MOUSS Reference Services in Small and Medium-Sized Research Libraries Discussion Group


ALA Annual Conference, Toronto, Canada

4:30 –6: 30 pm Sunday, June 22, 2003

Delta Chelsea Hotel, Rosetti Room


Colleen Seale, Chair, University of Florida

Linda Harris, Secretary, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Curley Jones, Member-At-Large, University of Utah

Patrick Oberholtzer, Past Chair, Gallaudet University

I. Introductions:

The RUSA MOUSS Reference Services in Small and Medium-Sized Research Libraries Discussion Group met on Sunday, June 22, 2003. The meeting was called to order at 4:35 pm by Colleen Seale, Chair who welcomed the group of fourteen attendees. She asked if there were new attendees to the discussion group and introduced the Steering Committee, Patrick Oberholtzer, Past-Chair, and Curley Jones, Member-At-Large. Everyone stated his/her name and institutional affiliation. Institutions represented were: Brantford Public Library (Ontario, Canada), Broward County Public Library, California State at Fresno, East Carolina University, Gallaudet University, Louisiana State University, Marshall Public Library, St. Edwards University, University of Florida, University of Missouri at St. Louis, University of the Pacific, University of Utah, and Wellesley Free Library.

II. New Business

Job Announcements:

Vacancies were announced at:

University of Utah: instruction/ref position and webmaster

Branford Ontario Public Library: Reference/IT position at entry-level

University of Florida: six positions, two entry-level reference/instruction positions


A new Member-at-Large election was held. Jan Lewis from E. Carolina State University was elected as the new Member-at-Large.

III. Selection of Discussion Topics

The following topics were suggested for discussion:

  • How to convince students to use print resources
  • Use of subject headings versus wild keyword searching
  • Virtual Reference Services: who’s using 24/7 and what other virtual reference services packages are being used? (1)
  • Library as place
  • Methodologies for weeding the reference collections (3)
  • What is being placed in compact shelving versus regular open shelving?
  • Information Commons
  • With serious budget cuts what alternate sources can be used to provide the best reference service? (2)
  • Three topics (1-3 above) were selected for discussion.

IV. Discussion

First Topic: Virtual Reference Services – Who’s using 24/7 and what other virtual reference services packages are being used?

Wellesley Free Library is using 24/7 and receiving many questions outside the scope of local services. California at Fresno commented that it’s a mistake to sign-up for global access first before getting on board at the local level because so many of the questions are of a local nature. The software is good and keeps getting better. Fresno has also signed with 24/7 and suggests subscribing to the service that most benefits your local community.

Utah started with local coverage first with one seat and then joined the state consortium. They work off desk. There is a feeling that the service isn’t very cost-effective as they’ve received very few questions. They have a pool of 25 librarians involved in providing virtual reference service in one-hour blocks/

St. Edwards University: Are extra reference librarians hired to cover the virtual reference hours? This seems to be a back-handed way of increasing reference hours. The bulk of the reference questions we receive have to do with coursework. University of Utah: We have 30,000 students and librarians are required to provide instruction… So many programs demand our resources.

Brantford Public Library: There is a concern that reference statistics are down. We are partnering with community organizations to bring more people in.

Cal State at Fresno: Virtual reference like any other service does cost time. We have found that it can be done at the reference desk. We do in-person, phone, email and chat all at the same desk. The kinds of questions that we receive are the same…Cal State plans to have students provide chat reference and make referrals as appropriate.

Gallaudet: We have email and chat reference and share LSSI as a member of a consortial group. We have a closed audience, so it works fairly well. We will soon have VOIP that also combines with a phone. Email – we get questions from all over the world—so there is a blurring of the lines between the academic and public requests.

St. Edwards: Our email reference is almost all from our students. Every once in a while we get questions from the general public. Our email reference stats have gone down because of the EZ Proxy. Some of the high-end reference questions can’t be handled well over this medium. We only promise a 24-hr. turn around.

