MOUSS Reference Services in Medium-Sized Research Libraries Discussion Group

1999 Midwinter Meeting Minutes

Tuesday, February 2, 1999

Marriott, Rooms 401-403 ALA

Midwinter Meeting Philadelphia, PA


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:

Elliott Gertel, Florida Atlantic University, 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: ABC-CLIO, Binghamton University, Brooklyn College, Carnegie-Mellon, Drexel University, Free Library of Philadelphia, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Indiana State, Mississippi State, New York Public Library, Penn State, Rutgers University, St. John's, Scarecrow Press, Temple University, University of Maine, University of Manitoba, University of North Carolina - Charlotte, University of Oregon, University of Richmond, University of Texas - Dallas, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, Utah State, Western Oregon University.

There were 31 people, including the Steering Committee, in attendance.


A. Meeting Time and Day: The Chair initiated discussion on the schedule for this discussion group in the context of the ALA efforts to restructure the annual conference. In the fall, he had queried those on the mailing list about preferences for meeting times and identified the preferred times as Monday or Tuesday mornings. The Chair asked for an informal vote of those present which resulted in 13 favoring a switch to Monday morning and 7 preferring to stay with Tuesday morning. In terms of fitting into ALA's overall reorganization scheme, the Chair noted that Discussion Group meetings are outside the program track which minimizes the potential for conflict. However, MOUSS is considering a proposal to have all committees meet at one time and all discussion groups meet at another time.

In the meantime, this Discussion Group will meet on Tuesday morning, June 29, 1999, at 9:30 am in New Orleans, with the location to be determined. Changes in meeting day and time, if any, will not happen until the next Midwinter Meeting in San Antonio.

B. Size of the Steering Committee:

The Chair proposed that the Steering Committee go from 5 to 4 members as current membership requires a daunting five year commitment. A new member coming on to the committee would serve as follows:

Year 1 - Member-at-Large

Year 2 - Secretary

Year 3 - Chair

Year 4 - Past Chair

Hearing no objections from the assembled group, the Chair approved this change to begin immediately. There is no need to seek formal approval; the Chair will notify RUSA/MOUSS of the change.


Suggestions from the floor and subsequent voting resulted in five topics identified for discussion (out of 10 topics proposed).

1. Interaction of reference staff with collection development in the selection of electronic resources. Are reference staff losing control? Have tensions developed?

2. Trends in reference statistics. Are reference question statistics increasing or decreasing? How are they being counted? What's the impact of electronic resources and remote users?

3. Services to remote users.

4. Choosing reference sources from among multiple formats. What criteria are used to help make these decisions?

5. What makes for a successful web site?

IV. TOPIC 1: Selection of electronic databases

Oregon: Acquiring major databases on the web requires the entire library to examine priorities. Decisions go to Collection Development. What impacts are others experiencing in terms of their administration? Consortia?

FAU: We have state-wide decision-making for major resources. Brooklyn:

CUNY has 18 different schools involved. Decisions are in the hands of a small group, however, each college has a representative on the committee and can provide a great deal of input. We have given up some autonomy.

Oregon: The consortium of 14 libraries in Oregon and Washington has a task force on electronic resources. The Head of Collection Development was the first person appointed. Reference librarians have felt a loss of control but recently have made efforts to make their views known. The task force has a lot of power which surprised us.

Oklahoma: It's a mixed-bag. There are state-wide contracts available for FirstSearch and Search Bank; the dean went to an external body for funding; another state group meets and discusses products; and there is a multi-state consortium. Yes, it feels like we're losing control but now there is more opportunity for discussion and alternatives.

Utah State: There is a state-wide consortium with a series of committees including collection development and reference. The reference committee makes recommendations to Collection Development. We have input and do trials. Most input comes from reference departments. We try to balance the needs of research and college libraries. There are also initiatives to help collections in subject areas.

Oregon: What else does the reference committee do? Utah: It writes guides and puts them on the Web: for example, how to search IAC or Ebscohost. Then each site doesn't have to do its own.

