Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Is Everything Old New Again? Part Two

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Is Everything Old New Again? Part Two

Article excerpt

In the last issue, I discussed some of the things I learned about our association and profession by examining volumes of our journal from the 1960s and 1970s, then called RQ. In this column, I will explore some of the themes from the 1980s and 1990s. In the fall of 1997, the journal was published under its new title, Reference and User Services Quarterly, to reflect the association's recent name change.

Public Services Librarianship and the OPAC

Our association has long been active in advocating for the user in the development of the online catalog. Douglas Ferguson contributed an excellent piece on the need for public-services librarians to play a role in the design of online public-access catalogs for Danuta Nitecki's popular Online Services column, a column that debuted in RQ in 1980. Ferguson wrote, "The fundamental principle in designing on-line systems is to know the user and the uses" and that "The fundamental principle in operating on-line systems is to nurture the user." (1) He noted, "These are the same principles already guiding the work of public services librarians," and consequently "public services librarians cannot sit on the sidelines while patron access systems are being discussed, planned and built." (2) Furthermore, he argued, "We must follow the example of our technical services colleagues and insist that we play a primary role in the whole development process." (3) Donna Senzig's review and analysis of catalog-use studies led to the conclusion that in order to maximize user satisfaction, "the catalog should be adaptable, supportive, logical, standardized, available, and confidential." (4) A decade later, Patricia Wallace reviewed the substantial literature on online searching and used transaction log analysis to learn how online catalogs could be better designed to meet users' needs. (5) In retrospect, Wallace hit the bullseye with her conclusion that "most searchers will never be formally educated in the principles of bibliographic control and access, so systems must provide that all-important bridge between information sought and the majority of information seekers." (6) Consequentially, she advocated for "screen designs and search engines" that focused "first and foremost on meeting the quick-searching needs of the majority of users," and for systems that "allow users to conduct searches in natural language, a feature particularly observed in this study." (7)

From Library Literacy to Information Literacy

The other column introduced in RQ in 1980 was Library Literacy, edited by John Lubans, Jr. In announcing these new offerings to readers, RQ editor Helen B. Josephine acknowledged that the two columns focused on "the two most important areas of public services that emerged in the '70s--library use instruction and online reference." (8) Various contributors to this column addressed the definition and purpose of library literacy. Jon Lindgren noted the tendency for many librarians to focus on the specifics of using various tools rather than on the transference of knowledge, and as a result, "we have lost the battle for advancing our students toward the higher levels of library literacy." (9) Lindgren advocated for "presenting concepts as well as techniques." (10) A few years later, Mona McCormick argued, "It's now time to make critical thinking and the evaluation of information a focal point of library instruction." (11) She identified behaviors and skills of critical thinkers and urged librarians to promote critical thinking at the reference desk, in lectures, and during other opportunities to educate library users. McCormick was really forward-thinking about instruction. In 1995, Craig Gibson guest-authored an award-winning Library Literacy column that reviewed the research on critical thinking (a topic very in vogue in 1995). (12) Much of the research Gibson cited was published after McCormick's article.

Harold Tuckett and Carla Stoffle proposed a new model of bibliographic instruction, one incorporating "cognitive learning theory into teaching methodology, as well as course content," with a focus on "teaching problem-solving skills. …

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