Has Current Awareness Helped Librarians to Provide Reference Service?

The following are answers to the question: has current awareness helped you to provide reference service? Reference librarians at North American public and academic libraries were asked to answer this question as part of a study of librarian reading habits.


No, we do not have a current events service.

No, because we don't have the service.

For example, a patron wants to call London but is unsure of the time difference. I found the answer in the World Almanac, which was extensively introduced to me in a reference workshop.

We recently sent out a memo notifying staff of the availability of the PLD budget for 2001 for public inspection.

Reference librarian reported on an Internet site with excellent foreign language dictionaries and helpful translation. I and several others on staff were able to use the site to answer questions regarding translating foreign language material into English and in one case provide common phrases in the foreign language to a student for a school paper.

We all discuss reference questions that need answers, and usually one of us can remember where to find the information. Sorry I can't be more specific.

I recently had a patron ask me why we do not filter the Internet in our library and information about our libraries' policies was helpful in answering this question.

We have a lot of reference material at our fingertips; the Canadian Source Book is one example. We are often asked for information that we find in this book. We have also found that we are using the Internet more and more to find information.

Not that I can remember. Again we usually rely on the tag-team approach.

Being the only designated reference librarian in our system, I try to keep the staff as current as I can on developments. For example, recently the provincial library provided us with a trial period of Novalist, a program of the Gale Group. This is a reader's advisory site.

No service exists and I am not sure that it can be done for public libraries, since the questions are too varied. As librarians we just need to read, read, and read. Print and the Net. I would feel that a service would omit items that I can use.

One of my colleagues recommended the site http://findarticles.com/ and I was able to pull up an article from the Lancet that we did not have in the library or via any of our online subscription databases.

Sharing websites has helped me answer many questions.

No current awareness service.

Current affairs are usually your early morning calls. Even Oprah's book club list is requested.

Through reading I came across a website that provides information on the pitfalls of buying used cars and within the week a patron wanted information on what to look out for in buying a used car.

A patron needed a break down of population statistics in the Philadelphia area and by having the article brought to my attention by having the alert clipped and filed, I was able to provide him with that information.

Another library alerted us that the civil service exam for postal workers was going to be given in our area and we were able to reserve our study guides and purchase more copies to meet the demand. Recently a famous historical landmark was to be relocated to another area of the township. The King of Prussia Inn, which dates back to the American Revolution, received a great deal of attention because of the move. We anticipated that the public would like to witness this event so we had information from the newspaper giving all the particulars of the move. The staff kept each other informed about the progress of the move.

We have assignment alert forms that teachers in the local schools send to us. These let us know that a certain class or classes are going to be studying a certain topic. The most recent one was Native American Indians. In order to prevent the first students from checking out all available materials, we set some aside for Reference Use Only. Then we will be assured of having something for the stragglers that come in on the last day. The Assignment Alert forms also alert the staff that there will be a lot of requests for a particular topic.

We send homework alert emails to ref staff with suggestions of resources that will work, especially if the answers or resources are difficult to locate. It saves time and effort and avoids duplication.

On numerous occasions, I have been able to answer a question by going into my electronic file of useful websites. So, a combination of remembering somebody sent out an email about historical stock quotes on the Internet and having saved that email to a folder, allow me to answer the question.

Our staff has had inquiries regarding filtering which we answered using information from our listserv and discussion at staff meetings.

This is most relevant with class assignments. When a reference librarian becomes aware of a class assignment, he/she tries to leave print and websites for the other staff to have at the ready. For instance, civil rights court cases.

A patron wanted a certain CD-ROM that had just been announced via email as being unavailable any longer through our library, so we didn't waste any time trying to find it.

Conejo Valley Days is an example of a major local event in our area with lots of activities associated with it. Information provided from different sources that are kept at the reference desk, helps to answer many questions asked by the patrons either in person or through phone calls.

Changes in US Presidential Cabinet are listed in the bi-weekly newsletter. A patron needed current cabinet secretaries' names for a citizenship test.

This is invaluable to us, however it is how we use these tools that determines our ability to answer the question. Simply put, knowing what is available makes it easier for us to point our visitors to sources that will be of most use to them. It is up to us, however, to familiarize ourselves with these new sources otherwise it's pretty useless. An example is that we recently acquired a set of chronologies that go through all of time highlighting great happenings in various areas of interest (technology, war, science, arts, etc.) Children and teens have tons of assignments every year that would benefit from this set. It is, however, very important to sort through these books to figure out how they are arranged so that we can make the best use out of them. For example, a student comes in needing to find out about technological advances that happened in the 1960s. Well, I need to know where to find that in the book and I would have never known if I hadn't sat down with that set awhile to figure out just how they were arranged.

