Government Documents Research

by Moya K. Mason

Abbott-Hoduski, Bernadine E. "Democracy in America is Best Served by a Multi-format Federal Depository Library Program." Journal of Government Information 23, No. 3 (1996): 241-252.

If democracy is dependent upon the government providing equitable, free, and easy access to its information resources, then the Federal Depository Library Program must be considered an integral component of the government's dissemination machine. Since 1895, the FDLP has had depository libraries act as its conduit for providing access to information from all three branches of the government to the public, and as educators of the populace. The basic principles of the FDLP are as follows: 1.) libraries have volunteered to become depositories and to provide the public with free access to government information, 2.) they can select the information they want in a particular format, 3.) federal agencies decide which format to offer their publications in, with input from libraries, staff, and primary clientele, 4.) regional depositories are committed to the provision of long-term access and archiving of selected materials, 5.) Congress oversees and funds the program.

Problems that libraries must face:

1.) Representative Charlie Rose and Senator Wendell Ford made electronic information part of the FDLP through the GPO Access Act, making it free to depository libraries, but now that Congress is has stipulated that all government information will be in electronic format, what will libraries do? Will they sit calmly by and accept the extra costs involved with dissemination in electronic format only, and give up acid-free paper copies and microfiche? Will they continue to fight for multiple formats? Through the years, access to multiple formats has dwindled away for certain publications such as congressional bills which since the 1980s have been in microfiche only, as has the "Foreign Relations of the United States", along with many others. Still other publications such as the "Monthly Catalog of U.S. Government Publications" have been issued on CD-ROM, but libraries must choose either the paper or the CD-ROM product and cannot have both. This is problematic because the electronic version has eliminated subject, author, and title indexes, and the paper version has been greatly reduced in size, thus demanding that both be used in conjunction with the other. Although the depository program asked that microform and electronic formats be included in the system to access fugitive documents, they never saw them as replacements for print publications.

2.) Congressional efforts to control costs have meant limiting the public's access to paper publications, driving up the price of paper copies, and created more demands to reduce paper publications: a vicious circle. As printing was reduced and staff reduced from 8000 in 1976 to 4000 in 1995, Congress continued to battle for cuts to publications in paper. If Congress is successful in eliminating all paper products, the costs will shift to depository libraries, which may then begin to charge users with printing costs to recoup some of the money. And these libraries are essentially local and state libraries which have taken on the task of disseminating federal government information, so is it fair that local and state governments pay for the shortfalls? A report released in 1988 estimated that libraries spend ten dollars to provide access to government information for every dollar spent by the federal government on depository appropriations. Congress has also used the FDLP as a means to force federal agencies to publish in electronic format. They have done this by cutting the Superintendent of Documents Salaries and Expenses funds by half, requiring that the cuts could be made up by forcing federal agencies to pay for the production of their paper and microfiche publications themselves to distribute to the depository system. Congress did not care if the printing process bypassed the GPO, and stated that the dissemination of electronic information would be funded by the GPO if disseminated to the libraries in the program. They said that electronic information would be cost effective, promote resource sharing, and save space in libraries. However, agencies have their own financial woes to struggle under, and are not budgeting for publications to be sent to the depository program. What this means is that libraries can forget about paper copies, since agencies do everything they can to circumvent the FDLP.

3.) Electronic Information as the sole format: problems with only electronic distribution: 1.) The long-honoured principal of providing a client with information in the format they want it in. For example, if important health or education information for the public is being disseminated, then colourful illustrated paper publications are in order; hikers will need maps; while statisticians may want electronic formats. Format should depend upon the user group involved like it always has. If government is advocating that they know more about what the public wants, one must ask the basis for this assumption. More likely, Congress does not care about whether the information can be used or not, it simply wants to save money. 2.) What happens when the electricity goes out? Computers crash and the Internet doesn't work. This creates real problems for certain kinds of government information. For example, agricultural statistics are available for only a day, a week, or a month. Is there a preservation component built into the system? The GPO Access Act directs GPO to provide storage for electronic information, but if they don't get the information, they cannot archive it. 3.) There is also the consideration that since electronic data has not been in existence for a long time, there is no knowledge concerning its lifespan. And there have been cases when documents have been written over to save money at GPO.

4.) Data quality and authenticity of government information on CD-ROMs and online.

5.) The most important reason against a hundred percent electronic universe for government information is that it prevents many users from having access to important government information. From lack of technological finesse, lack of money to buy the necessary equipment, to lack of training, there are many reasons why individuals will be prevented from having access. Furthermore, many depository libraries do not have the needed equipment, the infrastructure, nor enough trained staff to facilitate the transition to electronic government information.

Adler, Prudence S. "Federal Information Dissemination Policies and Practices: One Perspective on Managing the Transition." Journal of Government Information 23, No. 4 (1996): 435-441.

Information providers, including libraries, are going through rapid change due to budget pressures and an onslaught of new information technologies, technologies which are changing the way the public gets their information needs met. For example, in 1995, the U.S. Bureau of Census got 60 000 'hits per day' on their website; GPO Access provides no-fee access to the "Federal Register", congressional bills, and the "Congressional Record"; and the Library of Congress began THOMAS, a service that allows access to congressional information, a site that gets roughly 78 000 hits per day.

Factors contributing to changes in the way government disseminates information: 1.) the existence of information technologies, and their growing use in federal agencies, as well as by users who like the convenience that home access brings them. 2.) The need to downsize and reduce government spending has moved government towards electronic information to save money. The only problem seems to be that the costs will be transferred to the public and to institutions such as libraries. 3.) Al Gore has called for major changes in the structure of government, and in particular, downsizing, and decentralization of procurement and printing, coupled with electronic information. 4.) Clinton Administration Initiatives: revision of OMB Circular A-130 and the 1993 Information Infrastructure Task Force Report have increased the access to government information through the use of the Internet, and by shifting the responsibility for agency information onto the agencies themselves, thus decentralizing government information. 5.) Congressional Initiatives: as the 104th Congress came to a close, legislation was introduced that called for federal information dissemination programs to be restructured. As well, the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 was passed in both houses. 6.) Library Community Initiatives: libraries around the country have begun a series of meetings, pilot projects, and experiments in providing access to government information. Information flowing out of the Dupont Circle Group (April 26, 1993), and the Chicago Conference on the Future of Federal Governmental Information (October 29-31, 1993) identified some important points to consider: 1.) If FDLP is going to survive, there needs to be an effective framework from which information can be accessed. 2.) Cooperation is needed between government and libraries. 3.) New dissemination programs require interim measures. 4.) The desire to keep no-fee access for the public.

Many collaborate projects are weighing dissemination strategies, and include: 1.) The U.S. Agricultural Information Network is interested in preserving and providing access to pre-1950 core agricultural historical literature. 2.) The Agricultural Network Information Center is a source of electronic agricultural information, and designed to provide access to academics, subject specialists, government researchers, agribusiness, and the public, to name a few. It uses a system of international agricultural databases, and has a mediated reference service and a directory of nonbibliographic databases. 3.) The Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) is a consortium of twelve major research and teaching universities, which is exploring three areas: Digitizing printed government information; network access to Geographic Information Systems data; and how to provide network access to government information on CD-ROMs and tape files.

Aldrich, Duncan M. "Depository Libraries, the Internet, and the 21st Century." Journal of Government Information 23, No. 4 (1996): 381-391.

In 1995, both the United States Bureau of the Census and the Bureau of the Census issued notices stating that many of their information products would no longer be released in print or microfiche formats, and instead, they would be available on the Internet in order to provide greater access. These announcements reflect the new ideology that the federal government has in regards to the dissemination of information which will allow it to cut costs. "Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called for an electronic democracy that would provide for immediate access to all federal legislation via the Internet"(p. 382). Prior to using the Internet for dissemination, the government sent all its information to the GPO which distributed it to the federal depository library program for public access. Chapter 19 of Title 44 of the United States Code stipulates that all federal government agencies use the services of GPO as printer for their microfiche and print publications, and requires that GPO act as a distributor of that information to depository libraries, which in turn provide the information to the public. The policy statement also requires that roughly every state have a regional depository library to store the documents forever. What will happen to the system as more and more government information is solely in electronic format?

Aldrich calls the new model "the Internet e-mail order model" (p. 382), whose main characteristic is "direct distribution of federal information resources from producing agency to end user"(p. 383). Federal agencies post their information onto homepages, bypassing the GPO altogether, and seemingly, they can do so legally due to a grey area in 44 USC 1901, saying that it never included electronic information. Therefore, the FLP is cut from the middle of the equation, so where is it left? Four basic functions of federal depository libraries must be examined: 1.) If information is all electronic, will there even be a need for the program? Yes, since the public will still need geographically dispersed depositories to access archival materials, as well as new materials issued in CD-ROM format, microform, and perhaps even paper. The other reason is that not everyone has access to computer technology at home or in their offices; most people do not and will not anytime soon. Internet access is another problem. 2.) If documents are electronic, will regional depositories be needed for archiving? There will still need to be places to store the traditional forms of government information and new materials such as CD-ROM products. Of course, there is no expectation that all the electronic information will be downloaded, printed, and stored, as well as redundant if all fifty regional libraries were to be archival sites. It is more likely that the National Archives will set up programs to do so, and have the capabilities to provide access to the public through existing depositories. Currently, it is not known if agencies are archiving the information they put onto their websites. 3.) Will depositories need to exist to promote access at no charge? That is very up in the air, especially since federal agencies have been mandated to recover the costs of distributing information, and as a result, many federal websites and bulletin boards are not free. Examples include the Department of Commerce's Stat-USA or FedWorld sites. And although many other agencies offer free access to their homepages, one has to wonder how long that will likely continue as the novelty wears off. Still others, charge individual users, but provide one or two passwords free to depository libraries. If this continues, depository libraries will be integral components for the dissemination of government information, but if not, any library can access the information, making depositories unnecessary. 4.) Will users need assistance from reference librarians and value-added services? The question that could be asked is will users know which site to visit for particular information? (see note #1) Users are not always knowledgeable about where to look for information and can waste a lot of time searching websites. Patrons have always had problems looking for information in government print sources, so why will that change? At the very least depository librarians can offer expertise in searching and retrieving, as well as data management issues and bibliographic tools. Someone will have to train users to navigate the Internet, databases, and even GILS, which can get most individuals close to where they want to go, but assistance is required for novices at present. (My question is, if depository libraries fade away into the sunset, will government continue its no-fee access to information?

