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An Exploratory Survey of Reference Source Instruction in LIS Courses


Abstract and Figures

Because reference sources are a staple of reference service, reference source education is an intrinsic part of reference education. However, limited information exists about the strategies reference instructors use to teach their students about sources. Reference instructors at forty-eight ALA-accredited programs of library and information studies were surveyed as to what strategies they used to teach about sources, what methods they felt were effective, and what challenges they faced in teaching about reference sources. Forty respondents described a total of sixty-one courses taught. In describing those courses, instructors indicated that reference source instruction primarily occurred through discussion and students' hands-on experience, although that experience was not always provided in class. Instructors provided information on challenges in source instruction, including access to print and electronic reference sources.
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Because reference sources are a staple of reference
service, reference source education is an intrinsic
part of reference education. However, limited in-
formation exists about the strategies reference in-
structors use to teach their students about sources.
Reference instructors at forty-eight ALA-accredited
programs of library and information studies were
surveyed as to what strategies they used to teach
about sources, what methods they felt were effective,
and what challenges they faced in teaching about
reference sources. Forty respondents described a
total of sixty-one courses taught. In describing
those courses, instructors indicated that reference
source instruction primarily
occurred through discussion
and students’ hands-on expe-
rience, although that experi-
ence was not always provided
in class. Instructors provided
information on challenges in
source instruction, including
access to print and electronic
reference sources.
In a review of papers
presented at a Refer-
ence and User Ser-
vices Forum in 2002,
Richardson Jr. suggested that
provision of reference ser-
vices involves a confluence
of three factors: information
resources, information tech-
nology, and users.1 This pa-
per focuses on one of those factors, information
resources (herein called reference sources), and the
practice of teaching about those sources to future
librarians in American Library Association (ALA)
accredited library and information science (LIS)
programs in the United States.
Reference sources facilitate easy access to snip-
pets of information. Effective reference practice
requires a thorough knowledge of a variety of
reference sources, thus making librarians’ ability
to use these sources an essential aspect of their
professional practice. Reference courses provided
in LIS programs teach library students to use
various reference sources to become familiar with
finding information and providing it in the right
format for the information seeker. Recently, both
LIS educators and librarians have voiced concerns
about trends in reference source instruction. For
example, at the Association for Library and Infor-
mation Science Education (ALISE) conference in
2003, reference educators in the Teaching Meth-
ods Special Interest Group discussed the difficulty
of balancing reference source and service instruc-
tion in one semester, the need to cover a vast
number of reference sources in one course, and the
difficulty of putting use of reference sources in the
appropriate context to facilitate students’ learning.
Reference instructors also shared that students in-
creasingly rely on Google to answer practice refer-
ence questions rather than exploring print sources.
However, even before Google, developments in
information technologies and the growth of the In-
ternet in the 1990s heralded a time of fundamental
change for reference source instruction. Because
An Exploratory Survey
of Reference Source
Instruction in LIS Courses
Denice Adkins and
Sanda Erdelez
Denice Adkins is Assistant Professor
and Sanda Erdelez is Associate Profes-
sor, School of Information Science and
Learning Technologies, University of
Missouri–Columbia. This research was
supported by the University of Missouri
Alumni Association Richard Wallace
Research Incentive Grant. Submitted
for review March 3, 2005; revised and
accepted for publication July 26, 2005.
Reference & User Services Quarterly,
vol. 46, no. 2, pp. 50–60
© 2006 American Library Association.
All rights reserved.
Permission granted to reproduce for
nonprofit, educational use.
50 | Reference & User Services Quarterly
many reference sources became avail-
able online, the coverage of reference
instruction has expanded to include
not only traditional paper formats but
also multiple electronic formats such
as CD-ROMs, proprietary databases,
and the Web. This expansion of format
coverage has placed new demands on
reference instruction.
Knowing how LIS reference educa-
tors manage reference source instruc-
tion in the changing environment is of
interest to many categories of library
professionals. It may assist new edu-
cators in determining successful in-
structional strategies, allow experienced
reference instructors to understand the
shared concerns of reference instruc-
tion, or familiarize practicing profes-
sionals with some of the strengths and
limitations of LIS reference education.
There is limited information currently
available about current practices in
reference source instruction. To ex-
pand upon this limited information,
an exploratory survey of reference in-
structors at ALA-accredited LIS pro-
grams was conducted to determine the
teaching methods they use to present
reference sources to their students. Two
broad questions guided the research:
what instructional methods do instruc-
tors use in teaching reference sources?
What are the most effective and most
challenging aspects of presenting refer-
ence sources to students?
Rothstein’s brief history of LIS refer-
ence education describes the conten-
tions within that education.2 The prin-
cipal question for Rothstein was: what
should reference instructors teach to
their students? Should the instruction
concentrate on memorization of spe-
cific sources, usage of various types
of sources, or should it be focused on
communication and operational issues
inherent in reference encounters? This
issue speaks to the larger issue of what
role the reference librarian plays in the
reference encounter.
In 1876, Green portrayed the librar-
ian as pleasant and helpful, though very
much the social and intellectual supe-
rior of the reader being assisted.3 The
role of the librarian in offering this per-
sonalized assistance was not to provide
answers for the patron, but to teach the
patron to be self-sufficient. However,
this “conservative theory of reference
work” was not universally accepted,
with some librarians advocating and
practicing more direct provision of in-
formation. The debate about whether the
reference librarian facilitates or furnishes
access to information is ongoing, particu-
larly in academic and school libraries.
Another concern was what educa-
tional background would best serve the
reference librarian. With the develop-
ment of specialized reference depart-
ments in the 1910s, reference librar-
ians were sought who had expertise in
certain fields, and library schools de-
veloped specialized reference courses.4
The question dealt with by the profes-
sion was: is specialized reference train-
ing necessary, or could anyone learn to
negotiate unfamiliar reference territory
through the use of “reference strat-
egy”?5 Some academic libraries have
traditionally sought candidates with
advanced subject degrees to comple-
ment the ALA-accredited LIS degree.6
The idea of an intensive library fellow-
ship as an alternate route into librarian-
ship for humanities scholars has been
developed and debated by librarians.7
Do librarians with advanced degrees
bring extra knowledge to the table that
librarians with the MLS equivalent do
not have? This is another question still
being debated in the profession.
Rothstein describes changes in ref-
erence education from the primarily
source-based instruction of the first half
of the twentieth century to the more
operational focus of reference inter-
views, patron interaction, and types of
sources.8 Other evidence of this transi-
tion comes from Powell and Raber, who
in 1994 provided an extensive review
of literature on reference instruction
and concluded that there has been “a
gradual shift … from the consideration
of titles and queries to the broader con-
cerns of information service.”
