Taking Note: Assessing the Performance of Reference Service in Academic Music Libraries

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Higher education at the turn of the century is faced with dwindling resources and an increased emphasis on accountability. Together with our counterparts in general libraries, music librarians must justify the importance of programs, collections, facilities, and staff with more than vague statements or an emotional defense of the art of music and the preservation of the context in which it was created. We must be able to answer the question "How well are you doing your job?" with measurable information. Although it is fairly easy to collect and report statistics on many aspects of our work (e.g., collection size, circulation, and gate count), it is much more difficult to measure accurately our success in one of the most important services offered by music libraries: answering reference questions.

In 1994, the Reference Performance Subcommittee of the Music Library Association developed a plan to evaluate reference service in academic music libraries. [1] Although there have been numerous studies of the effectiveness of general reference departments in central academic and public libraries, [2] no separate study has been made of music reference service performance at academic branch libraries (or subordinate reference service areas in departments of centralized libraries). Reference service in academic branch libraries can vary considerably from the central library model. Branch libraries tend to rely heavily on student and paraprofessional employees [3] to refer, or even to answer, reference questions. Historically, student employees have seldom been involved in reference work in centralized libraries, and the role of paraprofessionals in reference service has also been significantly smaller. [4] In addition, reference work in music libraries may be more complicated than in other subject-specific and general libraries due to the nature of our materials (e.g., multiple physical manifestations of musical compositions in various sound recording, video recording, and score formats, and publication of works in collections and series) and how they are cataloged (using complex uniform tides and form-genre subject headings). Successful music reference work demands thorough knowledge of both the content and function of library catalogs and major reference tools in music, certainly more than can be expected of most student employees.

With these characteristics of music library reference service in mind, the Reference Performance Subcommittee developed three primary research objectives: 1) to study the reference performance of student and paraprofessional employees in academic music libraries in relation to that of music librarians; 2) to compare reference performance measures of success in academic music libraries to those in general academic library reference departments; and 3) to locate the top-scoring academic music libraries so that the positive elements of their reference service procedures could be studied, described, and disseminated to the profession through publication and conference presentations. In this progress report, we begin to address the first two research objectives of our study. The third objective will be addressed more thoroughly in future publications; nevertheless, some "best practices" at individual institutions emerge in our commentary concerning the first two objectives.

With funding from the Music Library Association and several universities, [5] the subcommittee began to evaluate academic music reference service areas using the Wisconsin-Ohio Reference Evaluation Program (WOREP) as its survey instrument. WOREP was originally developed in the early 1980s by Marjorie E. Murfin of the Ohio State University Libraries and Charles A. Bunge of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Library and Information Studies. [6] W. Michael Havener of the University of Rhode Island has since joined Marjorie Murfin in leading the study. WOREP provides libraries with a valid and reliable tool for measuring their effectiveness in answering reference questions. …


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