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

1. And that is where knowing the structure and organization of government comes into play. How many people are familiar with it?

Aluri, Rao. "Improving Reference Service: The Case for Using a Continuous Quality Improvement Method." RQ 33, No. 2 (Winter 1993): 220-236.

Note: This is undoubtedly one of the most important articles you will read. It has great depths of insight, and you should strongly embrace and reinforce the ideas herein if you want to be a hero for librarianship.

Improving reference service should naturally flow out of reference evaluation, however, many libraries have used a variety of evaluative techniques to benchmark their facility, without ever taking the next step. Aluri believes that successful improvement of reference service must integrate a systems perspective, have a view to the long term, and include a win-win ideology. He also believes that a number of variables affect any simple reference transaction, including:

  1. The physical environment of the reference area, such as distance between desk and collection.
  2. Communication: how members of management, technical services, support staff, and reference librarians communicate, affects the reference process.
  3. The reference collection: its depth and accessibility.
  4. The reference librarian: the level of education, subject specialty, experience, competence, willingness, and enthusiasm, among other components, do affect how well a reference transaction will take place.
  5. The totality of demands on a reference librarian, which can include substantial involvement in research, BI, outreach programs, professional development, and faculty liaison.
  6. The level of library technology and access or lack of access to online databases and networks.
  7. The quality and extent of library technology.
  8. Staffing resources.
  9. Expectations of management.
  10. Library and management policies.
  11. Practices and philosophies of reference service that are in place.

Before any improvements can be made to the quality of reference service, it must be realized that "[w]hat was missing from these discussions was a systems view of the reference process, and the recognition that library managers, who have management responsibility for the reference system, are equally, if not more, accountable for the quality of the reference process" (p. 221).

As much as it can be acknowledged that many evaluations of reference service are/were carried out by outsiders to the system (including consultants, doctoral students, and faculty researchers), and these offered but a snapshot or episodic picture of the quality of reference service on a particular day, it must also be pointed out that for reference service to be improved, the process must be initiated by those who are directly involved and can be achieved only through continuous effort and support of the participants. There is also a problem with the mentality of blame: all over the world, it is always the workers who are blamed for problems and shortcomings in service, instead a using a systems perspective to review shortcomings. Isn't it true that when accuracy rates for reference transactions hover near 50%, only the front-line librarians are found to be at fault? One must review the system to find the components that result in poor quality service. Why not start at the top with library administration?

"Library administrators hold primary responsibility for the system. It is management's policies and procedures, its departmental organizations, its rewards and punishment systems, and its three-pronged performance evaluation in academic libraries (library service, community service, and research) under which reference librarians labor" (p. 224). Is it fair then, to lay all the blame on reference librarians and punish them, especially when administration often takes the best of them off the desk to do committee work and special projects, refuse to provide the funds for training, continuing education, while they push for publication? Especially when lengthy interview procedures and examination of resumes help managers to hire the cream of the crop in the first place?

Of course, none of these realities absolves reference librarians of their inherent responsibility of giving the best service possible, however, unless a healthy environment is provided, what can one expect? What needs to be done is for both managers and librarians to collect data on a long-term basis, and begin to identify the root causes behind the problems, so as to eliminate them through a complete systems review of the reference process.

What can be done to improve reference service?

  1. Identification of key measures for the qualitative measuring of reference service. Key measures are such things as timeliness, accuracy, quantities, comprehension, and responsiveness. Monitoring will reflect the degree of reference quality.
  2. Collection of data on a long-term basis, using checklists.
  3. The use of control charts to plot the data.
  4. Control chart interpretation.
  5. Isolation of key problems using Pareto charts.
  6. The identification of root causes by employing 'cause and effect' diagrams.

The improvement of reference service is a long-term process that requires the use of quality improvement tools (including control and Pareto charts, brainstorming sessions, and 'cause and effect' diagrams), cooperation across the board, teamwork, and a systems view of the process.

Andrews, Judy, and Lucy Duhon. "GILS, Government Information Locator Service: Blending Old and New to Access U.S. Governmental Information." The Serials Librarian 31, No. 1/2 (1997): 327-333.

1. The United States depository library system is made up of 1400 libraries. Their mandate is and has always been to provide the public with access to federal government information, and to keep it stored. In 1994, there were 101.8 million government documents distributed by the GPO, ranging from short pamphlets to those hundreds of pages in length. As the federal government is now using the Internet and electronic publishing to disseminate its information, there is a great need to organize it. One of the strategies has been the development of the Government Information Locator Service (GILS), which has come out of the work done in large part by Charles McClure, of Syracuse University. Using studies that looked at how the public accesses and uses government information, conducted by McClure, Ryan, and Moen, and their report called "Identifying and Describing Federal Information Inventory/Locator Systems: Design for Network-based Locators", (see note #1) they designed a network-based locator for government information, and initiated the legislation to put it into operation. The initial idea for GILS was a result of a model for the United States Geological Survey developed by Eliot Christian.

2. An excerpt from the important document written by Clinton and Gore in 1993:

"Every year the federal government spends billions of dollars collecting and processing information...while much of this information is very valuable, many potential users either do not know it exists, or do not know how to access it. We are committed to using new computer and network technology to make this information more accessible to the taxpayers who paid for it....federal information is [to be] made available at a fair price to as many users as possible while encouraging growth of the information" (p. 329). (see note #2)

3. In 1993, P.L. 103-40, a public law, established that the GPO would be the means by which federal government electronic information would be accessed by the public by funneling it through the depository library program, capping a battle which had been fought since the Reagan administration. It also mandated that electronic format would be the means of storing federal government publications.

4. At the same time, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), published Circular A-130, "Management of Federal Information Resources", which encouraged federal government agencies to provide the public with access to their publications, regardless of format. There are 108 major federal government agencies in the United States, which have the expertise to organize, disseminate, and set fees for the information they produce, and that is why a policy of decentralization is necessary; individual agencies will be the ones able to provide the most accurate information available about their departments. In addition, it called for the use of finding aids, such as catalogs and directories to enhance access, stipulating that fees would not exceed the cost of dissemination.

5. In September, 1993, the National Information Infrastructure Task Force released a document entitled "Agenda for Action", with the provision for public access to government information being one of its objectives. It also suggested that there be a 'virtual card catalog' set up to indicate whether or not certain information was available.

6. All of these steps laid the groundwork for the implementation of GILS.

7. OMB Bulletin 95-01, a furtherance of Circular A-130, described the functions of GILS as: 1.) an identifier of federal government publications, 2.) to provide descriptions of available information, 3.) assist users in accessing the information they want, 4.) help to improve the management practices of federal government agencies in relation to electronic information, 5.) the basis of GILS' structure will be decentralized agency-based locator records, which use easily available technological products that will enable the information to be stored and retrieved through a multitude of sites and ways, 6.) Internet access should be free, but particularly for depository libraries.

8. There are still many issues to consider concerning GILS, including whether it should be tied to the Z39.50 standard. Although the model calls for decentralization, doesn't there need to be some sort of standard applied? And what about the problem of archiving? Who should control GILS ? The White House and Congress have come to no agreement.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

1. McClure, Charles R., Joe Ryan, and William E. Moen. "Identifying and Describing Federal Information Inventory/Locator Systems: Design for Network-based Locators", 2 vols. (Bethesda, MD: National Audio Visual Center, 1992).

2. Clinton, William J., and Albert Gore, Jr. "Technology for America's Strength: A New Direction to Build Economic Strength." (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, February 1993).

Andrews, William J. "Nurturing the Global Information Commons: Public Access, Public Infrastructure." Government Information in Canada/Information gouvernementale au Canada 2, No. 3.1 (1996). Available:

Andrews points out that although 'Electronic Highway' and 'Information Highway' are used interchangeably by many people, they are two very distinct terms. 'Electronic Highway' is actually the software and hardware infrastructure that enables communications to take place and is built with the help of engineers and information technologists, while 'Information Highway' is the actual communication that takes place. These distinctions are quite important when considering public infrastructure and access: public access to 'Electronic Highway' encompasses such things as whether to use cable or telephone lines for connectivity, wires, and fibre optic cables, while public infrastructure of the 'Electronic Highway' refers to who pays for it and who owns the wires that make up the structure. While this whole area of controversy is very important to consider and focus on, the thrust of Andrews' paper is with three key issues affecting the Information Highway, namely:

  1. how pricing of electronic government information will be established.
  2. how the government will use the Information Highway.
  3. how the public will use the Information Highway in regards to government matters.

Pricing of Government Information: public service or corporate asset?