While in
the 1970s and 1980s, reference courses
emphasized the use of sources, by the
1990s the educational content of refer-
ence courses was expanded to include
topics such as patron interaction and
technological mastery. Richardson Jr.
points out a 1930 reference textbook
that delineates appropriate personality
traits of the reference librarian, say-
ing that “the [reference instruction]
paradigm has undergone a shift from
formats to method and back again.”10
New technology, new sources, and new
views of reference interactions have
been added into an already-crowded
reference curriculum.
Despite introduction of new curric-
ular elements, knowing which reference
sources to use and how to use them
remains a fundamental component of
reference service. Reference educators
have historically maintained that some
source knowledge is essential. The im-
portance of source instruction has been
supported in both research and practice-
oriented literature of the pre-Web era. A
survey of LIS schools published in 1989
revealed that all types of sources were
taught in 100 percent of responding
schools’ reference classes.11 In anoth-
er study, reference instructors ranked
source instruction as being more im-
portant than instruction in reference
services or reference philosophy.12 An
adjunct instructor of general reference
presented a generalized reference syl-
labus in which twelve out of fourteen
weeks were occupied with the review of
some type of information source.13
LIS practitioners also support the
idea that the foundation for effective
reference services is the ability to select,
evaluate, and use information resources.
The 2003 summary of reference com-
petencies compiled by the Reference
and User Services Association (RUSA)
indicates that librarians must be able
to: choose among multiple informa-
tion sources to find the best one for a
patron; organize and present informa-
tion sources so as to maximize patron
access; and know how to use both print
and electronic sources.14 These compe-
tencies represent the skills and abilities
that practicing librarians believe refer-
ence librarians must possess. Accord-
ingly, knowledge of sources is assumed
to be an explicit characteristic of a truly
competent professional.
volume 46, issue 2 | 51
An Exploratory Survey of Reference Source Instruction in LIS Courses
LIS literature suggests that nonprint
reference sources have historically re-
ceived less instructional coverage than
print sources. Summarizing reference
instruction up to 1990, Richardson Jr.
noted that “formats such as microforms,
and more recent technologies includ-
ing online and CD-ROM resources,
received almost no attention.”
the early lack of attention to nonprint
formats, electronic source instruction
has become more prevalent in recent
years. In 1993, Powell and Raber found
that while 80 percent of instructors
taught specific print sources, more
than 50 percent also taught electronic
sources such as online databases and
CD-ROMs.16 Later work by Hsieh-Yee
found that the instruction of electronic
sources was no longer performed exclu-
sively in traditional reference courses.17
Hsieh-Yee’s survey found that electronic
sources were taught in 293 LIS classes,
of which only 45 percent were tradi-
tional reference courses. As electron-
ic information sources become more
ubiquitous and easier to use, reference
education has increasingly gravitated
toward them.
Contemporary methods for teach-
ing students about reference sources
have not been well documented; nev-
ertheless, some historical information
on this topic is available. For example,
descriptions of instructional methods
in the Williamson Report of 1923 in-
clude lectures about reference books,
distribution of lists of reference ques-
tions, and class discussions of methods
of finding answers to those questions.18
Furthermore, according to Rothstein,
until the middle of the twentieth centu-
ry, guides to reference books dominated
the curriculum.19 Richardson Jr. ex-
pands on the idea of a source-based ref-
erence curriculum by looking at histori-
cal reference textbooks published from
1890 to 1990 and the role of textbooks
as signifiers of a reference instruction
He also documented teach-
ing methods used by reference instruc-
tors between 1890 and 1953, including
discussion of specific reference sourc-
es, discussion augmented by “practical
[reference] problems,” discussion of
search techniques for general source
types, and learning “by doing.”21
Richardson Jr.’s technique of assess-
ing source instruction by looking at ref-
erence textbooks can be used to assess
the kinds of source instruction favored
by current reference instructors. Two
texts are primarily used for reference
instruction, Katz’s Introduction to Ref-
erence Work: Basic Information Services
and Bopp and Smith’s Reference and
Information Services: An Introduction.22
Both of these volumes categorize refer-
ence sources by type, with examples of
specific sources included within each
type. Further, both texts have chapters
devoted to electronic reference sources
but also include mixed coverage of
print and electronic sources in the
chapters dealing with various types
of sources (for example, dictionaries,
encyclopedias, indexes). It might be
assumed from this coverage that refer-
ence students are exposed to the names
of reference sources and the types of
information covered in those sources.
However, this text-mediated approach
decontextualizes the sources and does
not permit visual, tactile experience of
those sources that might be obtained
in the classroom or through directed
exploration of sources. LIS students
have a variety of learning styles and
while some will find a text-based pre-
sentation of reference sources adequate,
others will “need the opportunity to
work actively” with those sources to
learn them.23
In 1982, Summers noted some of
the teaching methods used by reference
instructors at that time, including ref-
erence simulations and case studies.24
Jackson suggests comparison of print
and electronic versions of the same
source as a teaching method in 1989.25
In 1994, Powell and Raber documented
frequently used methods such as lec-
ture, discussion, demonstration, on-
line searching, self-guided study, and
treasure hunts.26 Hsieh-Yee found that
preferred methods for teaching elec-
tronic sources included lecture, hands-
on experience, and demonstration.27
However, these studies have mentioned
reference source instruction in passing,
not as a specific focus of the research.
Further, most of the documentation of
reference source instruction was con-
ducted in the pre-Web era. A more for-
mal study of current reference source
instruction methods, specifically ex-
amining methods used for print and
electronic sources, is called for.
This exploratory study was designed
to provide practical information about
how the use of reference sources is
taught to future librarians studying in
LIS education programs. To study the
instructional methods used, the authors
created a Web-based survey instrument
(reproduced in appendix A), searched
LIS program Web sites for current ref-
erence instructors, and invited those
instructors to share their instructional
methods. The survey consisted of six
closed-ended questions about meth-
ods used in individual reference cours-
es taught by the survey respondents.
These closed-ended questions asked
about percentage of time the respon-
dents spent teaching print and elec-
tronic sources and the methods used
to present print and electronic sources.
In addition to the closed-ended ques-
tions, six open-ended questions asked
reference instructors to share their most
effective teaching strategies and any
problem areas they encounter in teach-
ing about reference sources in both
print and electronic formats.
A paper version of the instrument
was pretested for content, clarity, and
presentation by a group of reference
instructors at the annual ALISE confer-
ence in January 2003. This pretesting
procedure also contributed to content
validity of the study instrument. While
the instruments were not separately
tested for reliability, the nature of the
majority of the questions (factual re-
porting of the participants’ real expe-
riences) increased the likelihood of
high reliability. Pretest feedback was
integrated into the final version of the
survey instrument and then the survey
was converted into an online format.
