Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Whatever Happened to "Always Cite the Source?" A Study of Source Citing and Other Issues Related to Telephone Reference

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Whatever Happened to "Always Cite the Source?" A Study of Source Citing and Other Issues Related to Telephone Reference

Article excerpt

This article presents a study of source citing in telephone reference service at the twenty-five largest public library systems in the United States and Canada. The results showed that in eighty-six out of the 125 total reference transactions analyzed (68.8 percent of the cases), respondents gave no sources for their answers. The article also discusses a number of additional issues uncovered during the study that are not related to source citing but that have important implications for reference services. The authors conclude that best reference practices are not being followed in many instances of public library telephone reference, and they close with a number of simple suggestions for improving telephone, face-to-face, and digital reference services.

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One of the most basic rules for answering reference questions is to cite the source of all information given to users. Source citing is included as one measure of reference excellence in the Reference and User Services Association's (RUSA'S) Guidelines for Behavioral Performance of Reference and Information Service Providers: the librarian "offers pointers, detailed search paths (including complete URLs), and names of resources used to find the answer, so that users can learn to answer similar questions on their own." (1) Failure to cite sources prevents users from being able to judge the authority of the information they receive and precludes them from being able to return to the sources later to find more information on their own. However, informal observations raised questions regarding how often public librarians cite their sources when answering reference questions via the telephone.

The authors investigated the question of source citation frequency by calling the twenty-five largest public library systems in the United States and Canada and asking a series of five ready reference questions, one question per telephone call, over a period of two months. Although the percentage of correct answers was much higher than previous researchers had generally found in their studies of telephone reference service, the frequency of source citing was surprisingly low. (2)

This article will present the results of the study and discuss implications for reference practice. It also will discuss additional issues uncovered during the study that are not related to source citing but have important implications for improving face-to-face, telephone, and digital reference services. These issues include librarians' missing out on the chance to teach users about the nature of modern information; frustration with having to navigate the maze of telephone options employed by the automated messaging systems used by most of the libraries; librarians who did not seem to take the authors' questions seriously; the infrequency with which respondents asked follow-up questions; respondents who did not identify themselves professionally (leaving the authors to wonder who they were); and librarians who exhibited an alarming lack of confidence in their own answers.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Telephones have played a role in public library work since the late nineteenth century, yet there have been relatively few research publications that have discussed studies of telephone reference service. (3) As Kern wrote in a comparison of the history of telephone reference to the development of online chat reference, "The telephone is old technology and its use for library reference services is also long-standing. In many ways it lies forgotten in the literature, a 'been there, doing that' service that does not merit fresh reflection." (4)

Telephone Reference Accuracy

Among the published research studies that do exist, many have focused on studying rates of reference accuracy. In now-classic studies, Crowley and Childers, and Myers and Jirjees used public and academic library telephone reference services to investigate the question of reference accuracy. …

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