"Computerization greatly facilitates the commodification of information. Once information is in electronic form it is relatively easy (i.e. cheap) to package it and to distribute it. Also, it is easier to make it useful (i.e. valuable) to a much wider array of potential users (i.e. customers) than the users for whom information was originally created" (p. 2). With the reduction of government budgets in all Western governments, and the pressures to recover some of the revenues used to collect and disseminate government information, there is a trend towards the commodification of information because information is a valuable resource. The problem with that mentality is 1.) there is typically an overestimation of the actual profits that can be commanded from the sale of government information, and a correlating underestimate of what it actually costs government departments to do business in the information world. The overestimation comes from including revenues they obtain from selling information between departments, which is often overlooked. 2.) since the governmental agencies are in fact monopolistic suppliers of information, they will increasingly take advantage of this position as time goes by, and eventually will have to come under a regulatory board so that prices do not hinder the democratic process of universal rights to access of information. 3.) computerized government information is sold using the system of high-price, low-volume, meaning that information does not have to be marketed beyond a very visible circle of 'must-purchase' clients. In reality, this approach does not allow non-commercial users to purchase information, and leaves little room for an expansion of sales. The example used by the author is the $600.00 the British Columbia government charges for a file of digital maps, covering no more area than its $10.00 paper maps. This literally excludes groups such as educators, students, individuals, and environmental groups from having access to the information, leaving it solely for logging and mining companies, or other governmental agencies. 4.) "This raises the fourth problem with the sale of computerized government information, which is the fundamental public policy question of whether the distribution of government information should be treated as a source of revenue or as a public service" (p. 3). The Information Advisory Council's Final Report sees a business approach being the best one for the information highway, although not necessarily for the government to act as a model for this approach, which can be seen in the free access they have provided for many federal statutes and regulations available full-text on the Internet.

Government's Use of the Information Highway: there have been several positive steps in this direction, including the fact that the federal and provincial governments have Internet sites, which contain great amounts of serious information besides tourist-oriented materials.

Use of the Internet in Relations to Government: the public is beginning to use the Internet in ways that relate to government matters. Some examples are: grassroots environmental Internet sites; British Columbians using the Internet to allow the world knowledge of their views of the Gustafson Lake occupation; and major newspapers posting sites on issues such as the Quebec referendum. It is all about building a community of users.

Bailey, Bill. "The "55 Percent Rule" Revisited." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 13 (Nov. 1987): 280-283.

The Journal of Academic Librarianship put out a symposium on the accuracy of reference service in its May 1987 issue, which provided the findings of work done by Hernon and McClure and their 55% rule. Reactions from a reference librarian are chronicled here.

  1. Although the research of Hernon and McClure has caused a stir and their 55% rule entrenched in library literature, Bailey believes that it is questionable because of inherent problems associated with unobtrusive testing.
  2. Problems include the use of proxies, whose reported findings were taken as the gospel truth by Hernon and McClure. Bailey has difficulties with this because no two people see the same thing in the same way. As well, he believes that personal biases are hard to overcome, stating that "[t]he crotchety librarian, unfortunately, is an American icon. Finding proxies free of preconceived notions about librarians would be a difficult task" (p. 280). Use of a second observer to verify what the proxies said took place would take care of some of the problems.
  3. Random errors could also attribute to the low accuracy rate of reference service: 1.) For instance, the time the questions were asked has an impact: What if it was during a shift change? Or before lunch? 2.) Were the people who were asked the questions always professional librarians, perhaps some were paraprofessionals. (see note #1) 3.) What if some of the people answering questions were in training? (see note #2) 4.) The fact that library policies might affect the ability of librarians to answer questions to the best of their ability, such as not being allowed to leave the desk for too long.
  4. He also believes that testing people without their knowledge and permission to be a questionable practice, stating "that surreptitious observation eventually will uncover flaws in even a paragon of professionalism. Hernon and McClure could have tailed the brightest reference librarians until they finally gave out wrong answers. None of us can claim to be on top of things at every moment" (p. 281).
  5. The questions used by the researchers tested their ability to answer government documents inquiries, and if their answers were not 100% accurate, they got no credit. If the librarian simply directed the proxy to a suitable source, they got no credit.
  6. The proxies were told to try and get the librarian to do more than direct them. They were to goad them into giving an answer, but in many libraries, a librarian won't give direct assistance of that sort until a patron has at least tried to help themselves. Bailey believes that the proxies should have at least pretended to try, and then come back for more help because most librarians would then be more forthcoming.
  7. How about if a follow-up study had been done the next day when perhaps a less busy, less harried librarian would have answered correctly or could answer an unanswered question from the day before? A second unobtrusive study using deans secretaries or heads of corporations would have been beneficial because the librarians would have been pressured into trying harder and would therefore, not be painted as ignorant. (see note #3)
  8. Because Hernon and McClure stated that any amount of time under five minutes was too short a time for librarians to spend with a given patron, it has precipitated the belief that librarians have an internal clock ticking away and that it is a deficit to good librarianship. Bailey disputes this by saying the best librarians need only a very short time to comprehend and answer a question, and the longer they take, the less likely that the outcome will be accurate.
  9. The indexing of government documents is certainly not thorough, and finding information can be quite frustrating for the librarian.
  10. The test questions were not reflective of those usually asked by patrons.
  11. By using questionable test methods and then extrapolated the results to paint a picture of all librarians is unfair, as is the research becoming a rule in the literature.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. That could be true, but when librarians do not want to wear name tags to identify themselves as a professional, it is hard to tell. Don't they want to be responsible for the answers they give? And if library administrators are allowing large numbers of students and paraprofessionals on the desk, then they will have to take responsibility for that decision. If they want their librarians doing so many other tasks that keep them off the desk, they will have to take responsibility.
  2. Shouldn't they then be wearing a tag which says they are in training? Even McDonalds and Wal-Mart does that to inform their customers.
  3. Shouldn't students or the regular Joe off the street be treated with the same amount of respect and be provided with the same effort that dean's secretaries and business people get?

Birbeck, Vaughan P., and Kenneth A. Whittaker. "Room for Improvement: An Unobtrusive Testing of British Public Library Reference Service." Public Library Journal 2, No. 4 (July/August 1987): 55-60.

This study covered "twenty-four English public service points" (p. 55), and used unobtrusive methods to determine the quality of reference service offered over the telephone. It was the first time unobtrusive testing was used to evaluate British libraries in a full scale survey. Reasons for the study were three-fold: 1.) With the financial restraints and cutbacks evident in libraries, it is increasingly necessary for evaluation of services. 2.) Since answering questions is at the heart of librarianship, this aspect must be evaluated. 3.) Traditionally, reference work has been evaluated on the basis of quantitative methods, but how many questions reference librarians answer cannot reflect the quality of the answers given to patrons. As s result, qualitative methods of evaluation must be used. This was chosen over obtrusive evaluation because "Their results are, in fact, likely to be typical of the quality of the answers being given by a library's staff to its enquirers" (p. 56).

The findings were comparable to previous studies carried out in the U. S. and were: 1.) 47% for wholly correct 2.) 9% for partially correct 3.) 17% for wholly incorrect 4.) 27% were referred 5.) "only a fifth of them resulted in an incorrect answer being given" (p. 56) (see note #1) 6.) The mean time for answering the questions was 5.5 minutes. 7.) statistical analysis concluded that the longer a librarian spent answering a question, the higher the accuracy.

The unobtrusive test was supplemented by doing an obtrusive test to see if any differences were found. The results were: 1.) More care was taken by the librarians when answering the questions, and some even wrote them down. 2.) the mean time was 6.3 minutes. 3.) the librarians had a higher accuracy rate when compared to the unobtrusive results. 4.) If librarians know they are being tested, it is virtually impossible for them to perform normally.

Brandon, Peter, and Jens Laursen. "A Discussion Paper on Improving Public Access to Information about Government Services and Sources of Information." Ottawa: Information Management practices, Treasury Board, 1992.

The underlying message of this discussion paper is that Canadians need more access to government information and an increased awareness of the services and programs available to them. "There is evidence that these clients' ability to obtain information about services available and sources of information is limited by the combines effects: of uncoordinated provision of access services; of fragmentation among the sources for such information; of diffused responsibility for providing such information; of the form of presentation of the information, often not adapted to the audience; of inconsistencies among departments in inventorying and providing access to such information" (p. 2). Of course there is Reference Canada and the Guide to Federal Programs and Services, but these are not well-known by the average Canadian because of little promotion by the government. Brandon and Laursen propose that there are ways the government can greatly improve access to government information, particularly through an inventory/locator service (government-wide information and services locator system, or GISL), more promotion of existing tools, and by providing multi-modal access services (available through telephone, electronic formats, and face-to-face mediated service). Face-to-face mediation can be achieved by promoting the services offered by depository libraries in this country. All improvements will require specialized training for the personnel who offer mediation between the public and government information so as to develop a sophisticated and comprehensive system. One of the underlying criticisms the government has to greatly improving access and awareness to information sources lies in the fear that it would substantially increase requests, and overload an already overextended system. However, through utilizing depository libraries, developing neighborhood kiosks, enhancing government outlets, extending hours, and providing better telephone referrals, that should take care of problems associated with the 'fear of success' syndrome.

"An effective GISL system could be established as the single collection point and single source of such information on a government-wide basis. This would reduce the effort, save resources, improve the accuracy of the information available on topics, and reduce the number of data calls on departments. An effective GISL system would require a government-wide thesaurus or controlled vocabulary" (p. 4). Such a system would be beneficial for the following reasons: 1.) the public would be provided with a fairly sophisticated locator and referral system, 2.) offer the capability for 'one-stop-shopping' for government information, and 3.) bring about a reduction of information calls to individual government agencies and departments.

