Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Collaboration as the Norm in Reference Work

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Collaboration as the Norm in Reference Work

Article excerpt

The stereotype of the reference transaction is more or less unchanged since Samuel Swett Green's day, as involving precisely one librarian and one use. There are many common situations in which the reference transaction is not a one-to-one interaction, and this article will explore those situations. Additionally, this article argues that as network technology is increasingly utilized in reference work, situations in which the reference transaction is not a one-to-one interaction are becoming more common. Indeed, this article argues that as network technology is increasingly utilized in reference work, reference work will become fundamentally a collaborative effort, to the benefit of both individual reference services and reference work in general.

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Our conception of the stereotypical reference transaction comes to us more or less unchanged since Samuel Swett Green's day. Green discusses what he refers to as "personal relations between librarians and readers," suggesting that the value of the library to the user is heavily influenced by the quality of the interaction between the user and the librarian. (1) He provides several examples of the sort of personalized assistance that he suggests a librarian should offer to a user. All of the examples that Green provides, however, involve precisely one librarian and one user.

Another seminal author on the topic of library reference, Taylor, adopts Green's implicit model of the reference transaction being a one-to-one interaction. (2) Taylor's concern was not to make a case for interaction between librarian and user, as Green's was; rather, Taylor's concern was to elucidate the steps that librarians must lead the user through during this interaction. As with Green, however, Taylor implicitly assumes that there is one and only one librarian and user in this interaction.

The major textbooks on reference work similarly treat the reference transaction as a one-to-one interaction. (3) On the one hand, it is perfectly reasonable that textbooks would take this approach, since one-to-one interaction is the simplest model of interpersonal communication and is how many models of dialogic communication portray that communication. (4) On the other hand, like many models, the model of the reference transaction as a one-to-one interaction is overly simplistic. There are many common situations in which the reference transaction is not a one-to-one interaction, and this article will explore those situations. Additionally, as network technology is increasingly utilized in reference work, situations in which the reference transaction is not a one-to-one interaction are becoming more common. Indeed, this article argues that as network technology is increasingly utilized in reference work, reference work will become fundamentally a collaborative effort.

REFERENCE WORK HAS ALWAYS BEEN COLLABORATIVE

Tyckoson discusses the two historically predominant models of reference service: the model in which the librarian provides an answer to the user's question, and the model in which the librarian teaches the user to use the library and to answer her own questions. (5) Regardless of which model a library or a librarian practices, however, it is necessary for the librarian and the user to collaborate.

The reference transaction is a collaborative effort between the librarian and the user, in the sense that all interpersonal communication is a collaborative effort between the participants in a communication process. The field of communication studies known as discourse analysis is based on what Clark and Wilkes-Gibbs refer to as the "conversational model" of communication. (6) According to this model, both individuals involved in a conversation are active participants in constructing meaning in the context of the conversation. Clark and Schaefer build on this idea of mutual construction of meaning, and propose what they refer to as a contribution. …

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