Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Barriers and Challenges to Teaching Reference in Today's Electronic Information Environment

Academic journal article Journal of Education for Library and Information Science

Barriers and Challenges to Teaching Reference in Today's Electronic Information Environment

Article excerpt

This study investigated the teaching and learning barriers that prevent LIS instructors from achieving their goals in teaching reference and information services and considered what educators can learn from these barriers in order to improve the teaching of reference. The study methods involved focus group interviews with 16 LIS faculty members from 13 ALA-accredited LIS graduate programs in the U.S. and Canada. Data analysis uncovered three major categories of teaching and learning barriers: technological obstacles, student characteristics, and the nature of the field of reference. The article concludes with a discussion of the deeper themes that underlie the barriers identified and with ideas for reducing these barriers in order to increase the quality of reference and information services education.

Keywords: LIS education, reference and information services, teaching barriers, technology in education, focus group interviews

Introduction

For many years in many graduate programs of LIS, a large portion of reference and information services instruction involved teaching students to conduct reference interviews, to answer reference questions, and to use common reference tools, such as encyclopedias, almanacs, and bibliographies. Early on these reference tools were in paper formats. Today reference providers increasingly rely on electronic versions of these sources. In both public and academic library reference services, this reliance has reached the point of an overwhelming preference for electronic tools, sometimes surpassing ninety percent of reference tool use (Shachaf & Shaw, 2008). In addition, many of today's librarians answer reference questions via a variety of online technologies, from email to chat, instant messaging, SMS text messaging, and virtual worlds (Eisenberg, 2008), as well as handling other library utilities such as social networking pages, podcasting and video-sharing sites, RSS feeds, blogs, and wikis (Mon & Randeree, 2009).

The delivery of reference education has followed this shift from the physical to the electronic world. According to the American Library Association (ALA) website, as of July 2009, 46 of the 57 accredited LIS master's programs in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico offered online courses within their LIS master's programs (American Library Association, 2009).

This study sought to investigate how these shifts toward electronic tools, virtual reference services, and online learning environments have affected the teaching of reference and information services. It gathered together reference instructors from a range of ALA-accredited LIS graduate programs to discuss their teaching of reference, with a focus on barriers to effective teaching in today's largely electronic information world.

Research Questions

Keeping these changes in reference and information services in mind, the following research questions drove this study:

1. What barriers, if any, prevent LIS instructors from achieving their goals in teaching reference and information services?

2. What can educators learn from these barriers in order to improve the teaching of reference and information services?

Literature Review

A review of the past ten years of LIS literature uncovered varied challenges to teaching reference and information services in the United States.

Theory versus Practice

One challenge centered on the synergy between theory and practice, and on the necessity for understanding the philosophical and epistemologica! bases of service provision (Grealy, 2001; Chandler, 2001). Shaw and Okada (2001) incorporated visiting practicing librarians into their class sessions to present differing perspectives in information services to students, with the goal of "mixing theory and practice" (p. 42). Kern (2009) clarified the difference between teaching and training: "It is a requirement in teaching that skills be transferrable . …

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