UW-Milwaukee: We operate similarly to what's already been described. There are individual campus decisions; the UW consortium and sub-consortiums; we were grandfathered into CIC; there is a state package for all libraries though it's in conflict with some of the subscriptions we already had. If you get an electronic subscription, you must cancel the paper. There has been an erosion of control but there is input.

CMU: There's a different side at a private institution. We make decisions as a committee of the whole - all reference, collection development and acquisitions librarians. The downside is that there's not enough money. We're part of a small consortium but it only negotiates prices and doesn't get any money.

UNC-Charlotte: We have a state-wide consortium and work with collection development. RUSA/CODES Committee on Reference Collection Management and Evaluation is revising its model collection development manual (last revised in 1992) and has just approved a section on electronic resources, including criteria for selection and deselection.

Oklahoma: On Sunday, I attended an OCLC focus group on electronic journals. They're very interested in what we have to say.

Oregon: What about money we have for reference sources? The acquisitions budget is eating the cost of databases so far. What is the reference budget responsible for versus the larger budget? For example, we will still fund CD-ROMs but not Web-based services? Will Collection Development ask us to cut the reference budget and move funds to the general budget to fund large expensive databases?

Texas Woman's: Electronic resources are a separate budget item and this affects who has the primary input. We have a multitude of ways of access: regional consortium, 2 state consortiums and individual subscriptions by TWU. Reference librarians do not have the final say, particularly with the state-wide consortium. We can generally pick and choose databases from the consortium. We have not had a collection development librarian (though we plan to hire one this spring), and the director relies heavily on input from reference, but we still get surprises. The Systems librarian who handles electronic resources has more input than we would like. Occasionally something just shows up on the web site. There has been an erosion of sole responsibility for selection to shared responsibility, more like an advisory group. This happened by caveat more than by design. It's a fairly universal situation. It happens because of the budget model - we don't control that money.

Rutgers: The budget to build electronic resources is coming from cancellation of reference materials rather than building on a new budget. The complications of licenses need a special committee or group - that's why individual librarians don't make decisions.

Richmond: The evolution of electronic resources brought about complications of decision making. Web based produced are available throughout the campus to any user. We need new cooperation, e.g., working with branches to license the same databases.

Indiana State: There is a difference between buying print and leasing/renting/subscribing to electronic resources. Is there an archive? Can they ensure continued access?

UT-Dallas: Collection development and reference librarians report to the same person who makes all decisions.

V. TOPIC 2: Trends in reference statistics

Temple: I have a feeling that the number of questions is on a downward trend. What relationship does this have to reaching remote users?

Maine: We attach all the things we do to the monthly statistics: for example, reference, web pages, visits with students and faculty, etc.

Oregon: We think we are doing more but statistics aren't showing it. Suggestions include tracking hits on web pages, answering e-mail questions, phone calls in office, etc. ARL statistics don't offer an incentive to keep these other statistics. There are longer questions but we're not recording them in the best fashion.

Richmond: Who has a declining trend in reference statistics? Rutgers: What's the definition - in-person, database access, e-mail, phone?

TWU: We use sampling for one week and we count everything in all formats, making no distinction as to where the question comes from. It's the first week in October, after the start of the semester. There are no holidays; it's a good mid-semester point. We tested 2 different weeks in spring, fall and summer and got the same breakdowns.

Oregon: How do I print? Can I send this to my e-mail? Are these reference or directional questions?

TWU: Directional. Let's see a show of hands on whether your overall trend is up or down (4 down, 8 up, 7 no change). Our statistics are flat but the distribution is changing. We have more questions through e-mail and electronic reference services than by phone or in-person.

UW-Milwaukee: I want to argue for a broader definition of statistics. We've integrated time considerations: less than 1 minute; 2-5 minutes; more than 5 minutes. The numbers may go down but the time spent goes up.

TWU: We don't consider duration but we think we spend more time on a single contact. Also - service (refill the printer, fix paper jam) - this is service to general patrons.

Gallaudet: It depends on the individual. If they solicit questions you get some ideas but it really depends on the person.