To build and implement such a service, the government would have to work and coordinate with the private-sector and develop a series of guidelines, standards, and a framework, as well as providing access to government information. In addition, success can only be expected if government departments contribute information and begin to show some progress in inventorying their information resources.

Background points to keep in mind:

  1. Society is moving from a traditionally industrial economy to an information age, making time and place obsolete due to computer technologies and telecommunications.
  2. The information sector is the fastest growing sector of society, with information becoming an important and valuable commodity.
  3. The globalization of international markets can be directly attributed to the force of information.
  4. Increasingly, computer literacy is becoming a very important requirement; without such skill, there will be a widening of the gap between the 'haves' and 'have-nots'.
  5. Is government concerned that a knowledgeable pool of citizens will become empowered and more demanding of information and services?
  6. Answers are needed to the following questions: who are users of government information? what kinds of information interests them? how would they prefer to receive it? is the public concerned about lack of access to government information? how does the public perceive the levels of services they are currently receiving?
  7. There has been a trend toward the decentralization of government.
  8. Electronic access should be provided in a variety of ways, including public access to a data network, online, at government offices, in libraries, and through e-mail.
  9. The private-sector will play a major role in the dissemination of government information in the future.

Brandon, Peter. "The Internet Myth: A Model for More Activist Government in a Knowledge Society." Government Information in Canada/ Information gouvernementale au Canada No. 14. Available:

Brandon has set out to show that the Internet will not automatically transform our society into one which is proficient in information technologies. He calls it the 'Internet myth', arguing that its very existence cannot be equated with the development of citizens who are technologically savvy in a knowledge society. He uses the mythology behind the Gutenberg Printing Press and what he calls the 'Hippocrates myth' to dispel this ideology.

Many believe that it was Gutenberg's press which transformed the illiterate world to a society with high levels of literacy. Not true says Brandon. "Indeed, the numbers indicate that literacy actually exploded not alongside the printing presses (literacy rates merely "bubbled upward" as output and affordability of printed texts grew impressively), but in the wake of some remarkable changes in both the idea and the social reality that people are equal within a human community. These changes, sparked by the spirit embodied in Jefferson's famous words, "all men are created equal", initiated significant social actions, the most remarkable of which was state-sponsored elementary public education" (p. 2). It was the combination of equality for everyone and a free public school system which made illiteracy rates dramatically decline.

The other myth saw scientific advances in medicine as being credited for the substantial improvements in the state of public health in the 19th and 20th centuries. Brandon argues that it was actually new government laws such as the Public Health Act and the Nuisances Removal and Disease Act that made such a big difference because these made it possible for the government to disinfect houses, isolate sick and infected individuals, implement street cleaning, and generated a campaign of propaganda for higher levels of physical education in schools, increased domestic and personal hygiene, and cleaner working place conditions. In addition, the government developed statistical committees for the collection of disease and demographic statistics, and the dissemination of public health information, seen in such publications as the Handbook for U.S. Public Health (1915). "Determined government action in this case helped shape public attitudes. In turn, these attitudes, combined with further government action and statistical and medical advances, led to accelerated increases in the levels of public health (at least in the Western World)" (p. 3).

Both examples show that enlightened attitudes and government action were in large part responsible for dramatic changes in society. Brandon contends that it will not be the Internet which will transform society into a knowledge society, but government action and enlightened social attitudes, with help from the Internet. It will take determined government action to ensure that there is universal access to public knowledge: public knowledge is a national asset the government has a responsibility to provide access to for its citizens because it has social value that can enhance the quality of life. Without the access to public information, individuals cannot become consequential and productive members of society, and "discharge their citizenship obligations and prosecute their interests in a knowledge society" (p. 8). The author also makes the point that Crown Copyright was created to ensure that the Crown administer and guarantee information for the benefit and use of the people governed, not for the benefit of the Crown, with government responsible for providing free access so as to expand society's knowledge base. Therefore, the activist government would ensure that public information is accessible. But how?

The author sees the second pillar for a more activist government to be the creation of a Canadian universal public knowledge delivery model, inspired by the Canadian Health Act. Brandon believes that the right to public information is complementary to the mental and physical well-being of Canadian citizens. The Act ensures access to health, just as a Canadian Public information and Knowledge Act would ensure that Canadians have a right to public information, an inherent right. He calls this proposed system 'Knowledge Care' and its "rationale is that the informational and knowledge health of Canadians is fundamental to governance in and functioning of an effective democracy underpinning a successful information society… Knowledge Care is an implement of the Information Age, where the ability to acquire, use and apply information and knowledge is the single most important source of comparative advantage, competitiveness, productivity, and, ultimately, wealth" (p. 11).

A charter for Knowledge Care should include, among other things:

  1. the facilitation of an informed public, who can participate in governance of an open information society.
  2. the provision for an equitable level of government and public information, with delivery from public libraries, kiosks, government offices, depository libraries, and Canada Business Service Centres.
  3. information should be generated, collected, archived, disseminated, and managed as a public asset by the government.
  4. the public should have adequate access to this asset.
  5. access should not be hindered by time, format, secrecy, or cost.
  6. accessibility should be facilitated by a government locator or reference system, with points of access and mediation when needed.
  7. a combination of private-sector and public resources should be used to offer access.

Operationalization should be on a non-profit basis, overseen by some public authority, with the Information Commissioner acting as ombudsperson, with the Privacy Commissioner protecting Canadians' privacy rights.

The government must remember that "[n]o technology - not even the Internet - will bring about desirable social outcomes on its own. The Internet will not, by itself, beget an informed population and participatory democracy any more than Gutenberg's printing press can be credited with creating mass literacy, or than advances in medical science and apparatus can be held solely responsible for the current state of public health. What ultimately brings about an "informed participation society" are (1) enlightened social attitudes and (2) corresponding government action" (p. 15).

Brandon, Peter. "Enhancing Public Access to Government Information." (July 31, 1998).

The government is committed to offering Canadians common delivery points and one-stop shopping for federal government services. Is it possible?

Currently, impediments include: reluctance to offer better service, for fear that it will overwhelm already limited resources; a lack of inventorying in certain government departments; trouble locating information sources; incompatible information formats; no provision for coordinated access; and no minimum standards set by the federal government.

Access currently comes principally through government white pages in the telephone book; InfoSource; Reference Canada; Guide to Federal Programs and Services; and the government telephone book. Dissemination outlets include: the Depository Services Program; Statistics Canada; post offices; government information networks, such as the National Business Information network and the Canadian Heritage Information Network; constituency and MPs offices; departmental reading rooms; and regional and district offices of federal departments. Provincially agencies such as Access Ontario, Communications Quebec, Newfoundland Information Services, and BC Online are centers for government information dissemination. Municipal offerings include Access Montreal.

Short term options for improving access to federal government information: 1.) more user-friendly telephone directory government pages, 2.) improving the quality and public access to Reference Canada, 3.) enhancement of InfoSource's electronic system by combining its database with information from Reference Canada and the resources of the Guide to Federal Programs and Services. This new InfoSource system could provide services ranging from telephone access, face-to-face access (through libraries, government outlets, and federal departments), and electronic access, offered directly or through gatewayed networks, and public kiosks.

Longer term options to improve access to federal government information may be through: 1.) the creation of a government information and services locator system, with access to FAQ, descriptions of services offered by federal agencies and departments, abstracts and citations of government information resources, and names/phone numbers of where service and information can be obtained. A locator service could also provide telephone, face-to-face, and electronic access to government information.

Brown, Janet Dagenais. "Using Quality Concepts to Improve Reference Services." College & Research Libraries (May 1994): 211-219.

Librarians must provide high quality reference service if they are to expect repeat business from their users. The reference department at the Wichita State University Library was interested in improving the service they provide, so they decided to conduct a complete evaluation. Good reference service should include accurate and timely answers provided in an efficient manner, using a responsive system of delivery. Guidelines have been set down by the American Library Association and are combined with the individual philosophies of the librarians themselves. However, there are no set methodologies for the delivery of reference service; difficulties in measuring the perceptions of users; and "they do not really offer practical direction" (p. 212).

Customer satisfaction or quality services are as important as the accuracy of the answers given. Much work has been done in this field, with prominent studies carried out for the business world by W. Edwards Deming, Joseph M. Juran, and Philip B. Crosby. All three believed that a commitment to quality must come from the top down, with empowered and involved employees working in an organization that is customer-driven and interested in improving the quality of its service.

  1. Deming is synonymous with 'Total Quality Management' (TQM), which calls for managers to provide leadership, constancy, training, retraining, eliminate employee fear, and breakdown the barriers that exist between departments in an organization. If a manger can succeed, quality will flow throughout the organization.
  2. Juran is popular for his 'Quality Trilogy', a set of guidelines for managers.
  3. Crosby is known for his fourteen-point guide for managers called 'Quality Improvement Process', stating that mangers need to concentrate on improving quality with training and the expectation of high standards.

Libraries and their staff must concentrate their efforts on the delivery of their services, with customers always in mind because "[w]hat the consumer experiences during this contact with the service provider has been called the "Moment of Truth," a phrase coined by Swedish airline magnate Jan Carlzon…Reference librarians will encounter many of these moments of truth during each shift at the Reference Desk. How well these moments are managed will determine how satisfied our customers are with our service" (p. 213).

If these 'moments of truth' are not properly handled, library users can feel frustrated and leave with negative feelings for the librarian and the library itself. They certainly will not be eager to come back again too quickly. To find out how well the reference librarians were doing with 'moments of truth' at the Wichita State University Library, the library initiated a series of four projects, hoping to find out who their users were and if their needs were being met.

