., & Shaw, D. (2008). Bibliometric analysis to identify core reference sources of virtual reference transactions. Library & Information Science Research, 30, 291-297.  A content analysis of the reference sources used in 1,851 email and chat reference transcripts from 2006 revealed that the concept of a “core reference collection” exists in virtual reference in both public and academic libraries. Since 96% of the reference sources used were electronic and only a small number of sources were used, libraries should purchase web-based reference tools.


Shachaf, P., & Horowitz, S. M. (2008). Virtual reference service evaluation: Adherence to RUSA behavioral guidelines and IFLA digital reference guidelines. Library & Information Science Research, 30, 122-137.  This qualitative study analyzed email reference transaction conformance to the IFLA and ALA/RUSA virtual reference guidelines. Transcripts collected in 2005 and 2006 through unobtrusive evaluation of consenting institutions were analyzed by coding using Nvivo2.0. Accuracy, completeness, and satisfaction outcomes did not correlate with adherence to standards.


Spires, T. (2008). Handheld librarians: A survey of librarian and library patron use of wireless handheld devices. Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 13, 287-309.

This article describes the findings of a survey that examined the librarian use and user perceptions of personal digital assistants (PDAs), smart phones and other small wireless devices. A web-based survey collected open and closed-form feedback from roughly 800 librarians gauged the interest and receptivity to mobile library services and content (survey instrument not included). Questions range from perceived utility in areas such as reference and outreach to appropriate levels of library support for mobile browsing. The authors find that mobile libraries may constitute a major future format shift in information consumption, but that the adoption horizon is likely protracted due to low current use.