We had a question about where to find a professional appraiser for a painting owned by the patron. We had just received a new reference book on professional appraisers throughout the United States, and we were able to provide her with several contacts.

Yes, especially with local topics, such as restructuring, water quality reports and voters lists.

When a staff member learned that a local employer was administering a certain kind of employment test to prospective employees, that staff member shared the information in a reference meeting, and also shared the website that gave more information about the test. The staff member shared with us her verification that there is no published test or study guide for this test. This helped the staff because we did continue to receive requests asking us for any information about the particular test.

A staff member had found a website rating contractors and notified the rest of the staff. A while later, a patron needed ratings for contractors and we knew where to look.

With the presidential election, we've had many people asking about election information and polling places. I can refer them to the information in our reference notebook.

Patrons are always interested in certain authors' next books. Reading reviews and catalogs enables us to be on top of things.

Many times people just simply want to know a date and time for a specific event. Flyers and postings help enormously. We have a county health nurse that uses our facility on a monthly basis for blood pressure checks, shots, etc. People want to know when she might give flu shots or if there is a cholesterol screening. Being able to answer to answer simple things like these means so much to them.

During the election, the local paper printed a list of polling places throughout the city. The first librarian who needed the list copied it for the others and left it at the reference desk. A question was asked about historical weather. It was solved using a website, which was mentioned on a government listserv and shared with the rest of us through the reference email group.

Through a monthly listing of new books and other material the staff is aware of new sources and new editions of old sources. Staff meetings and email provide a discussion of new sources and how to use them.

We try to get out an FAQ to answer the issue. When items dealing with filtering in particular hit the news, we made certain that the entire staff had reread our policy and knew what our stance was.

Sharing information on a local election at a staff meeting allowed all staff (some of whom did not live in the community) to have a clear understanding of the issues and enable them to direct patrons to the information resources.

Some very good film reference works were discussed at a quarterly library reference meeting. After seeing them, I added them to the collection and they proved useful to patrons, particularly one heavily illustrated work showing movie posters.

Questions regarding local or regional events have been answered this way.

It helps a great deal knowing that an issue will be discussed at an upcoming council meeting, for example, so I can think about where information about the issue would be located.

It was a great help when Dr. Laura threatened to have parents picket the library a few months ago. We felt prepared.

One of our branch librarians sent a SOS asking for the new book about the "only American woman beheaded by Nazis." The author of the book had recently spoken in Madison and several staff members were able to give her the author and title and how many copies we'd ordered.

I can't think of any particular reference question that was answered by these. The sources have helped us carry on conversations with patrons.

As soon as we tell each other about something, nobody asks about it.

We've been getting questions this week on The Great Awakening and so now we have notes at the desk advising us, with reference books and websites. We've also done this for science fair topics and history projects.

By being informed, staff can more readily answer questions and not look foolish by appearing ignorant. This includes library programs, policies, procedures and special events.

I get questions about events going on in the community and I refer to the information that was either announced at a staff meeting or distributed through memo form.

When we alert each other of homework assignments, it is a big help. I will include names of specific books to look in and this really cuts down on staff having to look in books you've found don't work and they can usually go right to sources of information.

Frequently the city has bond issues during the elections. When there are particular bond issues that will effect the library service it is helpful to have this information available when answering patron questions.

Sending a current affairs email to others doesn't seem to work for this group. Several don't/won't/can't check their email, and when they do, they don't keep track of it. Very frustrating.

Yes, usually it is something related to statistics or business questions.

Mostly in terms of clarifying policy or procedural changes that effect either/or staff and the public.

Customers want to know election results or even be confident that the information we have is as accurate and current as possible.

All periodicals routed to me are helpful in answering reference questions.

With the US election debacle happening, some students require current information for their reports and what better place, but the newspaper.

While discussing upcoming Canadian elections and looking at our web site information we had a customer who wanted to know about the candidates in his riding and were able to locate all the information he required in very few minutes.

Yes, because it eliminates different staff searching for the same answer. Sharing also encourages staff members to look for information to share with others.

It helps to keep us informed of school projects and famous deaths, etc.

Something as simple as when will the next United Way drive occur can be answered because our in-house newsletter has mentioned that we will be receiving our packets with our next checks.