UT-Dallas: Requests for B.I. have doubled, leading to increased reference statistics.

Brooklyn: We need to reconsider how we do this (e.g., students should take care of paper jams) and talk to our administration. We have reduced desk staffing to one except for the busiest times. Our biggest increases are in e-mail requests and often come through the bibliographers, especially from faculty and graduate students. We don't count these with reference statistics.

TWU: We don't rely on one statistic - reference, B.I., etc. Reference statistics are just one way. We don't collect statistics on anything administration doesn't want. What is your administration paying attention to?

Maine: We collect extended reference statistics - questions that involve lots of work. We count the number of hours - maybe 40 hours per month. In the past, it was just one tick on the sheet. It always increases in the summer.

FAU: At Cal State Fullerton, reference statistics were broken down very finely: Ready reference, Quick Directional, Research, Government Documents - electronic or print.

Oklahoma: We count in person and by phone: direction, location, reference, instruction, transfer. There is a separate help desk for electronic resources. Reference statistics dropped last year but then you factor in the help desk.. A colleague has a form with 24 categories. Also some libraries count web page hits. I keep track of every e-mail and mail transaction.

NY Public: We are inconsistent in keeping statistics, within institutions and across institutions. There should be a written policy to share with new staff.

UNC-Charlotte: We have closed the documents desk and reference now does this so our statistics have not gone down. This (closing the documents desk) is a trend.


Temple: We're experimenting with real-time e-mail reference

TWU: We haven't done that yet. We now have a campus MOO and are discussing how to use that in real time. Maybe a chat room. We can all be e-mailed individually from Web pages and general e-mail to the department. Plus the electronic reference desk.

Temple: We have a Talk Back program which rings at the reference desk and the librarian on duty answers. It's open only during reference hours. In the initial 6 week trial we had 86 questions with no publicity versus about 50 questions with e-mail which we've had for awhile.

CMU: We're thinking about this and are collaborating with a west coast institution. NYPL: Is this only for Temple?

Temple: Officially only Temple students, faculty and staff but the link is not restricted. There will be an article soon and a program at a regional meeting.

Rutgers: We have had e-mail service which we recently expanded to all questions: reference, circulation, ILL, etc. This has grown extensively and there's a team of 15-20 working on it. The response may be immediate or in 24-48 hours depending on the extent of the question.

TWU: We're merging job responsibilities - reference, cataloging, etc. - and are working on balancing how much time to spend on each. We've alerted administration that we need to transfer some duties in order to take on new duties. We shuffle certain aspects of reference responsibility around and take advantage of the expertise and interest we have in the libraries. [At this point, the discussion migrated to multiple responsibilities for staff.]

Gallaudet: There is a problem of people gravitating toward what they like, for example, reference librarians don't get to their cataloging duties.

TWU: We have a limited number of librarians with more and more to do. We help out in other departments but have our primary responsibilities. Then we can fill in when people go on vacation. It works for us - we wanted to do this - but it doesn't always work for others. There is no pressure from administration - it's an opportunity for those who want to try new things.

Brooklyn: It hasn't been a problem - we've very collegial. Recently there has been more pressure to pull people to work on special things. We need to stress that the reference desk is the first priority and people need to come to the desk, not go to other meetings. Technical Services staff have not moved so much in new directions and help take up the slack. This all comes on the reference staff. New hires may help.

TWU: There has been a little coercion because it's not a one-way operation. All librarians and staff must serve evening and weekend rotations for reference. This was in response to reference helping out in other departments.

Smith: How do they keep up? TWU: We have a training librarian for the staff on our staff. Before each weekend, we meet with staff on duty. There's a weekly update about assignments, what's not working, things to watch out for. We have two teams - one of experienced reference librarians and secondary staff who are not as experienced. We have a few who aren't so cooperative but they're always balanced by the other. It is clear on hire that you'll do reference and is reflected on performance evaluations.

FAU: I volunteered to work the desk to keep my skills sharp and see questions in my subject specialty - and there were two people on leave. My own staff found me there and it seemed to be too much so I was pulled off. It's a shame.