  1. Problem Log: a problem log was set up at the reference desk to receive complaints from a full range of library users. What they learned was that there were some very distinct categories of problems, including technical computer problems, lack of signage, lack of one-on-one instruction, and the need for more database instruction.
  2. Suggestion Box: a box was mounted on the wall of the reference area, and included comments such as, requests for more vending machines and telephones; concerns about library policies; problems with library finding aids; and suggestions for making library use easier for patrons.
  3. Wisconsin-Ohio Reference Evaluation Program: to find out how accurate they were being at the reference desk, how patron needs were being met, areas to improve, and who their users were, the library decided to use an obtrusive survey, developed by Charles Bunge and Marjorie Murfin. The important aspect of this assessment instrument is that it allows a library to compare itself with other participating libraries of the same kind. Wichita's results: 1.) overall, they scored very well, 2.) users found their staff to be courteous and knowledgeable, 3.) they scored extremely high with graduate students and freshman, 4.) found that the reference department spent less time answering questions than other academic libraries, and 5.) that users often reported that given the busyness of the desk, they felt they were not allotted enough time with the librarians.
  4. Reference Automation Quality Circle: this final phase was initiated to find out how librarians could become empowered, do their job better, and what their needs were. 'Quality Circles', based on the work of Deming and Juran, are made up of small groups of employees coming together on a regular basis with a supervisor to address a particular problem, such as the computerization of library services. They found that there were a series of problems associated with the computer equipment in their area, and that they would have to assign more staff hours to correct them.

What they learned from this experience, was that improving the quality of reference service must be a continuous process, and carried out by all members of the staff.

Buchwald, C. 1995. "Canada in Context: An Overview of Information Policies in Four Industrialized Countries." Information Policy Research Program, Faculty of Information Studies. Working Paper Series No. 2. Toronto, ON.

Points made:

  1. There are extreme pressures on national governments to comply with international trends and global markets.
  2. North American and European countries want to be prepared to compete in a global economy that is increasingly run by transnational corporations, and are actively developing the information infrastructures to do so.
  3. Canada, the United States, the U.K., and France are creating information policies on intellectual property, universal service, privacy, access, and freedom of expression for consideration at both the international and national levels.
  4. Canada, the E.U., France, and the U.K. have accepted that their information infrastructure should be developed by private industry, with some assistance from government.
  5. Canada and France are reorienting their information policies toward a commodification or market-driven approach.
  6. The Americans, with their large number of transnational corporations are changing information policies and moving in the direction of deregulation and liberalization, while at the same time, private-sector corporations are still depending upon assistance and protection from governments in most countries. "Transnational corporations expect governments to ensure fair competition, according to a self-serving definition of the free flow of information. In the U.S., the government has fought continuously for the international free flow of information on behalf of U.S. industry. The Canadian government (occasionally) protects vulnerable cultural industries from U.S. competition. In the UK., the government has supported the PTT and broadcasting. In all countries, assistance comes to the private sector in the form of grants, subsidies and preferential regulations" (p. 1).
  7. Governments need the private sector to build information infrastructures and in exchange, are making policy concessions to transnational corporations and providing funding to industry. As a result of trying to harmonize national with international, "national governments are relinquishing authority over much of their previous policy domain in information technology and services" (p. 2).
  8. These compromises on information policy, coupled with international pressures, will continue to create changes in future information policies; how far Canada will go towards the market-driven approach and how much this environment will change our society is something that will become apparent with time.

Bunge, Charles A. "Evaluating Reference Services and Reference Personnel: Questions and Answers from the Literature." The Reference Librarian, no. 43, 1994, pp. 195-207.

The evaluation of reference services is an important aspect of library work, and "should be guided by the reference service's overall philosophy, mission, goals, and objectives" (p. 197) Ultimately, which evaluation method a library uses is dependent upon what they are trying to find out about service or resources. As Robbin-Carter and Zweizig point out, libraries should not be asking "How good are we?" but rather one that attempts to answer the question, "Are we there yet?" (p. 197-198) (see note #1 and #2) They have established a model which Bunge has found useful for the evaluation of reference service. It is a process of question answering:

  1. What do we want to know about?
  2. Where do we want to be?
  3. How will we know if we are getting there?
  4. How close are we?
  5. So what?

What next? For our study, what we want to know about is the dissemination of government information, how it is being transmitted to the public, and how much librarians working in reference know about the structure of the government in general. Where do we want to be? With improved reference service for patrons asking government documents questions, and for librarians to feel more comfortable answering them because of additional training. How will we know if we are getting there? Libraries must use some evaluation method, to set a benchmark. Or as the author says, "In fact, an important purpose of the "first round" in an ongoing evaluation process can be to establish benchmarks that can be used in establishing objectives or targets for the future" (p. 199) That is what the proxy study ultimately did. Any number of methods can be used depending upon the size of the study, how much work a library wants to put into it, and how much resources they have to carry it out. Methods such as peer review are getting lots of attention in the literature as a way libraries can evaluate themselves. How close are we? This can be answered using statistical analysis of the data after it is collected, making sure not to over-generalize the findings. (see note #3) What does it all mean? So what? There must be an identification of factors that are affecting the level of accomplishment in any particular reference department. Poorly answered questions could be symptomatic of many different factors such as lack of reference materials, inexperienced librarians, or lack of interviewing skills. In our case, it is perhaps indicative of morale problems, cutback of appropriate staff, having the least qualified reference librarians on the floor, or lack of training regimes for searching electronic resources such as the Internet. What next? This is the process of moving from evaluation to improvement. (see note #4) The implication of more training for librarians so that they can keep up with t he new technologies and how to get around the problems associated with shrinking budgets and layoffs.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. See Robbin-Carter, Jane, and Douglas L. Zweizig. "Are We There Yet?" American Libraries 16 (October, December 1985): 624-27, 780-84.
  2. I think that librarians everywhere should keep this in mind. Instead of being defensive of criticisms of their work, they should be more interested in the improvement of library service. Certainly, a win/win situation is established if librarians can offer friendly, professional service with a high rate of accuracy. There is too much competition out there for us to sit on our laurels and not be the best we can be. Gandhi said, "We must be the change we envision in the world." How true, how true.
  3. We must make this point as well. The study is not the be-all or end-all. It is just a small window onto a very complicated process of disseminating government information in a time of upheaval and transition.
  4. You may decide to have the last section of your book consider this question. Discussion of fairly new methods of evaluation such as peer review and its implications and drawbacks could be included. Coupled with this I believe should be more of an emphasis on librarians working together. If you don't know something or where to find something, ask your co-workers. Then it is win/win for everyone. Without a strong last section, there can be no hope, and that is the life blood of every negative situation. Even something as small as the insistence that gov docs librarians have a chart at least which shows them the layout of government structure if they don't want to learn it themselves. She is right, if we understand the structure, librarians can answer questions much easier. My idea of a template initiated by the Federal Depository Program for easier access of government information could be discussed at this point as well. Ah, the future may be so bright, we will have to wear shades, eh?

Campbell, Jerry D. "Shaking the Conceptual Foundations of Reference: A Perspective." Reference Services Review (Winter 1992): 29-35.

"I'm sorry I looked into the whole thing, I mean reference service in libraries and a new economic model for reference. I was aware that if I addressed the topic of reference, some might see this as the misguided effort of an administrator from the lunatic fringe to meddle in something he didn't know anything about, and I was prepared for that. I also knew that I would encounter a sacred cow or two among the reference pastures. I was somewhat less prepared, though not undone, to encounter a whole herd. I was, however, totally unprepared to find the ostensibly straightforward notion of reference service to be virtually in conceptual disarray" (p. 29).

What does this mean? It means that it is almost impossible for anyone, other than a practicing reference librarian, to understand what it means to be a reference librarian, understand what it is they do on any given day, and how much they do, or should be doing. With no clear mission statements available for reference librarians, and much controversy over studies that claim reference librarians have major problems with providing accurate answers to patron requests, it is little wonder that conceptual disarray reigns. One can assume they do a variety of tasks which include the staffing of reference desks, the answering of questions, BI, the development of subject bibliographies, professional development, academic research, and collection development, with the central role presumed to be the answering of reference questions, but is it? And what kinds of questions do they answer?

A review of the literature offers some insight by explaining that reference librarians get asked two very different types of questions: directional and substantial, and that there is no cohesion amongst reference librarians as to what the major features of their work are, or their central role. For example, some librarians believe that bibliographic instruction stands as the central and the most redeeming role they play in the provision of reference service, while others see the desk as their whole universe. There is even discernible dissension amongst librarians over the role that paraprofessionals should play in libraries, and certainly no agreement on what constitutes a good economic model for reference. With no clear picture available, and apparent conflict between old and new practices, Campbell felt the best way to proceed was to begin with a redefinition of reference.

What is reference? It can be broken down into two fronts: one technological, the other, conceptual.