The target population for this study
was instructors of reference courses at
ALA-accredited LIS programs in the
United States. To identify members of
this population, the Web sites of fifty-six
LIS programs accredited by ALA at the
time of the study were studied. Course
52 | Reference & User Services Quarterly
titles in course schedules were used to
identify reference-type courses taught
within the last three years, or if three
years’ of schedules were not provided,
for as far back as course schedules were
available. Some common terms used to
identify these courses were: information
sources, reference, library materials,
and information access. The following
are examples of typical course titles:
n for General Reference Courses: Infor-
mation Sources and Services; Refer-
ence and Information Services;
n for Subject-Specific Courses: Library
Materials in Humanities; Social Sci-
ences Reference; Business Informa-
tion Sources; and
n for Online Reference Courses: On-
line Information Services; Digital
The complete list included both in-
troductory and advanced courses.
The instructors of reference courses
identified on the Web sites were the
accessible research population for this
study. The process of population iden-
tification has some obvious limitations;
for example, instructors may have been
overlooked due to a lack of course
schedules’ availability on the Web or
due to a misleading title for an other-
wise reference-oriented course. Howev-
er, it was felt that this approach allowed
the identification of a high percentage
of practicing reference instructors while
avoiding those not currently involved in
reference instruction.
After identifying the study popula-
tion, instructors’ contact information
was acquired from the schools’ Web
sites or by calling the schools directly.
E-mail invitations to participate in the
study were sent to a total of eighty-six
individuals from forty-eight institutions.
Eight schools’ Web sites did not provide
sufficient information to identify refer-
ence instructors. The accessible popula-
tion was narrowed to seventy-eight par-
ticipants because four e-mail addresses
had permanent delivery errors and four
individuals responded that they did not
teach reference courses.
The first invitation for study partici-
pation produced twenty-seven returned
surveys, while a follow-up e-mail gar-
nered another twenty, for a total of for-
ty-seven surveys (60 percent response
rate). Seven surveys were found to have
technical errors and had to be excluded
from the data set. As a result, the study
data were provided from forty reference
instructors from twenty-eight schools
(50 percent of the fifty-six ALA-accred-
ited LIS programs in the United States).
Respondents comprised 51 percent
of the accessible survey population of
seventy-eight, as identified through LIS
programs’ Web sites.
All respondents answered the six
closed-ended questions for each of the
reference courses they taught. For these
questions, the unit of analysis was the
individual course (n=61). The data were
tabulated for each course and analyzed
using simple descriptive parameters
(averages). The six open-ended ques-
tions were answered by thirty-one to
thirty-six respondents each. For these
questions, the unit of analysis was
the individual instructor. The content
of the answers was analyzed through
several coding iterations, allowing for
codes and broader coding categories
to emerge from the data. The iterative
coding procedure followed the format
of analytic induction that is commonly
used in qualitative research. This proce-
dure is also shared by grounded-theory
methodology; however, in contrast to
grounded theory, this study used ana-
lytic induction as a technique for data
analysis and not as a tool for theory
development.28 Whenever possible, re-
spondents’ answers were assigned only
one category. In a few situations, when
determination of a single code was not
possible, multiple categories were as-
signed. Because the data-coding activi-
ties were performed jointly, there was
no need for separate intercoder reli-
ability evaluation.
The forty participants in the survey
reported teaching a total of sixty-one
unique reference courses. Of those
courses, thirty were general reference,
twenty-two subject-specific, and nine
dealt with electronic reference sources.
Of the thirty general courses, twenty-
eight focused on basic reference and
only two on advanced reference. Ar-
eas covered in the twenty-two subject-
specific courses included humanities
(five courses), health sciences (four),
business (four), social sciences (three),
science (three), and government docu-
ments (three). Among the electronic
reference courses, seven were devoted
to general electronic sources and two
were subject-specific, covering business
and health sciences. Table 1 provides a
summary overview of the types of refer-
ence courses included in the study.
Instructors spent more time teach-
ing students about electronic sources
than about print sources. As indicated
in table 2, across all sixty-one courses,
59 percent of instruction time was
dedicated to electronic sources and 41
percent to print sources. Controlling
for courses that dealt with electronic
sources specifically, the gap between
coverage of these two formats lessens.
In general reference courses, average
time was evenly split between print (50
percent) and electronic (50 percent).
In subject-specific reference courses,
on average, more time was spent on
volume 46, issue 2 | 53
An Exploratory Survey of Reference Source Instruction in LIS Courses
Table 1. Types of Reference Courses
Taught by 46 Survey Respondents
General Reference 30
Introductory 28
Advanced 2
Subject-specific Reference 22
Humanities 5
Health sciences 4
Business 4
Social sciences 3
Science 3
Government 3
Online Reference 9
General 7
Subject-specific 2
N = 61
electronic sources (57 percent) than
on print sources (43 percent). Finally,
while instructors of online reference
courses spent a vast majority of time
(94 percent) on electronic sources,
some time was still devoted to print
sources (6 percent).
Methods of Teaching about
Reference Sources
A list of alternatives was provided and
study participants were asked to choose
the types of methods they use to present
print and electronic sources in each of
their reference courses. An open-ended
“Other” choice allowed participants to
describe additional methods of teaching
print and electronic resources. Table
3 shows that on a scale of one to five,
the most frequently used instructional
method for print sources (3.65) was in-
class discussion of reference books led
by the instructor, with the assumption
that students would peruse them on
their own time. Regarding the course
type, this method was most frequently
reported for both general and subject-
specific reference courses. General ref-
erence courses included a larger variety
of instructional methods for teaching
print sources. In contrast, subject-spe-
cific courses relied more exclusively
(86 percent) on in-class discussion.
Not surprisingly, in online reference
courses, there was low level of use
and low use frequency of all methods
of print instruction. Respondents who
chose the “Other” category mentioned
reproducing reference source pages for
their students, issuing assignments in-
volving work with reference sources,
creating workbooks or worksheets for
student assignments, offering student-
led bibliographic instruction sessions,
and keeping source journals.
The two most frequently used meth-
ods of presenting electronic sources
were (1) modeling online searching
in the classroom, and (2) discussing
searching electronic sources in general
terms, with the assumption that stu-
dents would conduct their own search-
es at a later time. As shown in table 4,
on a scale of one to five, search model-
ing had the highest average frequency
of use in general courses (4.67), sub-
ject-specific courses (3.93), and online
courses (3.63). However, respondents
reported using this method more in
general courses than in subject-specific
courses. The most prevalently used
method for online courses was the
discussion method. Responding in the
“Other” category, two instructors not-
ed that they demonstrated the search
process, which students immediately
replicated at their own workstations.
Additional teaching methods included
having students deliver class presenta-
tions of databases, creating scripts to
walk students through searching, using
workbooks for products such as the
Dialog search product, and focusing on
static database features such as “help,”
“how to,” and “about” features.
