Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

The Internet Myth: Emerging Trends in Reference Enquiries

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

The Internet Myth: Emerging Trends in Reference Enquiries

Article excerpt

The impact of greater access to fee based electronic information on free reference enquiries is examined. The research methodology included an extensive literature review and interviews with reference services librarians in Australia and overseas. Any assumption that greater internet access and use equals a decline in public and state library reference enquiries is not proven. The paper concludes with a summary of trends, predictions and scenarios of usage of state and public library reference services in an increasingly electronic age, paying special attention to the Australian environment. Edited revision of paper presented at the Vala conference Melbourne February 2004

Between November 2002 and February 2003 the authors were commissioned by the State Library (SLV) of Victoria to review the VISioN reference service provided by the SLV to Victorian public libraries. VI-SioN (Victorian Information Services Network) was established in March 1994 to provide an extended reference service for Victorian public libraries, utilising the resources of the SLV. Public libraries refer enquiries from their users to VISioN for more information and research. These enquiries are those that public libraries cannot easily answer, due to lack of reference resources or due to lack of personnel to respond to the enquiry. At the time of the review, the VISioN service was administered by a specialised team within the Information Services Division of the SLV.

Use of the VISioN service had been steadily decreasing. It was assumed that increased availability of the internet in public libraries and increased use of the internet by the general public whether in libraries, at home, or at work had caused a decrease in reference enquiries. The definition of a reference enquiry used for this review was that of the Victorian Reference Librarians' Cooperative, a subgroup of VicLink. An enquiry is

A transaction where a staff member undertakes to

* find, or recommend relevant resources within the library or online

* and/or assist in the use of these resources

* and/or answer the question either through the use of library tools or by references to other sources of information such as databases or websites

Some of the research carried out as part of this review relating to the changing nature of reference enquiries received by public and state libraries, was considered to be of general interest to the information community. With the permission of the SLV, it forms the basis of this paper.

Background

Public and state library reference services are affected by many factors. These include

* the number and type of reference enquiries being received

* the use of electronic resources directly by library users without a librarian's interface

* internet access in 50 per cent of Australian homes

* the perception that everything can be found on the web

These issues led the authors to consider key questions

* has the nature of reference enquiries in public libraries changed over the last five years?

* has the nature of reference enquiries received by state libraries changed over the last five years?

* what are the trends in reference services in Australia and globally ie is there increasing use of electronic information in responding to reference enquiries? What effect does this have on the delivery of a service?

* will the government's push to provide all people with access to the internet affect the use of traditional reference services?

Methodology

The methodology included an extensive literature review, interviews with reference services librarians in Australia and overseas, and a survey of public library service managers and reference librarians in public libraries in Victoria.

Literature review

Relevant literature published in the last five years was identified. …

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