Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

The Changing Roles of Academic Reference Librarians over a Ten-Year Period

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

The Changing Roles of Academic Reference Librarians over a Ten-Year Period

Article excerpt

This study assessed the role changes that occurred for academic reference librarians front 1991 to 2001. It provides information related to the types of job activities performed and the relative amount of time spent on these activities by the librarians who took part in the study. A list of traditional as well as newly developed duties of reference librarians was developed. These duties were incorporated into a questionnaire that was distributed to reference librarians currently working in academic libraries. Subjects of the survey were randomly selected from six geographic regions of the United States. Eighty-two of the eighty-seven questionnaires that were sent out were returned; sixty-eight were usable. The data were then analyzed using the Statistical Program for the Social Sciences (SPSS). Results showed that changes occurred in the types of jobs most frequently performed, as well as in the amount of time spent on particular jobs. The number of reference tools used by librarians also increased over the ten-year period surveyed. More change was planned in the near future by most of those surveyed. Of the respondents, 46 percent said they were more satisfied in their jobs in 2001 than they were in 1991, 13 percent were less satisfied, and 37 percent had no change in their job satisfaction levels.

**********

Change has been continual and far-reaching in libraries since the late 1980s. The roles of reference librarians in academic libraries have reflected this change. Automation of information systems has been the driving force behind transformations both in the library environment and in reference service practices. Much has been written about the general changes that have taken place in academic libraries since the advent of automation, including the shift of emphasis from local to global concerns and from librarian as subject expert to librarian as "trainer" helping others find information in all areas. (1) Studies have tried to determine how job functions in specific areas of library service, such as cataloging, have changed over time. (2) Few studies, however, have presented detailed comparisons of the roles of academic reference librarians across time.

Academic reference librarians have been providing information or assistance in finding information since long before the advent of computers. New technologies, along with the need to "do more with less," have created a new environment for those who work in reference service. Change may have meant remaining updated on new sources, trends, policies, and procedures in the 1980s. Bennett described an "evolution of tasks and services required by the ever-expanding electric library." (3) She listed CD-ROMs, online catalogs, email, numeric and text data files, and Internet resources as among the expected services an academic librarian would provide in the early 1990s. Rettig discussed the librarian's genuine desire to do what is best for patrons but pointed out that there are differing interpretations of what this is. He also pointed out the problem of reference librarians providing new services without letting go of old ones. (4) It is expected that the academic reference librarian will need to have expertise in new" technology while maintaining a knowledge base of traditional reference sources, such as bibliographic instruction, collection developers, and committee/task force membership. (5)

Many recommendations have been put forth about the focus of reference services. In 1991, Callahan urged public service librarians to become active educators, "not merely custodians of the world's knowledge." (6) Others have emphasized the multifunctional role of public service librarians, integrating reference work, collection development, computer searching, and bibliographic instruction. Advantages discussed in this type of model are greater autonomy and a better grasp of the library's overall mission. On the other hand, it was also pointed out that multitasking could overwhelm some and not allow expertise to be developed. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.