When Gale changed their databases from the old Contemporary Authors to an expanded Literature Resource Center, an email was circulated explaining not only the name change but the expansion in information offerings. Once a month a small committee of librarians and librarian assistants review prospective websites for consideration for inclusion on our webpage. Each month those websites, which make the cut, are listed with a brief description that is circulated to all staff by email. One such link that made it was Plantcare.com, which I read about in the email. A few days later, a patron wanted some plant information and I was not having any luck with the books in the library, so I got the email, copied the URL and the website not only answered her question but held her attention for over thirty minutes.

Income tax sites for both federal and state taxes on the Internet have been very useful. We regularly use sites to track down local information. Example: the state board of education posts proficiency test results by school district on the Internet.

Often the things that staff let each other know about are Oprah books, deadlines to register to vote, a phone number to call for help with utilities in winter, etc., which often are used to answer reference questions.

Yes, materials routed by the Foundations Librarian have been used to answer patrons' questions about foundation or grant information, for example, how to find financial information on foundations using the web.

Many examples from people looking for social topics in info-web to those looking for tax forms from the IRS site.

Yes. In the previous mentioned example, the staff became aware of the local agencies that provide oversight to the process of managing hazardous waste dumps. A patron asking later about hazardous waste being dumped into a stream was guided to the law and agencies that deal with that issue.

We're in a tourist town, so knowing what is happening helps us direct patrons to where particular events are happening, especially historical sites and their celebrations.

I just recently subscribed to the service, and have found it more entertaining than useful. However I have bookmarked a number of the sites they provide in anticipation of using them.

The director and her assistant talk about answering reference questions and how the many ways and approaches to answering them can be obtained.

One great workshop - The Internet: The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent - demonstrated that all information on the Internet is not necessarily reliable.

Patron inquired about cost of living in Houston vs. Chicago. We had recently talked about site http://www.homefair.com/ on Internet, which gave this information.

We had to stay up on policies here in Michigan. A bill was just passed Oct. 1 in Michigan. We have to filter one Internet computer for minors under 18 years of age. We updated our Internet Access Policy and filtered one computer.

The youth department e-mailed me to tell me that the schools had made an assignment on local history. My staff pulled the appropriate books, made extra copies of some of the material for student checkout. We reserved the books on local history so that our circulating copies could not be checked out, only used in-house. We were therefore able to help over 80 students locate the information on early Hartland.

In keeping up with local issues, my Friends group and board bring articles and information on meetings to me. I process this data in the best manner and make sure patrons and governmental officials know where to find both sides of the issue.

We had copies of the League of Women voter guides at our reference desk. Staff could more easily assist patrons in finding information about local issues because the guides were handy and they had a chance to peruse them and become familiar with local ballot proposals. This was especially helpful for staffers who do not live in the community and would therefore have little knowledge of local issues.

We are always helping each other in reference sources for class assignments. A lot of time we leave this stuff near front desk once it is found so we don't have to keep pulling it.

I cannot remember any specific instance. Most of the current awareness notices I receive are of a general nature and are more often than not a reiteration of what I already know. A large part of my current awareness comes from attending conferences and workshops.

In November and December, elementary teachers frequently assign each student a specific country to write a report on their holiday traditions - "Christmas Around the World". We gather helpful materials and put them on a "reference" cart. A notice is posted on the bulletin board to let staff members know that the materials are on the cart instead of in the normally shelved places.

I cannot remember a specific example, but it seems when a patron comes in with a current events question, one of us librarians often asks the other, "Didn't you just tell me you saw something about ... ? That comment often leads to a discussion that answers the patron's question.

The bulletin boards and newsletters have confirmed dates, times and locations of local events for patrons with questions. We also keep listings of best sellers and these lists have been beneficial to patrons who don't know full bibliographic information.

Our workshop on WORD processing was very helpful and many patrons do not have those skills. Such as how do you cut and paste from the Internet.

An important issue here now is whether or not to dualize the local highway. Our assistant administrator has emailed us about it and we have had information available in the library and meetings scheduled in our meeting room.

The question related to recently discovered side effects of a particular medication. By having read material about a certain database as well as attending a workshop, I was able to locate current information for the patron.

We had a question about e-books a new service we plan on starting after the first of the year. I was able to answer the patron from info I received at a staff meeting and a handout.

The staff meetings are full of need-to-know current events. If we can't answer it, we call other branches.

I was able to find the Louvre information and tide tables for a patron using a web site which the library system alerted me to.

By keeping us aware of what material is available to search in.

When the annual high school assignment on immigration comes up (or the perennial project on the chemical elements) we flag sources and pass the work (especially at shift changes) on search strategies.

No, because it only applies to policies, in-house, not with reference questions.