Technology and Reference:

  1. With the number of reference inquiries growing, as the loss of staff continues to increase, the answer is to utilize computer automation, but how? By breaking reference questions down into categories, a strategy can be developed. The author offers the following categories of questions: "technical help for reference hardware/software-university events, calendar, library hours-directional questions-user/library problems-research questions-reference/factual questions-bibliographical/source questions" (p. 31). All are ordered according to the amount of time it takes for a librarian to provide an answer, thus, the first category takes the least amount of time, while the last, takes the most. It is obvious that certain types of questions found in the above categorization, do not have to be answered by face-to-face interaction with a librarian. The telephone, signage, the posting of maps and technical instructions, and the development of pathfinders are other ways in which certain types of reference questions can be answered. Why not add the computer? Campbell believes that the first three categories easily lend themselves to automated reference service, a practice that could save ten percent of a staff's time. Although other categories of questions are not so easily adaptable to automation, "[i]n fact, computer technology clearly holds the capacity to assist in all seven categories, and this is one key to a new reference model" (p. 31). Perhaps the goal should be to allow seventy-five percent of reference questions to be answerable without human intervention, by computer technology, and accessible at offices, homes, and dorm rooms. Campbell sees reference librarians' "central mission of making accessible our collective human memory" (p. 31) as something that needs to be continued, and whose quality and quantity can be increased, by using technological solutions. Campbell believes that librarians are self-destructing. To change the direction of the tide and to ensure the survival of librarianship, he insists that radical changes need to be made, and for starters, transference of seventy-five percent of our reference questions to a computer intermediary, is a good place to begin.
  1. Conceptual Foundations: as the number of users grow, and their expectations increase, offering service in the traditional, face-to-face largely print-based model, is becoming outdated rarely quickly. "Who will be the information providers of tomorrow? Will librarians have a role? Our concept of reference must change. We cannot afford to refer; we must provide. "Reference" is the wrong name. Its meaning is outmoded; its connotations are obsolete" (p. 32). Libraries will need to be prepared to offer patrons rapid service, with delivery in electronic form.

Campbell proposes that reference librarians change their title to 'Access Engineers,' and be willing to perform three essential tasks: 1.) Knowledge Cartography: being aware of all new sources of information and establish access links between them and users, 2.) Consumer Analysis: the ability to analyze and understand the information needs of users, 3.) Access Engineering: facilitate the transfer of information from its source, directly to the user.

Canada. Federal Task Force on Digitization. "Digitization in the Federal Government." April 1997. Available at http:

Canadian Heritage and Industry Canada jointly established the Federal Task Force on Digitization so as to: 1.) to highlight the importance of providing digital information, 2.) to make provisions to allow federal departments and agencies to create information in a digital form, 3.) to develop the strategies needed to offer access to Canadian digital information.

The Information Highway Advisory Council (IHAC) was created in May of 1994, and had as its mandate, "the examination of a wide variety of issues relating to the Information Highway" (p. 10). In September, 1995, its final report was published, with inclusion of three hundred recommendations for consideration. The government responded with Building the Information Society: Moving Canada into the 21st Century, and development of a plan to have a strong Canadian cultural presence on the Internet, and the creation of an environment that would stimulate research and development, the encouragement of new services, and open standards of dissemination. The basis comes from a belief that "the process of creating, converting, marketing, distributing, and exporting digital Canadian content creates not only increased access, knowledge, and awareness but also fosters many opportunities for innovation, wealth, and job creation within the Canadian and multimedia industries" (p. 1). As a result, Industry Canada and Canadian Heritage created the Federal Digitization Task Force (DTF) to examine the issues and mechanisms required for Canada to have a presence on the Information Superhighway. To do this, the task force had to determine the extent to which digitization of information is utilized in federal departments, establish an environment that enabled consumers, producers, and distributors, and propose a strategy that enabled free, tax-supported access with those that generated revenues from value-added information products.

To date, there is no government-wide strategy in place for the digitization of government information, but instead, a series of pilot projects operating on a departmental basis. No coordination across the board, no central inventory of the digitization work, and no mechanism in place to exchange information between departments. Before a roadmap for digital information is developed, the creation of an inventory structure must be developed. One idea is to use an environmental scan of departments to collect information on the objectives, scope, and nature of planned and current priorities and projects.

"One of the primary objectives of the federal government in the area of the Information Society is to ensure affordable, equitable, and universal access to Canadian content and to ensure the preservation of this content over the long-term" (p. 3). Of course, federal departments are interested in generating revenues from the information they have added value to, so there must be guidelines in place to ensure that Canadians get access to the government information they need, while charging the private sector for the commercialization of information products. There is a fine line, but it must be established to allow the public access to Canadian content, content that they have paid for with tax dollars, while developing the economic environment surrounding information in a commercial sense. Policy guidelines must include decisions on standards, navigational tools, user-friendly interfaces, and deal with the problems associated with intellectual property and copyright legislation. One of the major problems faced by governmental departments and agencies, is the severe budgetary restraints that have been levied against them, and the pressure placed on them by Cabinet to find new ways and procedures to face the transfer to digital data in a manner that is very cost-effective. The DTF has identified tax-supported digitization; recovery of revenues through the commodification of value-added information; and the development of partnerships between federal departments and agencies with private-sector corporations, to save money.

Five areas of possible investigation by the Task Force:

  1. Funding Strategies for Digital Conversion: very important in these times of economic restraints. Increasingly, the government is looking for partnerships with private-sector companies as a way of overcoming some of these financial problems. Other non-traditional strategies need to be developed if Canada is to have a presence on the Information Highway.
  2. Selection of Materials for Digitization: a set of criteria is needed to decide which materials will be digitized, and developed with current governmental policies, priorities, plans, and activities kept in mind. Perhaps the first step would be a survey of all federal departments' digital projects.
  3. Accessibility of Digitized Content: must include universal and equitable access to Canadian content.
  4. Common Issues of Intellectual Property: the rights of producers must be balanced with equitable and public access.
  5. The Identification of Standards and Best Practices: standards and guidelines are needed for the digitization of information and its management.

Canada. Information Highway Advisory Council. "Preparing Canada for a Digital World. Final Report." Ottawa: IHAC, September 1997. Available:

"As the 21st century dawns, Canada and the world are making a profound transition that reaches into every aspect of human life. A new knowledge society is replacing the industrial society that prevailed in the developed world during most of the 19th and 20th centuries" (p.1). How Canada makes the transition will be detrimental to its national identity, its social and cultural goals, and its economic stability in the 21st century. As three years of work has ended, this remains their central conviction and conclusion. Parameters and strategies are needed to promote and develop this vision for Canada in the Information Age. The country has done much to build the Information Highway in the last five years, and has accomplished much that needed to be done, taking a leadership role in the process of developing a knowledge society and economy, a role that its leading trading partners have disputed and challenged: "If they succeed, Canadians will not achieve in the 21st century the goals that they have traditionally cherished. Nor will Canada realize the full promise of the knowledge society" (p. 2).

This final report envisions a place in the knowledge society, built by Canadians, using Canadian values and goals to provide a structure where the people of this country can work and live. There is a promise of a knowledge society that will make the physical distances between Canadians disappear, cause global parameters to shrink in size, and make "[t]he creation, manipulation, and sharing of information and knowledge become an overriding human imperative" (p. 2). The vision includes significant changes in removing obstacles related to business success; the development of economic and social factors; learning and education; voluntary action and social conscience; adequate health care; and a participation in Canadian cultural dialogue. The hope and goal is that information will be increasingly accessible, so that the decision-making process of individuals Canadians is securely established with knowledge. These new imperatives flow out of objectives created three years ago, namely: the creation of Canadian jobs through investment and innovation, having Canadian cultural identity and sovereignty reinforced, and providing universal access to digital information at reasonable cost.

This knowledge society's infrastructure will be based on computer and communication networks, with information flowing freely, and that is why Canada must continue with its policies that insist upon using the best that technology can offer, working with the private sector to develop a strong infrastructure to move Canada towards an economy using information to prosper. Currently, Canada is trailing behind other countries, which are spending more per capita on the creation of informational technologies. All will be for not, if Canadian businesses are unable to fully utilize the information infrastructure to build electronic commercial and informational services. To make this a reality, the Canadian government must create the technical and legal foundation needed.

This report encourages the federal government to work with private sector companies, before the end of 1997, in ensuring that there is a wider range of cultural content available to reflect the country's linguistic duality and distinctive cultural heritage. If Canada is to grow as a distinct society, it must make its heritage known and visible on the Information Highway, and in addition, "[t]he creation, distribution, and production of Canadian content is an important source of jobs and economic growth and a foundation for the national cultural dialogue holding us together as a country. The economic possibilities flowing out of the Information Highway represent a cultural opportunity for a stronger articulation of Canadian visions and a reinforcement of our national, regional, and local communities. This opportunity must not be lost" (p.3).

Before the end of 1997, we encourage the federal government to map out a national access strategy to ensure that Canadians have affordable and equitable access to basic services in the broadcast and telecommunications environment; to provide access to networks such as the Internet, promote Information Highway services; and to develop mechanisms for universal access in the future. How can Canadians participate in this new society, if there is not equitable access to it for all groups? Access is therefore, crucial.

Leadership is imperative: both from the public and the government. The writers of this report welcome leadership initiatives from provincial and federal governments, from individuals and private-sector strategists, all working together for a common good. Some of the issues that are important for future progress include:

  1. the advancement of networks, using partnerships based on private and public organizations.
  2. the reinvigoration of Canadian content, essential to this country's cultural unity.
  3. provision of access to the government on a universal basis.
  4. the facilitation of lifelong learning, using a forum of technologists, educators, and government officials to bring this about.
  5. the creation of standards for promoting the Information Highway, networks, and universal connectivity.
  6. using government departments and agencies as the model for users of the Information Highway. If the government takes full advantage of it, others will as well.
  7. the use of benchmarks and performance indicators to define and measure Canada's social and economic progress.
  8. a system for accountability, with a regular review of progress to be made public.