Two of the open-ended survey
questions asked about methods used
for comparing reference sources. The
question about comparison of print
resources was answered by thirty-four
54 | Reference & User Services Quarterly
Table 2. Percentage of Time Spent Teaching Print and Electronic Sources,
by Course Type
Course Type
Average Percentage of Time
Spent on Teaching
Print Sources Electronic Sources
All Reference Courses (N=61) 41 59
General and Subject-Specific Reference (n=52) 47 53
General Reference (n=30) 50 50
Subject-Specific Reference (n=22) 43 57
Online Reference (n=9) 6 94
Table 3. Methods for teaching about print sources.
General reference
Subject-specific r.
Online reference
Gen. & Subj.- spec. r.
% Use Av. freq. % Use Av. freq. % Use Av. freq. % Use Av. freq.
1. The class meets in the library and
compares sources directly
80 2.0 59 2.08 33 2.33 71 2.08
2. I bring several reference books to class
and pass them around
83 2.83 55 2.25 56 1 71 2.51
3. I use an opaque projector or camera to
present the reference books to the class
73 1.40 55 2.25 56 1 65 1.56
4. I make transparencies or slides of
selected pages in the book
73 2.20 55 2.42 56 1 65 2.06
5. I discuss the reference books in general
terms and assume students will peruse
them on their own time
90 3.86 86 3.58 56 1.8 88 3.65
6. Other (e.g., student-led bibliographic
instruction sessions, weekly homework
assignments, source journals)
53 4.50 59 3.62 44 5 56 3.72
respondents. The two main categories
identified by 38 percent of respondents
(thirteen each), were:
n assigning students to complete ex-
ercises that require use of multiple
sources (“A practice reference ques-
tion will ask them [students] to find
the answer to a question and com-
pare either two sources given or one
given and then to chose another on
their own.”); and
n using the professionally established
criteria for reference source evalu-
ation as a base for comparison.
(“I use standard evaluation criteria
[scope, treatment, format, arrange-
ment, authority, cost, relation to
similar works, special features] as a
starting point.”)
In-class comparison of physical
sources and use of source representa-
tions (slides, handouts, and transparen-
cies) were reported by only two respon-
dents each. Three respondents shared
that comparison of print sources is not
what they typically focus on in their
reference courses.
The open-ended question about
methods used to compare electron-
ic sources was answered by thirty-six
respondents. For fifteen (42 percent)
respondents, methods for comparison
of electronic and print sources were
identical. Many instructors (thirteen,
36 percent) also reported using spe-
cific evaluation criteria that are similar
to criteria applied to print sources (for
example, access, content, cost, and or-
ganization). Some evaluation criteria
were unique only to electronic sources,
specifically, comparison of search pro-
cesses, interface design, and usability
issues; these criteria were mentioned
by eleven respondents (31 percent).
Similar to comparison of print sources,
a number of respondents (nine, 25
percent) relied on students to perform
exercises on their own and to give pre-
sentations. Six instructors (17 percent)
mentioned in-class demonstrations and
class discussions as a tool of compari-
son. Two respondents made a specif-
ic point that they compare electronic
sources with print sources. Finally, for
four instructors, comparison of elec-
tronic sources was not an important
instructional method.
Most Effective and Most
Challenging Aspects about
Teaching Reference Sources
Responding to an open-ended ques-
tion, thirty-five instructors identified
methods that they considered par-
ticularly effective for teaching about
print sources. The majority of respon-
dents (twenty-eight, 80 percent) used
hands-on assignments, often combin-
ing them with in-class presentations
by students. Here is an illustrative
Teaching them in context. I make
it a major function of the field-
work. I don’t think it’s effective to
hand books around to discuss ref-
erence “genres” like index, bibli-
ography, biography, etc. You need
to really use these sources [emphasis
added] to understand them. Han-
dling the book isn’t enough.
In-class discussion of print sources
was reported as the most effective meth-
od by six respondents (17 percent), and
organized site visits to a library by only
three (9 percent).
For the majority of respondents to
the open-ended questions (twenty-two,
61 percent), students’ hands-on as-
signments and follow-up presentations
were the most effective teaching meth-
ods for electronic reference sources. In-
class search demonstrations performed
by instructors or vendor representatives
were a distant second (ten, 28 percent).
volume 46, issue 2 | 55
An Exploratory Survey of Reference Source Instruction in LIS Courses
Table 4. Methods for Teaching about Electronic Sources
General Reference
online Reference
General and
Subject- Spec. Ref.
% Use Av. freq. % Use Av. freq. % Use Av. freq. % Use Av. freq.
1. I teach in a computer lab and have
students perform their own reference
63 3 55 2.5 89 3.25 60 2.81
2. I use a computer and projector to
model searching in front of the class.
80 4.67 68 3.93 89 3.63 75 3.85
3. I use slides or screen shots to model
stages in the searching process
67 3.2 59 2.69 78 2.57 63 2.39
4. I discuss searching in general terms
and expect students to do searches on
their own time
70 2 91 3.6 89 3.88 79 3.39
5. Other (e.g., immediate student
replication of search, workbooks,
search scripts)
50 3.33 18 3.5 11 5 37 3.37
Seven respondents (19 percent) com-
mented that the same methods that are
effective for print sources also work well
for electronic sources. Additional teach-
ing methods, identified by only one
or two instructors, included: in-class
guided exercises; integration of discus-
sion on print and electronic sources;
students’ group work; and fieldwork
with observation of librarians at work.
Two respondents reported that they
have not yet found an effective method
for teaching electronic reference, as il-
lustrated by the following answer:
I consider this still to be an open
issue for me and for my students.
Electronic-resource selection is an
ongoing problem. This is an area
in which I am always looking for
new ways to facilitate learning.
In addition, two open-ended ques-
tions asked reference instructors to
identify the main challenges they face
about teaching reference sources in
print and electronic formats. These
were answered by thirty-five and thirty-
six instructors respectively.
Table 5 provides the complete list
of categories for print resources and
their frequency distribution in respon-
dents’ answers. Most respondents (thir-
teen, 36 percent) reported challenges
associated with some type of access
to the sources themselves. The most
prominent problem was access to print
sources in courses that are completely
n “Getting student access. Web-based
courses for distance learning stu-
dents make it impossible to ensure
they have access to print resources.”
n “Since my class is almost entirely
online I hope all students have ac-
cess to titles I refer to here in their
home library. Access to standard
titles is usually not a problem, but
I cannot assume all students have
seen a more unusual title.”
Another prevalent category (ten,
28 percent) was the efforts instructors
need to invest in making students real-
ize the value of print sources. As one of
the respondents explained it, “Nobody
wants to deal with paper anymore.” Of
the responses coded in this category,
eight focused on the challenges that
instructors face in convincing students
that “paper-based reference sources are
still valuable; that going to the Web
may not be the best strategy.” For the
remaining five respondents in this cat-
egory, the key challenge was how to
reach the students and keep their inter-
est in developing deeper knowledge of
the content:
Deciding what analogies/exam-
ples to use to make the points I
wish to make alive and stick in
students’ minds. Knocking down
superficial understanding and
“layperson” misperceptions to be
able to tackle more sophisticated
Additional challenges included se-
lection of which sources to cover in the
class (four, 11 percent) and develop-
ment of sample reference questions
(two, 6 percent). Three reference in-
structors reported that there were no
major unique challenges in teaching
print sources.
