Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

The Imposed Query

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

The Imposed Query

Article excerpt

Implications for Library Service Evaluation

Evaluation is a process that depends on the reappraisal of its various methodologies to remain responsive to new techniques, new services, and new insights in the field. It is the purpose of this article to explore the possible impact of a new model of information-seeking behavior, the imposed query, on current approaches to library service and system evaluation. The areas considered are reference service evaluation, user studies, output measures, and relevance as an evaluation tool. Each section explores the implications of the imposed query model for research and practice and offers suggestions for incorporating the imposed query into these evaluation efforts. It is believed that inclusion of the imposed query in current methodology will broaden understanding of the user and the role that information organizations play in users' information-seeking behavior.

The evaluation of service provision is one of the most important processes libraries and other information-providing organizations undertake. It results in measures of service quality, as in reference and system evaluation, describes program participation and materials utilization, and also uncovers user characteristics, user needs, and the extent to which an organization is responsive to these. Library evaluation is also important because the results are valuable for assessing performance against professional standards and organizational goals and also for future planning regarding service provision and the continuing development of staff and systems.

Under the best of circumstances, the process of evaluation makes it possible to compare an organization's functioning across time, as in a year-to-year analysis, and to make comparisons among various organizations of the same type, such as comparing public libraries to each other, and to compare different types of libraries--for example, comparing usage and service in public libraries and school library media centers.

The process of evaluation is also one that evolves over time, as new techniques are developed, new services evolve, and new insights are made. It is the purpose of this article to explore the possible impact of a new model of information-seeking behavior called the imposed query on various aspects of library evaluation. It is proposed that including this view in evaluation efforts will provide a more complete picture of an organization's functioning by providing a more comprehensive view of user behavior.

A New View of Library Transaction Types

What is an imposed query? The imposed query is a new view of user behavior that differentiates between information seeking that is self-generated (internally motivated in response to the context of an individual's life circumstance) and imposed information seeking, which is externally motivated, being set in motion when a person gives a question to someone else to resolve. Imposed queries are questions people carry and transact on behalf of others, such as school assignments and company projects. Imposed queries also result from informal relationships, such as immigrant children transacting for non-English-speaking parents and friends and family gathering reading and other materials for each other.[1]

Gross points out that library and information professionals and researchers have been dealing with this phenomenon implicitly all along. Reference librarians recognize that poorly understood assignments, whether related to school or business, can be extremely difficult, at times impossible, to negotiate. There are also many studies in the area of information retrieval and observational studies of library use that document the transaction of imposed queries but do not consider the origin of the question(s) in their discussion. Neither do they ask how use of a specific transaction type, self-generated versus imposed, affects their results or conclusions. It is time to recognize that the concept of information need must embrace the need to know both for the self and/or for another and to begin to investigate the various implications this has for both research and practice. …

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