"Governments, industry, voluntary associations, community groups, and individual Canadians all have roles as drivers on the Information Highway in making the knowledge society of the 21st century a place that reflects Canadian goals, aspirations, and values. We must make the future, or it will make us. Carpe Diem!" (p. 5).

Cheverie, Joan F., and Judith F. Trump. "Changing Lanes on the Government Information Highway." The Journal of Academic Librarianship (September 1996):378-381.

In this increasing environment of electronic dissemination of government information, libraries must be prepared to become involved with developing and implementing information policy if they expect to meet the information needs of their patrons. In this shift from what was traditionally a print format, to an emphasis on electronic transmission, libraries will have to consider access, archiving, and policy issues for government information.

This article discusses these ramifications in regards to two information products that will be affected by the changes, and the implications for libraries and users.

I. The Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), is a division of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Since the early 1940s, it has published "Daily Reports", an information product that consists of wire service reports, magazine and newspaper articles in full-text, and speeches from around the world, including Western and Eastern Europe, China, Latin America, and Central Eurasia. The product is used by government analysts, businesses, and academia, to keep track of commercial developments overseas. Federal depository libraries could select the microfiche version of the "Daily Reports", but many had to purchase an index from a commercial vendor to make the information accessible to users. Other libraries chose to pay a substantial amount of money for the print version since waiting months for the microfiche did not provide good service to their patrons.

In late 1995, some of the information from FBIS and JPRS (Joint Publications Research Service, another CIA product) began to be available on the World Wide Web, through "World News Connection", whose subscription service is fee-based. Total access has been prevented by copyright negotiations with the publishers. In addition, although WNC has plans to digitize two years of content on a rolling basis, there are still discussions of what to do about archiving and preserving older material. Will it be done through CD-ROM technology, or separate databases? These are concerns well taken since all print and microfiche versions of the information were ceased in September 1996. Some of the problems with online access:

1. There have been days when no reports were available due to connectivity problems.

2. Searching techniques must be learned to facilitate use and to make sure all information needed will be obtained.

3. Users with no Internet access will have to rely on libraries to provide them with access.

4. If use is heavy in libraries, patrons will be expected to sign up for limited times, which can have an effect on search strategies and downloading.

5. Of course, libraries must have the resources available to purchase hardware/software, Internet access, and the trained staff to provide instruction if WNC is to be an efficient tool in electronic format.

II. Stat-USA/Internet is a fee-based electronic service of the Department of Commerce, and includes the most often selected CD-ROM product offered by the Federal Depository Library Program: the "National Trade Data Bank (NTDB) databases, as well as the "Economic Bulletin Board", GLOBUS, economic information from the "Bureau of Economic Analysis", and articles from the "Survey of Current Business." There are some benefits to using the Internet product because it is available full-text, coordinates a great amount of information for the user, and has search mechanisms which are a lot more user-friendly when compared to the CD-ROM ones. However, "[O]nly the information from the most current version of each product is maintained on the Web site, and documents are dropped from one issue to another will be lost unless libraries make other archival arrangements" (p. 379). (see note #1)

These two examples can be used to illustrate the larger issues which have an impact on access, and they are: the implications of changing national information policies, and how they can and do affect decisions and policies made at the local level.

1. National Information Policy Issues: As Charles McClure has pointed out, the information policies developed and implemented at the national level are important to understand because libraries, local decisions, and the public's access to information. As well, libraries can affect change in information policy at the local and national levels. As the authors point out, "In short, there is a synergistic relationship between libraries and federal information policy" )p. 379). Pervading the whole universe of government information and its accessibility are the pressures to downsize government and economize the federal bureaucracies, to facilitate efficiency. (see note #2)Dissemination of government information electronically may be a cost-saving alternative, but that are inherent implications that also make the process problematic. For instance, Will "Stat-USA/Internet" eventually discontinue its other formats? If that happens, what will patrons who are not connected to the Internet do? Can they rely on libraries to provide access, when not all libraries have the capabilities at the present time? (see note #3) In addition, will users still be expected to be tied to institutions such as libraries, when one of the advantages and world-changing aspects of the Internet is to breakdown geographical boundaries and facilitate a steady stream of global information? And what about copyright limitations? If copyright permission is obtained, there could be a drastic increase in user fees, and if not, the information that is obtainable through online sources will most likely be streamlined or unavailable altogether. Libraries will have to find their niche in this economic and political drama that is unfolding in many countries, because "[w]ith respect to government information, libraries have also been the "safety net" for ensured citizen access to the public information - the very foundation of a democratic society" (p. 380).

Other Implications:

1. Although governments may save money by electronically disseminating information, it is unlikely libraries will because providing access in a networked environment is not cheap.

2. What happens to the serendipity factor of scanning the government documents stacks, if everything goes electronic? (see note #4)

3. And what will happen to information that is not considered current anymore?

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

1. This is a big problem I had not thought of before. Certainly a major disadvantage of digitized information is the archiving aspect of it. Who will preserve the information once it goes online? What role will the Federal Depository Programs have in the quest for archiving? If governments no longer keep information for very long, or allow access to only the latest available, what will that do to longitudinal studies? How will databases be protected from obsolescence when technology changes? Will information necessarily be transferable? Not on your life. And could the digitization of government information limit the availability of important avenues of knowledge in a round-about way?

2. There are also the trends of making government more like business, and the corporatization of information.

3. Where will the money come from to provide it? Will libraries have to lay-off staff or buy less books and journals to facilitate the purchase of hardware and browser software? As a proxy, I remember a library in Nepean having no Internet access, and it was the main library for the city. Or will there be yet another barrier erected in this world between the haves and have-nots? Of course, with knowledge and information the gap between has historically been filled by libraries.

Childers, Thomas. "The Quality of Reference: Still Moot after 20 Years." Journal of Academic Librarianship (May 1987): 73-74.

  1. One of the first people to conduct unobtrusive tests, Childers finds it hard to imagine how far it has come, but does not want researchers to forget it has limitations, and one must make enormous assumptions when applying the data to how reference departments function. He feels "synecdoche" is taking over unobtrusive testing of reference services. By this he means that the results of such studies are being allowed to stand for the whole of reference work, and an oversimplification of the data has occurred. These studies only concern themselves with factual, unambiguous questions, and do not reflect the whole of the reference librarian's experience behind the desk. "The bad news about investigating queries with short, factual, unambiguous answers is that, in the minds of many - especially those interested in evaluating performance - it has assumed unrealistic proportions and come to stand for the whole of the reference function, yet there is no empirical foundation for it, no literature that links performance on one kind of reference service with performance on another kind of service" (p. 74) . Childers guesses that the types of questions used in unobtrusive studies only account for one-eighth of the volume in reference departments. (see note #1)
  2. Other kinds of questions such as long factual ones are handled by reference librarians. As well, they do BI, preparation of bibliographies, electronic searching, and current awareness, along with many other duties.
  3. Childers stresses that it is indeed wrong for anyone to say that reference librarians are wrong half of the time, especially without empirical foundation.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. And that is the one of the gaps that will allow us to still champion librarians. One part should not stand for the whole.
  2. This article will help you say that just because the accuracy rate was hovering around 30%, it does not mean that reference librarians are not doing their jobs. It is just that they need to have help with one aspect of their job: better training/knowledge of government documents online, and I would concur with her, that a better understanding of the government structure as a whole is in order.

Childress, Boyd, Reference Librarian, Auburn University. "Letters to the Editor: Reference Librarians Speak Out." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 13 (Sept. 1987): 226.

He had some thoughts on the work done by Hernon and McClure:

  1. Hernon and McClure's statement that a crisis is taking place in reference departments across the country is an overstatement, and implies that a turning point of sorts is taking place. The author says that "I fail to see what makes the accuracy of reference service a turning point" (p. 226).
  2. Who is responsible? There are some librarians who do not meet the demands, do not have the abilities to do so, nor the education to properly work behind a reference desk, and have been given positions they are unsuited for by library administrators, however, that does not tell the whole story.
  3. He does not concur with Hernon and McClure that referrals to external or internal sources constitutes poor librarianship. (see note #1)
  4. Believes that no reference librarian nor anyone in the human race can be expected to know everything, nor answer all questions completely accurately. In addition, he says that since most questions do not have a definitive right or wrong answer, librarians should not be faulted.
  5. That Hernon and McClure have no insight into budget cutbacks and what they do to numbers of staff, and the comprehensiveness and currency of reference materials and resources. And librarians on the front lines do not make these decisions, administrators do.
  6. There may be problems in reference departments, but no crisis.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. It probably does because most of our questions and most questions can be answered through using resources found in most libraries. It really is passing the buck.

Christian, Eliot J. "Helping the Public Find Information: The U.S. Government Information Locator Service (GILS)." Journal of Government Information 21, No. 4, (1994): 305-314.

Important Points Made by the Author:

1. In "Technology for America's Strength, A New Direction to Build Economic Strength", 1993 by William J. Clinton and Albert Gore, Jr. state that their administration will be committed to facilitating access to government information through the use of computer networks. They believe that although there is a great amount of money spent to collect and process government information, and it is valuable, the public is unaware of it, or do not know how to access it.

2. In 1993, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) revised Circular A-130, which handles the management of information resources for the government. It now states that government agencies should supply the public with government information via new electronic technologies in a timely manner, because they provide more flexibility for access to information; improves the management of government programs; develops public awareness of electronic networks, such as the Internet; and that it facilitates the use of emerging standards for the dissemination of government information (Z39.50).

3. Agencies have also been asked to be more proactive on the part of the public when they make an information request.

4. Management of electronic records is also a growing concern for government agencies. The National Archives and Records Administration will be helping these agencies by issuing new and revised guidelines for preserving information in electronic form.