Oklahoma: How are your extra responsibilities evaluated?

TWU: The evaluation is done from the primary responsibilities. I do cataloging for reference and documents, areas I'm already involved in. Attitude is part of evaluation. Heads of other units and administrators talk to each other about problems, attitudes, and lack of cooperation and then they talk to staff. We have very few problem people, a very collegial staff.

Gallaudet: We tried this. We decided to make reference the priority and wanted to avoid bouncing people so we have only reference librarians and double staff in the afternoons. The PR value is strong. Those who don't want to be there will convey that. It is a big time commitment for reference.

CMU: We focus on librarians as liaisons who are do the reference work in their subject areas - we do b.i., create subject web pages and select. And all have some other assignment. We've tried to do this but they feel like their jobs are so full.

TWU: Situations are different at each library. The head of the library fosters this and it works. The atmosphere is conducive and support staff are satisfied. Some people beg for more hours. It's never boring, there's never nothing to do. You can learn new things and have a fulfilling career. There's a very low turn-over. This has helped people who were bored with their job - something new to do, a chance for growth and new skills.


At this point, the Chair noted that it was 11:30, the usual time to adjourn so that folks can get to the airport, etc. He asked attendees to sign the attendance sheet so we can send out minutes to all participants. And he noted that the discussion group will meet on Tuesday, June 29, from 9:30 to 11:30 in New Orleans. He also alerted the group that RUSA/MOUSS now has a web master and will totally redesign its web page. Look for changes in 2-4 weeks. We will post our minutes. The meeting then continued with a much smaller contingent.


Rutgers: I have one question we can discuss or you can e-mail me. What kinds of outreach services are libraries providing?

FAU: I do lots of talking to community groups at their location or at the library with a tour. I do lots of out-reach to non-primary users and to faculty as the liaison for Judaica.

TWU: This is complicated by trends in database provision. All databases are password protected. There is less to show the public and less to draw them into the library. It's a frustration not to have guest passwords but it's forbidden by our contracts and licenses. This has toned down work with high school college-prep classes.

FAU: I mount exhibits on a web page and get lots of questions from grade school kids. There are so many questions that now I say check with your school, public, temple or synagogue library.

Oklahoma: School librarians send students straight to academic libraries.

Free Library of Philadelphia: There is a need for activism among college and university librarians to prevent cutting off access to the public.

Oklahoma: We have it but may cut it off because people do e-mail, chat, pornography and change the set-ups. They don't use the public library; we have wider access. Students are assessed a library use fee and don't want others using the resources. We say we can't deny access as long as people come in. We can't censor.

Free Library of Philadelphia: Public libraries have the same problem but there is the increasing problem of those who have and those who do not have.

FAU: We have very open access. I deal with a fragile research collection and my primary focus is for researchers and adult users. I'm not trying to be rude to children but their interests will be better served by school or public libraries. It's a question of being reference to the world.

Free Library of Philadelphia: My question regards independent adult learners.

Oklahoma: We have access. Once, though, a public school came with 24 students and 2 teachers and took over two thirds of the computers. A college group arrived on a Saturday.

Free Library of Philadelphia: Couldn't you have a policy to take care of that?

TWU: We have a policy. There are restrictions on the use of library workstations. Students need to go to computer labs for e-mail and chat. The policy is based on clientele - faculty, staff and students of TWU. Students pay library and computer fees. We serve other clientele as we can; we have a public library two blocks away but kids come in because the public library filters. Access must be related to the purpose of the institution. We have no choice (to restrict access to databases) based on contractual agreements. It's a problem with alumni. It's hard to adjust - we used to do this and were upset at the password protection at first.

Free Library of Philadelphia: Didn't reference staff have input into the contracts?

TWU: No, we accept standard contracts and they are handled at the administrative level.

FAU: Here and at Cal State Fullerton, the consortium often negotiated the contract, for example, with Lexis-Nexus.

UW-Milwaukee: All our databases allow for in-house use for all but not remote use.


At noon, the Chair thanked everyone for participating and adjourned the meeting.