Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Envisioning the Future of Reference Instruction: LIS Students' and Practitioners' Opinions on Print and Online Sources

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Envisioning the Future of Reference Instruction: LIS Students' and Practitioners' Opinions on Print and Online Sources

Article excerpt

This paper examines students' and practitioners' attitudes toward, and uses of, various reference sources. It was precipitated by questioning the best outcomes of the basic reference class in Library Science programs, specifically asking what types of sources LIS students should be versed in as they enter the workforce--print or online? This research found some differences between academic and public librarians, and little agreement about the purposes of the basic reference course. Teaching about types of reference sources today is difficult; as Margaret Landesman says, we are moving away from "reference collections" because of "the convergence among formats, [so that] we can't recognize a reference book when we see one." (1) Our students, though, might benefit from using print reference sources, less as a historical artifact, but for the concrete demonstration of organization of information that they offer.

Though we discuss the phenomenon of "information overload" because of the Internet, the shift to the Internet for fact-finding and research is really another variation on a continued theme in reference service: too many sources. The bloated reference collection of the past resulted in a "needle in the haystack" phenomenon. Librarians couldn't know the entire collection, (2) and users couldn't find what they wanted because of an overwhelming abundance of choices. Today's spare print reference collection is a response to an abundance of online resources and a shift in where our users are: less inside our walls, more outside. More and more, libraries are depending on online sources (databases and the free web) to fill out their reference collection. This variety of online resources is just as confusing to the patron (and the novice librarian) as those larger print collections were earlier.

The shift from print to online reference sources is not complete; it depends on whom the library serves. Academic libraries have different reference models from public libraries, influencing what types of resources they most often use. Academic libraries' patrons often access the library's collection from a distance. Public libraries' patrons tend to physically visit the library and ask questions in person. Generally, the literature says that reference models have made use of the shift to online access, with online reference transactions becoming more common, placing more importance still on the use of online reference sources. The literature related to reference work strongly suggests that librarians frequently work with virtual patrons using tools like texting and Facebook to connect with patrons "where the patrons are." (3) This is not universal, though, and is fundamentally problematic for some libraries.

This research began as a pedagogical problem--how to teach, or whether to teach, print resources in this new reference landscape, while utilizing a new pedagogical model in which classes are taught largely online, without regular face-to-face contact. Any reference class is constrained by having a limited amount of time and a considerable body of subject matter to be covered. Designing effective source instruction goes beyond choosing which sources to teach to choosing what is most important for students to learn. Deciding which sources to teach might be a decision based on instructor convenience. Deciding what is most important to learn demands a focus on students' needs and the needs of the profession.

To determine the sources and type of instruction that held value for students in class, and would hold value for them as professionals later on, we surveyed students in reference classes to find out what their opinions were on assignments. We also surveyed practitioners to determine what they felt new hires needed to know and what their own reference scenarios consisted of. Lastly, we interviewed professional librarians to learn more about their opinions of print and electronic source instruction. …

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