The responses called for a longer
list of categories for challenges in teach-
ing electronic sources than for print
sources (see table 6). Many instructors
identified more than one key challenge
in teaching about electronic sources.
These answers have been coded with
all applicable categories.
Three main categories of challenges
for electronic source instruction were:
n development of a deeper knowl-
edge of electronic reference sources,
identified by eight instructors (22
percent) (“Students tend to want to
search as though using Web search
tools such as Google. It can be a
challenge to get them to embrace
Dialog or other structured database
n changes in the content and in-
terfaces of the electronic sources
(seven, 19 percent) (“. . . the ven-
dors change the interfaces pret-
ty frequently so it simply gets a
little confusing, especially for the
new students, remembering which
sources work best for which type of
search.”); and
n problems with accessibility due to
cancellations and lack of availability
of more expensive electronic sources
(seven, 19 percent) (“ . . . in my state
there is such a huge discrepancy be-
tween the small rural libraries and
the large public and college librar-
ies in terms of what is available to
use. Many small publics don’t have
electronic resources at all. It’s an
economic issue.”)
56 | Reference & User Services Quarterly
Table 5. Challenges in Presenting Print Sources
coding category
# of Responses
coded %
Access to sources (in completely online courses, shared access
by students)
13 36.11
Convincing students that understanding print sources is
important and keeping students engaged
10 27.78
Selection of sources to cover 4 11.11
Promotion of students’ deeper knowledge of the subject 3 8.33
No challenges 3 8.33
Development of sample reference questions 2 5.56
Subject-specific problems 1 2.78
TOTAL 36 100.00
Additional challenges identified by
more than one respondent were prob-
lems with technical support such as lab
operations, proxy servers, and pass-
words (five respondents); selection of
sources for inclusion in the course con-
tent (five); students’ uneven preparation
for online searching (four); lack of time
for in-class demonstrations (three); and
lack of search-interface standardization
(three). Three respondents stated that
they do not face any major challenges
because the representatives of online
vendors are eager to help with in-
class demonstrations. Finally, the issue
of keeping the coverage of electronic
sources interesting was mentioned by
only two instructors.
The study findings identify the instruc-
tional methods applied by LIS reference
instructors in teaching about reference
sources. In addition, the findings also
point out the most effective and most
challenging aspects of reference source
instruction. In simplified terms, there
are two general types of source instruc-
tion for both print and electronic refer-
ence sources:
1. Discussion about sources, led by
the instructor or students reporting
on their assignments. Frequently,
discussion involves explanation of
evaluative elements used for com-
parison of reference sources; and
2. Use of reference sources, pri-
marily accomplished through stu-
dents’ hands-on exercises. While
exercises involving use of print
sources happen primarily without
instructor supervision and outside
of class time, use of electronic sourc-
es is frequently demonstrated by the
instructor during class time.
In general, students get little in-
class experience in handling and using
print sources. Instructors expect stu-
dents to gain application skills outside
of class, through exercises and assign-
ments. Instructors also seem to believe
that comparison of resources flows bet-
ter in the context of practical experience
in using the sources. This approach
avoids the difficulty of in-class demon-
strations involving print sources, such
as moving books from the library to the
classroom or creating representations
of print sources in the form of slides,
transparencies, or PDF documents.
Overall, the reference instructors
in this study reported spending more
time teaching about electronic sources
than about print sources. They also
devote more class time to demonstrat-
ing electronic sources than to print
sources. One possible explanation for
the instructional emphasis on electronic
sources is the overall increase in impor-
tance of electronic formats in provision
of reference services due to prolifer-
ation and accessibility. Furthermore,
networked access to electronic refer-
ence sources eliminates the logistical
difficulties for in-class demonstrations
that are typically associated with bulky
print formats. The portability and ac-
cessibility of electronic sources make it
effortless to demonstrate their use in the
classroom with just a computer, pro-
jector, and Internet connection. While
instruction for print source utilization
is deemed intuitive, and students are
presumed to understand basic skills
(for example, using page numbers, in-
dexes, and tables of contents), elec-
tronic source instruction tends to be
process-oriented and focused more on
the search process. Instructors therefore
make great use of modeling and dem-
onstrating searches.
Many other instructional challenges
reported by survey participants can be
attributed to the changes in the format
of LIS education from in-class, face-
to-face instruction to various types of
distance education and increased use
of electronic reference sources. For ex-
ample, in reference courses that are
offered in a completely online format,
students are widely distributed geo-
graphically and do not have access to
the same collection of reference sources.
Online teaching requires adjustments
in instructional approaches that count
on students’ hands-on exercises outside
of class time as a prominent method
volume 46, issue 2 | 57
An Exploratory Survey of Reference Source Instruction in LIS Courses
Table 6. Challenges in Presenting Electronic Sources
Coding Category # of Responses Coded %
Developing deeper knowledge of content and
search processes; looking past Google
8 22.22
Future changes in content and interface of
electronic sources
7 19.44
Problem with access to electronic sources
(cancellations, no access, expensive)
7 19.44
Problems with technical support (labs, proxy
servers, passwords)
5 13.89
Students’ preparation and uneven search skills 4 11.11
Selection of electronic sources for presentation,
keeping up with new electronic sources
4 11.11
No challenges (vendors help, easy access) 3 8.33
More time for explanation of demonstrations 3 5.56
Complexity of interfaces and lack of standardization 2 5.56
Keeping presentations interesting 2 8.33
Other (one response coded per category) 3 22.22
TOTAL 45 102.78
Note: The total exceeds 100 percent because answers from some respondents were coded
in multiple coding categories.
of resource instruction. Furthermore,
instructors teach courses that increas-
ingly deal with nonprint materials but
have not developed unique teaching
approaches to present those electronic
sources. They use many of the same or
similar approaches for comparing elec-
tronic sources as they have traditionally
used for comparing print sources. Some
report they find these methods equally
effective; however, others say they have
not found an effective way to present
electronic sources yet. Consistent with
these results, this study identified many
more challenges for the presentation of
electronic sources than for the presenta-
tion of print sources.
Future research should address the
impact of these other instructional chal-
lenges on the ability of LIS education to
produce professionals with higher-level
thinking skills. Action research in this
area should engage students, practitio-
ners, and instructors by allowing all
parties to identify challenges, reflect on
those challenges, and produce solutions
for the problems of source instruction
across a professional career. Qualitative
research comparing the substance and
process of reference source instruction,
including rules of use and evaluation,
form another potential avenue for un-
derstanding how instructors teach and
new librarians learn to use reference
sources. As LIS courses move from
a face-to-face environment to a dis-
tance education environment, future
researchers might conduct a deeper
analysis of effective instructional tech-
niques for various teaching modes. Fi-
nally, an additional promising approach
to assessing reference source instruc-
tion is to place it within the context of
the hierarchy of educational objectives
(for example, Bloom’s Taxonomy of
Educational Objectives).29 This study
suggests that deeper understanding of
reference sources is a desired objective
of instructors; however, the methods
they use for instruction may not be the
most appropriate for creating that level
of understanding. Interviewing instruc-
tors and looking at their instructional
materials—syllabi, tests, and assign-
ments—will provide richer information
than can be obtained by a survey.