At a reference staff meeting, talking about the new PA Data Center Census CDs helped me assist a patron in finding the area of growth he was looking for in business development.

The above newsletter provided me with a list of genealogy texts and web sites that I use daily when confronted with those questions. Reference librarians share their favorite web sites and print materials that cover the general trends in our area. (As you stated health, law, local problems, genealogy, business questions).

I provided precinct and polling place information in the log. Most of our part-timers don't live here and needed directions to the polling places. Patrons were actually calling us from car phones to find out where to vote. They usually don't know what precinct they live in to boot.

Since we don't have a formal program in place I am rather short on examples but one does pop into my mind. There is a weekly supplement in the Boston Sunday Globe for the south suburbs and in that section a couple of weeks ago they featured a story on the revitalization of our local downtown. There was a passing mention of a new restaurant that is expected to open in early 2001. A patron was in a few days later asking if we knew what the new restaurant was going to be like and what its name was going to be. Because I had clipped that article and hung it in the staff room someone at the circulation desk was able to answer that patron's question because they had read my posted clipping.

We have a relatively new circulation system. Various staff members attend meetings on our different databases and someone had recently attended a workshop on this new circulation system. She e-mailed us all about a new feature that we could use on the system - the patron's phone number was now a searchable field. This was very handy when I took a request from a patron over the phone and later could not locate their name by the spelling (I misspelled the name). I found it by the phone number. Very useful piece of information to know!

We gained access to an online health index. By taking the time to work with each staff member and having them do a mock search, greatly enhanced the ability to help patrons seeking health topics information, especially, for our high school students researching health issues for reports.

Mostly, the "current awareness" methods we use acquaint us with tools and resources such as web sites and databases. For example, when reading one of our regional newsletters I was made aware of a legal site especially for Massachusetts residents and used this site to help someone find a state code.

In the reference area we get questions by students who end up being a class of 20-40 and they all need the same books, etc. If we alert the staff at a meeting this is happening, then we are able to limit the amount of items checked out so that we have materials for everyone. If we have a difficult time finding something, we share with all staff where we finally located the answer. Right now students are doing Elizabethan Theatre study and they need so much on that subject and we try to reserve those items so that there are plenty available.

A patron comes into the library and wants to know where to vote. Recently one of our polling sites changed and there have been more questions concerning this issue.

An example would be the listing of the official Halloween times in each of the cities in our area cut from the paper.

We were having a few problems with some staff and volunteers giving out wrong information. Regarding online services; that was resolved at a staff meeting. Through a memo I have made staff aware of some online services that are new.

No particular question comes to mind. The staff meetings have been helpful in preparing materials for upcoming school assignments.

I learned about US Census Site. Was able to refer patron to business category info that they wanted.

A notice was posted about hospice care and when we received a question from a patron, we were able to refer them back to the message for a phone number/contact person.

Just sharing teacher mass-assignments as they occur helps relieve tension and provides better service to our users. We also forward e-mail messages to each other on things "hot" both in reference work and in our other professional roles. It is always nice to get a heads up in a timely fashion. Communication is vital and it cannot always be one way (such as me, the boss, to "them", the staff).

A local college assigned students a difficult assignment and intelligence tests, although no libraries had print sources to help. I identified a Web site that gave summaries of each test and posted emails to inform reference staff. Colleagues later expressed appreciation for the information, which was helpful to several students.

The four of us who exclusively work in the reference department are easily able to share information but the other professional librarians who fill in when I'm not here are often In the dark about new materials that I've purchased or new developments with databases that we use. Letting them know what projects the local school students are working on saves them time because they can look for materials ahead of time. Many projects such as the North Carolina Project are assigned each year and we have standard sources that we use to help our patrons. Letting the extended staff know that questions will be asked about famous North Carolinians, state symbols, etc. gives them the opportunity to plan for their workday by gathering books and files ahead of time.

Just being made aware of a particular web site can often help answer questions on popular topics, e.g. Elections stats.

We have had many inquiries concerning early voting and fortunately were told where to go and how to do it through our county email.

No specific instances come to mind but the fact that I see what our new books and resources are that I did not personally order myself helps increase my awareness of what information we have available in print form and this increase my efficiency and reliability towards serving patron informational needs. I particularly pay attention to new resources outside my fields of expertise or interest since this being my weak point it is an area I need to pay more attention to in order to provide better service.

Every year, I will update a list of our national, state and local governmental officials and hand it out at department head meetings. We get several requests each month for addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses for our legislators. This list gives us a quick reference took that we can use to answer this common question.

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