Practical Reference Questions Answered

By Gregory, Gwen | Information Today, May 1999 | Go to article overview

Practical Reference Questions Answered


Gregory, Gwen, Information Today


Gwen Gregory is assistant professor and head of bibliographic services at New Mexico State University Library-Las Cruces. Her e-mail address is ggregory@lib.nmsu.edu.

This new title concentrates on selection and maintenance techniques

The concept of the reference collection is a familiar one. Most libraries contain some array of specialized sources, kept together in a distinct location for easy access by staff and patrons. These reference sources may contain citations to other sources (indexes or bibliographies), or they may list frequently used information (almanacs, dictionaries). They are not usually available for circulation outside the library. This group of materials can he as simple as a few informational sources stacked together on the solo librarian's desk, or as complex as the academic research library reference department, a large room tilled with thousands of titles. Information professionals must now also contend with electronic sources, whether they are on CD-ROM or the Internet. These present new challenges, especially in terms of access. How can the reference collection manager handle these complexities effectively? Christopher Nolan has some suggestions in his book Managing the Reference Collection.

As the head of reference at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, Nolan has plenty of first-hand experience providing reference services and dealing with the issues of reference collection management. He has also written articles on reference services and collections for journals such as College and Research Libraries. In Managing the Reference Collection, he does not want to provide a guide to reference works. Rather, he "... gives a fuller picture of the selection and maintenance activities that are only briefly treated in textbooks." Working from a wide knowledge base of different library practices, he discusses many ways in which libraries have managed reference collections. Generally, he feels that librarians should "... work toward the creation of a lean, efficient reference collection that is based on actual user needs." He definitely supports active management of the reference collection, with participation of many library staff members.

The first chapters of Managing the Reference Collection focus on the purpose of the reference collection and how it is created. Nolan emphasizes the importance of having a "lean" collection: "... the aim of reference librarians should be the creation of a reference collection that includes the appropriate number of sources to cover the needs of the majority of its users." He also discusses what items are suitable for the reference collection and why; format, topic, and amount of use expected are some considerations in designating reference items. The reference collection development policy is treated next, along with several models for how reference selection can be accomplished. A useful decision tree for reference selection is included.

The heart of Managing the Reference Collection is the extensive chapters on selection of print and electronic resources. …

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