This study provided an insight into
methods of reference source instruction
heretofore lacking in LIS literature and
identified a number of successful in-
structional approaches. These included
students’ classroom presentations of
sources, hands-on assignments, and
fieldwork that allow students to work
with sources. The study also identified
challenges facing reference instructors
in the era of distance education and the
growth of electronic reference sources.
Instructors want their students to de-
velop a deeper knowledge of print and
electronic sources, but face difficulties
ensuring access to sources, working
with technology, and changing inter-
faces. These challenges may be dimin-
ishing the potential quality of educa-
tion for current students and future
How is the field going to address
instructors’ concerns with reference
source education? One option may be
a wait-and-see approach, by letting
the natural processes of evolution in
instructional practice follow their own
course. This course of action would
likely mean watching a decline in the
quality and quantity of print source
coverage in reference courses without
intervening. The better option might
be for reference instructors to initiate
discussions about new strategies for ref-
erence source instruction in the context
of the changing nature of LIS education.
These discussions can help establish
standards for the instruction of print
and electronic sources, which may in-
clude a required list of print sources,
skills for using electronic reference
sources, or source evaluation criteria to
be learned. Although RUSA’s reference
competencies approach this state, they
are more concerned with behavior and
less with specific source knowledge or
skills. Further, this standards approach,
identified by Richardson Jr. as structur-
alist, has historically been difficult to
maintain due to continual growth of
the body of essential sources.30 None-
theless, a general consensus among
reference instructors as to what print
sources students must know would be a
useful starting point for planning future
reference curricula.
An additional approach may be
to take the initiative in developing
an instructional tool to facilitate refer-
ence source instruction. A tool of this
sort might be a shared application to
provide access to, demonstration, and
comparison of print sources through
electronic representations of those
sources. A prototype version of such a
tool was designed by one of the authors
for a subject-specific reference course.
An expanded version could include a
database with multimedia clips illus-
trating and comparing online search
processes in various electronic sources.
This tool could build on Richardson Jr.’s
typology of reference sources and their
characteristics, but would be oriented
toward teaching LIS students how to
use these sources rather than assist-
ing librarians in finding sources.31 To
expand this instructional tool beyond
source instruction and into general-
ized reference education, video clips of
reference interviews and the question-
answering process might be included
for instructors to present as case stud-
ies for their classes. However, a shared
option would require commitment and
collaboration among reference instruc-
tors from LIS schools and practitioners
in a variety of settings, as well as the co-
operation of reference source publishers
to allay copyright concerns. Pursuing
any of these approaches will have re-
percussions for the reference education
of the next generation of librarians. Ref-
erence instructors, practitioners, and
students must realize that their instruc-
tional choices of today will impact the
library of tomorrow.
1. John V. Richardson Jr., “The Future of
Reference: The Intersection of Informa-
tion Resources, Technology, and Users,”
Reference Services Review 31, no. 1 (2003):
2. Samuel Rothstein, “The Making of a Ref-
erence Librarian,” The Reference Librarian
no. 25–26 (1989): 321–50.
3. Samuel Swett Green, “Personal Relations
Between Librarians and Readers (Origi-
nally Published in October 1, 1876),”
Library Journal 118 (June 15, 1993): S5.
58 | Reference & User Services Quarterly
4. Samuel Rothstein, “The Nature of Ref-
erence Work in the General Research
Libraries, 1896–1916: Policies and Prac-
tices,” The Reference Librarian no. 25–26
(1989): 98–117.
5. Samuel Rothstein, “The Library Educator
Looks at Reference Education,” The Refer-
ence Librarian no. 25–26 (1989): 195.
6. Beverly P. Lynch and Kimberley Robles
Smith, “The Changing Nature of Work in
Academic Libraries,” College & Research
Libraries 62, no. 5 (Sept. 2001): 407–
7. Norman Oder, “New Movement for
Ph.D.’s to Work in Academic Libraries,”
Library Journal 128, no. 11 (June 15,
2003): 16–17; John N. Berry III, “But
Don’t Call ’Em Librarians,” Library Jour-
nal 128, no. 18 (Nov. 1, 2003): 34–36.
8. Rothstein, “Making of a Reference
9. Ronald R. Powell and Douglas Raber,
“Education for Reference/Information
Service: A Quantitative and Qualitative
Analysis of Basic Reference Courses,” The
Reference Librarian no. 43 (1994): 147.
10. John V. Richardson Jr., “Teaching General
Reference Work: The Complete Paradigm
and Competing Schools of Thought,
1890–1990,” Library Quarterly 62, no. 1
(1992): 83.
11. Susan McEnally Jackson, “Reference
Education and the New Technology,” The
Reference Librarian no. 25–26 (1989):
12. Marsha D. Broadway and Nathan M.
Smith, “Basic Reference Courses in
ALA-Accredited Library Schools,” The
Reference Librarian no. 25–26 (1989):
13. Louise S. Sherby, “Educating Reference
Librarians: A Basic Course,” The Reference
Librarian no. 30 (1990): 35–44.
14. RUSA Task Force on Professional Com-
petencies, “Professional Competencies
for Reference and User Services Librar-
ians,” Reference & User Services Quarterly
42, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 290–95.
15. Richardson Jr., “Teaching General Refer-
ence Work,” 76.
16. Powell and Raber, “Education for
17. Ingrid Hsieh-Yee, “Teaching Online and
CD-ROM Resources: LIS Educators’
Views and Practices,” Journal of Education
for Library and Information Science 38, no.
1 (Winter 1997): 14–34.
18. Rothstein, “The Making of a Reference
19. Ibid.
20. Richardson Jr., “Teaching General Refer-
ence Work.”
21. Ibid., 57–58, 60, 68, 70.
22. Richard E. Bopp and Linda C. Smith,
Reference and Information Services: An
Introduction, 3rd ed. (Englewood, Colo.:
Libraries Unlimited, 2001); William A.
Katz, Introduction to Reference Work: Basic
Information Services, 8th ed., vol. 1 (Bos-
ton, Mass.: McGraw-Hill, 2002).
23. Carol Simpson and Yunfei Du, “Effects of
Learning Styles and Class Participation
on Students’ Enjoyment Level in Distrib-
uted Learning Environments,” Journal
of Education for Library and Information
Science 45, no. 2 (Spring 2004): 126.