University of Utah: We have consultations. We refer students directly to subject librarians and set-up appointments with students.

LSU: We’ve been offering live chat since January 2002. We selected Live Assistance. We receive about 150 questions a month. Chat hours are Mon-Thurs. 9-5 and Fri. 12-5. Librarians work from their offices. We just recently considered joining ASERL.

E. Carolina: We looked at joining ASERL and decided to go it alone first. We hope to go live soon with virtual reference services.

St. Edwards: Has anyone done a study of when users want the service? If so, how is it different?

E. Carolina: 24/7’s Susan McGlamery has done a study on this. Aggregate data seems to show that peak hours are from 3-5 in the afternoon. Most use is during the day. 24/7 is not the most appropriate name given that the data shows people don’t need 24-hr service.

Utah: 24/7 started with public libraries.

Gallaudet: We’re in a consortium and divide up the hours among members. There is a slight problem on knowledge of extraneous databases. We make referrals. There is a librarian at George Washington who’s the virtual reference librarian.

St. Edwards University: I occasionally check email reference at home. Some of the questions I can’t answer without resources from the library…I have trouble accepting that I could do good reference work at home.

E. Carolina: There’s a big push toward online reference books. There is the ethical issue of using different databases at other institutions that hasn’t really been resolved. It’s not an issue when all of the institutions subscribe to the same products.

Second Topic: With serious budget cuts what alternate sources can be used to provide the best reference service?

Gaulledet: I suggest using free databases such as ERIC or using the advanced search in Google to limit to .GOV sites: Agricola, PubMed, GPO interface, many government resources are available.

University of Missouri at St. Louis: We use PubMed Central.

Manhattan College: Fetch has some free fulltext online. Another free web-based reference source is the Play Index called InterPlay online.

E. Carolina: I use Gary Price’s List of Lists

Brantford Public Library: We use Bartleby’s and Zack’s for stock and company information and other financial services.

E. Carolina: Thomas’ Register and the New York Times require free registrations.

St. Edwards: Part of the problem is that administrations don’t want to pay for these resources and users don’t realize how much they cost. Failure to communicate with administration that these resources need to be kept is counterproductive. Funding needs to be allocated and we as librarians need to advocate these resources.

Gallaudet: I feel that we should advocate/advertise the resources that we pay for because it’s all offered for free to users; they can’t distinguish what’s for free and what we pay for and why.

E. Carolina: We indicate with an icon who pays for what, whether it’s free or paid for by the state.

Broward: We only indicate if it’s available through the state.

St. Edwards: We often indicate in classes that student fees are paying for this. At the university there is at least support for these resources. Some municipalities don’t always have that.

Utah: If you’re a state university, you are open to the public at large and their taxes are paying for these resources. It is a good idea to distinguish who’s paying for what.

Third topic: Methodologies for Weeding Reference Collections

Utah: We started with a collection of 50,000 titles. My weeding process is to pull titles and put them on a book truck and decide as a group on what to keep. We have 500,000 volumes in storage. If someone asks for a title from storage, it’s a reason to bring it back. The easiest weeding is to pull the second and third copies or if it’s online we put it in storage.

Gallaudet: Most of the material isn’t going to be used. Some material we put in the circulating collection, then we can determine if it is used. Electronic reference is access not ownership, which is a concern.

Utah: Most of our reference collection has been moved to the stacks. When new things come in and we already have a run in the stacks, we just keep the latest. We try to spot things that are going to the stacks, most are approval books. We have the same problem with weeding the collection. A recent study looked at sources used to answer questions. Reference books seemed to be a distant 5th place.

E. Carolina: We have 40,000 volumes in reference. We have three libraries and 1.2 million total volumes.

Utah: We have 45,000 volumes in our reference collection.

E. Carolina: We refer people to print when it’s appropriate. The pre-80’s material is pretty much not available online.

The Discussion Group adjourned at 6:30 pm.

Submitted by:

Colleen Seale