24. F. William Summers, “Education for Ref-
erence Service,” in The Service Imperative
for Libraries: Essays in Honor of Margaret
E. Monroe, ed. Gail A. Schlacter (Little-
ton, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited, 1982),
25. Jackson, “Reference Education and the
New Technology.”
26. Powell and Raber, “Education for Refer-
ence/Information Service.”
27. Hsieh-Yee, “Teaching Online.”
28. A. Michael Huberman and Matthew B.
Miles, “Data Management and Analy-
sis Methods,” in Handbook of Qualita-
tive Research, eds. Norman K. Denzin
and Yvonna S. Lincoln (Thousand Oaks,
Calif.: Sage Publications, 1994), 428–44;
Anselm L. Strauss, Basics of Qualitative
Research: Techniques and Procedures for
Developing Grounded Theory, 2nd edition
(Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 1998).
29. Benjamin S. Bloom, ed., “Taxonomy of
Educational Objectives: The Classifica-
tion of Educational Goals, by a Commit-
tee of College and University Examiners,”
in Handbook I: Cognitive Domain (New
York: Longmans, Green, 1956).
30. Richardson Jr., “Teaching General Refer-
ence Work.”
31. John V. Richardson Jr., Knowledge-Based
Systems for General Reference Work: Appli-
cations, Problems, and Progress (San Diego,
Calif.: Academic, 1995).
volume 46, issue 2 | 59
An Exploratory Survey of Reference Source Instruction in LIS Courses
Reference Instructor Survey
The Web-based format of the survey prevents full reproduc-
tion of the instrument. Content-related survey questions are
listed below.
Course-specific questions:
These questions were repeated three times to allow
instructors to describe multiple courses.
1. What is the title for this reference or information sources
2. Think about the total time you spend teaching about ref-
erence sources in this course. What percentage of your
time is spent teaching print sources, and what percentage
of your time is spent teaching electronic sources?
3. What instruction method do you use for this class?
n Completely face-to-face, with regular class
n Face-to-face, with “lab” sessions in the library
n Live televised broadcast classes at remote
n Web-based, with some face-to-face meetings
n Other (please explain)
4. Please rank the methods you use to present print sources
to this class. Use 1 for the least frequently used method
and 5 for the most frequently used method.
n The class meets in the library and compares
sources directly.
n I bring several reference books to class and pass
them around.
n I use an opaque projector or camera to present the
reference books to the class.
n I make transparencies or slides of selected pages in
the book.
n I discuss the reference books in general terms and as-
sume students will peruse them on their own time.
n Other (please explain).
5. Please rank the methods you use to present electronic
sources to this class. Use 1 for the least frequently used
method and 5 for the most frequently used method.
n I teach in a computer lab and have students perform
their own reference searches.
n I use a computer and projector to model searching
in front of the class.
n I use slides or screen shots to model stages in the
searching process.
n I discuss searching in general terms and expect stu-
dents to do searches on their own time.
n Other (please explain).
General Questions:
1. In a sentence or two, please describe how you compare
two or more print sources.
2. What do you find to be your biggest challenge in teaching
about paper-based reference resources?
3. What teaching methods or strategies have you found to
be particularly effective in teaching about paper-based
reference resources?
4. In a sentence or two, please describe how you compare
two or more electronic sources.
5. What do you find to be your biggest challenge in present-
ing electronic-reference resources?
6. What teaching methods or strategies have you found
to be particularly effective in teaching about electronic
reference resources?
60 | Reference & User Services Quarterly
... One perennial challenge in reference courses is the amount of material that most instructors believe must be covered and, in particular, finding a balance between introducing students to the reference sources they will be using on the job and discussing the service areas and expectations, as well as balancing between theory and practice. 22 Powell and Raber note that a "knowledge of reference sources remains central to basic reference courses" and, as the number and format of information sources increases, so does the pressure to ensure that students are well grounded in using these various sources. 23 Yet a discourse exists as to how much time should be spent on individual source titles and how much time should be spent on overall types of sources, as well as debate over how extensively to cover print versus electronic resources. ...
Full-text available
Reference services are in transition. Impacted by advances in technology, changing user expectations, and the migration to greater provision of online and distance service, reference in academic libraries today is not the same service it was even just a decade ago. Most literature looks at reference competencies either for a specific service model such as virtual reference, or a specific type of library like an academic health or law library. Despite the changing nature of the job, few studies have considered reference competencies more broadly from the employer's point of view. This study reports the preliminary results of a survey of current reference librarians and hiring managers to answer the following questions: What knowledge, skills, and competencies do current practitioners and hiring managers believe to be valuable for the provision of reference services now and into the future? What areas do managers find lacking or underdeveloped in their new hires? How well do current library science programs prepare students to meet employer expectations for reference positions?
... I have been developing this list for awhile now, and I was thinking about it for a meeting when, in this journal, Denice Adkins and Sanda Erdelez (School of Information Science and Learning Technologies, University of Missouri-Columbia), published "An Exploratory Survey of Reference Source Instruction in LIS Courses." 4 In their article, they sketch desiderata for a tool with which to teach reference sources. From their survey of courses they conclude that they would like to find ways to present to students the sources they should know according to such successful course strategies as, "students' classroom presentation of sources, hands-on assignments, and fieldwork that allows them to work with sources." 5 They describe the need for "an instruction tool" that would offer means for access to and comparison of sources, instruction in how to use specific sources, and video clips of reference interviews for students to use as case studies. ...
... Denice Adkins and Sanda Erdelez provide a benchmark look at LIS educators' teaching methods and differences in their teaching online and print resources. 6 They surveyed instructors of general and subject-specific reference classes including business reference and health information reference. Approximately 12 percent of their respondents indicated that they taught their reference courses completely online and 70 percent taught in a face-to-face format. ...
Full-text available
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.
... 5). Adkins and Erdelez (2006) surveyed reference instructors at 48 LIS programs to identify the challenges they faced in teaching about information sources and found most problems revolved around access to print sources in online courses, the effort instructors needed to invest in making students realize the value of print sources, and determining which sources to cover in class. ...
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.
As online education for the MLIS becomes widespread, one challenge for reference and user services instructors is that traditional exercises used to promote clinical intuition and metacognition in reference work may be more difficult in online classrooms. This article uses concept analysis to better understand clinical judgment for reference, suggesting that learners’ clinical intuition may be developed through a combination of emphasizing types of reasoning skills in reference work and the use of experiential learning theory. Investigative video games are presented as a case for providing practice with reasoning skills and rules testing in contexts adjacent to reference work. The authors provide examples of how types of reasoning are used in these video games and how, when practiced, these can offer a complementary approach to instruction for reference work.
As online education for the MLIS becomes widespread, one challenge for reference and user services instructors is that traditional exercises used to promote clinical intuition and metacognition in reference work may be more difficult in online classrooms. This article uses concept analysis to better understand clinical judgment for reference, suggesting that learners’ clinical intuition may be developed through a combination of emphasizing types of reasoning skills in reference work and the use of experiential learning theory. Investigative video games are presented as a case for providing practice with reasoning skills and rules testing in contexts adjacent to reference work. The authors provide examples of how types of reasoning are used in these video games and how, when practiced, these can offer a complementary approach to instruction for reference work.
Full-text available
Recently, “online systems have created new reference sources and have increased the search capabilities of sources already available in printed form” (Piternick, 1990, p.534). On the one hand, it definitely facilitated students’ quick access to the materials needed. On the other hand, the present-day online platforms do not only provide learners with some well-grounded sources but also tempt them with a plethora of unreliable data leading students to cheating and even plagiarism. Thus, the goal of this paper is to investigate the most common reasons that make students use unreliable sources and to suggest some measures that will motivate learners to work with trustworthy and reliable materials. For this, two studies were carried out. First of all, to detect the nature of the most popular unreliable sources used by the students, a number of Writing and Information Literacy program students’ essays were analysed by Turnitin (internet-based plagiarism detection) program. Secondly, a total number of 124 students participated in an online survey consisting of 22 items that sought to understand the most common reasons why learners give their preferences to these unreliable sources. The data obtained in the first study shows that the most popular unreliable sources are not only Wikipedia and personal websites but opinionated articles such as editorials and self-published sources. As regards the second study, a number of reasons such as poor understanding of the differences between reliable and unreliable sources; inability to use library web-page appropriately; poor understanding of citation techniques, etc. make students use easily available data. The study terminates with some important suggestions to prevent plagiarism and cheating.
Full-text available
Over the past decade and a half, reference and information services have increasingly moved away from library reference desks and away from libraries' print collections into the electronic world. This article describes a study that addressed two research questions related to the changing reference and information services environment: 1. What are the current trends in the provision of reference and information services in terms of user behaviors, librarian behaviors, and information sources being used? 2. What is the basic model of the current reference process? Data were gathered via focus group interviews with reference and information service educators and via discussions at a town hall-style meeting of faculty members and doctoral students interested in virtual reference education. The study results indicate a shift toward an increasingly interactive, collaborative reference model, in which both the reference librarian and the reference user play the roles of information seeker, information receiver, and information creator. The article concludes with a model of this process and with a discussion of implications for the provision of reference and information services.
This paper describes the results of a nationwide study which examined the design, layout, content, site management, and usability of 1,469 academic and public library websites from all 50 states in the United States. Our findings show common trends for homepage design, navigation, and information architecture. Library websites were found to consistently provide information about hours of operation (97.9 percent), library address (91 percent), news and events (88.9 percent), access to OPACs (84.6 percent), online renewal (77.7 percent), contact information (72.5 percent), and ability to give feedback (74.2 percent). Websites were mainly designed (33 percent) and managed (50 percent) by librarians as part of their professional job duties and the majority did not conduct any web usability testing (72.3 percent). This study provides a profile of how the nation's academic and public libraries design and manage their websites and how this compares to recommended best practices from the research literature. Library websites rated high in general usability based on recognized heuristics; however, a need to conduct usability evaluations remains. A basic set of guidelines for library webpage design is proposed.
In response to Hjørland's recent call for a reconceptualization of the foundations of relevance, we suggest that the sociocognitive aspects of intermediation by information agencies, such as archives and libraries, are a necessary and unexplored part of the infrastructure of the subject knowledge domains central to his recommended “view of relevance informed by a social paradigm” (2010, p. 217). From a comparative analysis of documents from 39 graduate-level introductory courses in archives, reference, and strategic/competitive intelligence taught in 13 American Library Association-accredited library and information science (LIS) programs, we identify four defining sociocognitive dimensions of “relevance work” in information agencies within Hjørland's proposed framework for relevance: tasks, time, systems, and assessors. This study is intended to supply sociocognitive content from within the relevance work domain to support further domain analytic research, and to emphasize the importance of intermediary relevance work for all subject knowledge domains. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
The proliferation of electronic information resources and the intense user interest in searching them have made it essential for librarians to possess the knowledge and skills to access electronic resources. To understand how educators have prepared students to deal with these resources, a survey was conducted of teachers specializing in reference services, advanced reference services, or online retrieval The study, which asked the teachers how they covered online and CD-ROM resources, found that most educators appreciate these resources and favor integrating them into the library and information science curriculum. Electronic resources have been integrated into the basic and advanced reference courses in which educators emphasize the contents of resources rather than searching skills. Online and CD-ROM resources have been covered in depth, the amount of hands-on practice has increased, and educators showed considerable agreement in their coverage of subtopics related to these resources.
This study explores the effect of learning styles and online participation on students' self-reported enjoyment levels in distributed learning environments. One hundred and sixty-nine entering students, who were enrolled in their first course totally via Internet, were chosen from masters' students in the School of Library and Information Sciences at the University of North Texas. The students were asked to complete Kolb's Learning-Style Inventory during a face-to-face training session on web-based learning. Subjects also reported their performance and enjoyment level in the course near the end of the term. Web Course Tool (WebCT) courseware automatically recorded every student's participation in terms of pages accessed, pages read, and total postings made. Multiple regression analysis found learning style significantly impacts students' enjoyment level but class participation does not. Learning styles and class participation together explain students' enjoyment level with an effect size of R² = .125 (p
A survey was conducted to investigate how library and information science students are being educated for careers in a changing reference/information environment. Data provided by 48 teachers of basic reference courses in ALA-accredited programs were analyzed quantitatively and qualitatively. The quantitative analysis of the descriptive data produced few surprises. The most frequently taught skills related to the reference interview and search strategy, most courses covered types of reference sources as well as specific titles, and most teachers gave some attention to reference/information services. The learning objectives and teaching methods exhibited considerable variety, however. Qualitative techniques were used to analyze some of the data about course content and the responses to a question on future trends. The qualitative analysis suggested a growing recognition of the systemic nature of reference work and the importance of evaluation.
This paper discusses some current concerns about education for reference services in this time of rapid technological change. Emphasis is placed on issues raised by the development of optical disc technology, particularly in the areas of ethics, end-user searching, library use ~nstruction,a nd user behavior. The results of a survey of reference faculty at ALA-accredited schools are presented to set the backdrop and to provide information on the ways that schools are adapting to and integrating the new technologies into the core reference curriculum.
Because the early content of reference courses was determined by strong personalities, this article explores the educational influences of such pioneer individuals as Dunkin Van Rensselaer Johnston at the New York State Library School in Albany, Alice B. Kroeger of Drexel Institute, Isadore G. Mudge at Columbia University, and the next two editors of the monumental Guide to Reference Books. By examining the interwoven relationships among nine reference textbook authors who wrote the six leading textbooks, totaling thirteen editions between 1930 and 1987, this article identifies predominant worldview and competing schools of thought regarding the teaching of reference work.