5. As a way of helping the public get access to government information, the administration is developing the Government Information Locator Service (GILS), one part of the National Information Infrastructure (NII). Of course, GILS will have to be evaluated as to its potential for meeting user needs, completeness, scope, accuracy, accessibility, user-friendliness, and timeliness. Its major advantage is that users can search numerous different aspects of government information, due to GILS' decentralized design, however, this advantage can also be a liability for those who do not have network access, knowledge of search strategies, secondary education, English literacy, or computer literacy. Of course, the role of federal depository libraries is obvious. They, along with other libraries and private sector companies, will provide those users with GILS information.

6. "A locator is here defined as an information resource that identifies other information resources, describes the information available in those resources, and provides assistance in methods of obtaining the information: (p. 308). The design of GILS is attributed to the work of Charles McClure, and one of its key concepts "is that it uses network technology to support many different views across separate locators" (p. 308), and can also be accessible to intermediaries, who can provide the information through a whole range of media formats, from the telephone, to print, to very sophisticated electronic ones. As well, each agency is expected to handle their own agency-based locators, and in turn, make sure that the information is continually accessible to its pool of users. Private sector providers may also channel their information through the GILS Core (set of U.S. federal government locator records), as can GPO and NTIS, even though they will not be considered part of the GILS Core, in that they may not be free, or in the format maintained by the Core. The design also allows for supplementation by state, local, international, and foreign government agencies.

7. To facilitate the open transmission of information across the globe, GILS will adhere to both national and international standards for information and data processing, such as ANSI Z39.50 and ISO, and will use client-server architecture to allow for multiple and independent information servers concurrently.

8. Special provisions, such as hierarchical browsing will allow users to navigate among GILS locators. (Won't that bypass the poor indexing of government documents?)

9. Locator records will be available in many forms, including USMARC, HTML, and SUTRS (Simple Unstructured Text Record Syntax).

Christensen, John O., Larry D. Benson, H. Julene Butler, Blaine H. Hall, and Don H. Howard. "An Evaluation of Reference Desk Service." College & Research Libraries 50 (July 1989): 468-483.

Brigham Young University Library conducted a five-part management study to find out the quality of service provided by students and departmental assistants; how adequate the training program was; and how effective their service was for referring patrons to subject specialists. Paraprofessionals and students were working the reference desk since 1986, because it had been determined that most questions asked at the desk could be answered by them, with a referral system to subject specialists for more difficult questions. They used five different methods to ascertain the quality of reference service:

  1. Patron surveys: one hundred patrons were interviewed when they were out of view of the staff member who had helped them with their inquiry.
  2. Reference Assistant surveys: all students working at the reference desk were asked to fill out a questionnaire regarding their background, training, job responsibilities, and their opinion on amount of support they received from department assistants and specialists.
  3. Department Assistant surveys: all were expected to answer questions on their job responsibilities, work environment, reference training, education, supervision of students, and the role of the professional librarians.
  4. Subject Specialist surveys: the eighteen reference librarians and subject specialists answered questions about the quality of reference service they perceived was given to patrons by students and departmental assistants, their training, and their job responsibilities.
  5. Unobtrusive Question test: seventy-five questions were asked of the students, fifteen of which required negotiation.

Since the focus of the study was to find out the quality of reference service provided by the student assistants, the researchers used information from all five methods to evaluate it. Here are some of their findings:

  1. The students had some problems with the negotiation of escalator questions; had problems developing search strategies; 25% of the questions were only partially answered; only 36% of the seventy-five questions were answered correctly by the student assistants; of the 17 questions that needed referral to a subject specialist, 65% were referred, and 35% left unanswered.
  2. Some of the factors influencing the outcome: students felt isolated from the subject specialists; insufficient time in which to help a patron, and in particular, time for follow-up; emotional climate between students and subject specialists could be improved; and lack of training in many crucial areas, and the frustrations associated with it.
  3. The professional librarians believed that the quality of reference service is negatively affected by having non-professionals at the desk. They also felt that their professional abilities were being reduced because they could not monitor patron demands, stay on top of new reference tools and sources, monitor the reference assistants, or receive the numbers of referrals they believed were warranted in the library. Reference service was also seen as a way subject specialists fulfill their collection development duties and carry out library instruction.
  4. By removing professional librarians from the reference desk, serious problems have been created in the reference department at the Lee Library of Brigham Young University.

Cornwell, Gary T. "The Dissemination of Federal Government Information: Prospects for the Immediate Future." Journal of Government Information 23, No. 3 (1996): 299-306.

The evolving electronic environment has serious ramifications for the dissemination of government information and has seriously undermined the FDLP, as most federal government information is forecasted to be electronic by the close of fiscal year 1998. This will greatly affect the historical role that the depository program has always enjoyed, and will change it drastically, impacting the public and their libraries; how agencies disseminate their information electronically; and how the FDLP will restructure itself to exist within the new parameters.

1. Libraries and the Public: Congress has clear intentions to reduce the amount of money given to the federal depository program, with an aim to making it more efficient. They believe that CD-ROM products and the Internet will be integral to their plan, not necessarily realizing the extra burdens that it will place on libraries and their staff. Essentially, the public's access to government information will be impacted. This is clearly seen if one takes the example of classes of students trying to find census reports. If paper copies exist, most would likely photocopy what they need and pass it to their classmate to use, but if a library can only offer the Internet and by law must provide access to the public, what are their options? Will they have to download and print off required data? This may be okay for certain documents that are used on a continual basis, but can staff print, bind, catalogue, barcode, and find a place for everything? Wouldn't that defeat the purpose of electronic dissemination? The value is that the information is being archived. Download, put on disc, and offer workstation access to it? This option is also problematic because some topics such as gun control can accrue ten or more hearings that will have to be found item by item, and place considerable strain on the staff and the availability of workstations. To restrict the amount of time patrons can use workstations is indirect opposition to the fundamental philosophy of access to government information. Download, put on hard disk and allow it to be copied? This option takes care of workstations being tied up, but it means that users must have access to a library's hard disk - something that is not advisable. Patrons must then provide their own computers to look at the files, which again means the intent of the FDLP is not being met. Or simply show patrons how to access the appropriate information on the Internet for retrieving? This option allows for no archival system, and is labor intensive for staff, and causes considerable strain on equipment. Of course, if patrons are shown how to navigate the Internet to search out information, they do become network literate. (see note #1)

2. Agency Dissemination of Electronic Information: many federal government agencies do not believe the FDLP to be the best way to offer their information to the public in a timely and efficient manner. They can post information on their own individual websites, making it accessible to depository libraries as well as the public, and can bypass the depository program altogether. Therefore, "if agencies are going to continue (or in some cases choose for the first time) to disseminate their information through the GPO, the role and philosophy of the GPO must evolve from its traditional role as information printer/disseminator to that of a proactive and interactive player in the life cycle of government information. Libraries provide a critical link between information and the user and the GPO must provide a similar link between agencies and libraries" (p. 302). Since they have questioned the effectiveness of the GPO to handle their paper and microfiche products, what will that mean for electronic information? This is especially relevant when one considers that the transition to electronic dissemination means that libraries lose their fundamental role as archivists: another reason that agencies used them in the first place. That is the gap that the GPO must fill, but they believe that the GPO is not really interested in making changes, in a time when change is imperative for everyone. The GPO must be able to offer the access software to disseminate agency information; archiving; indexing and cataloguing; and mechanisms to alert librarians of new resources. Even GPO Access was initiated by those outside the GPO, which prefers the status quo. However, the library community did respond with their report "Alternatives for Restructuring the Depository Library Program", as well as through work done by the Dupont Circle Group and the Chicago Conference on the Future of Government Information. (I will try to get some of these reports)

3. FDLP Survival in an Electronic Environment: if the depository system is to continue in an electronic environment wherein libraries will be expected to offer access, but receive nothing in return, what will make it a viable organization? 1.) no-fee access to all agency sites, 2.) have agency limitations removed, 3.) libraries must be able to provide access in any way they can, 4.) clear service expectations must be put in place so that reference librarians understand the level of the assistance expected from them, 5.) the GPO should guarantee archival access to depository libraries, as well as a forum for training, 6.) libraries can no longer be the sole agents for change; the GPO must become involved in the changing life cycle of government information dissemination.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

1. That is assuming that the librarians have acquired the skills to navigate the Internet, but many have not had the training.

Crowley, Terence. "Half-Right Reference: Is It True?" RQ 25 (Fall 1985): 59-68.

The author reviews major studies of unobtrusive reference tests, which really began with studies done by himself and Thomas Childers in the 1960s. Before that time, it was always assumed that there were no problems with the accuracy in reference work.

  1. One of Crowley's first unobtrusive studies was to determine if there was any difference between accuracy rates of medium-sized libraries with good funding, and those of medium-sized libraries with poor funding in New Jersey. He found that no differences were apparent based on budget, and found that 54.2% of the questions were answered correctly. The other thing that came out of the study was that librarians have problems with questions involving current events because some change had occurred in the information contained in standard reference sources. (see note #1) This was his doctoral project. Study was conducted in 1967.
  2. Childers: (also doctoral work) retested the study done by Crowley in New Jersey, using twice the number of libraries, twice the questions (with a wider range), a sensitive set of measurements to determine completeness and accuracy, and sophisticated statistical analyses. He also decided to use telephone questions due to his large sample size. "His overall accuracy score was 55 to 64 percent, depending on the scale employed" (p.61). Study was conducted in 1969.
  3. Geraldine King: her study was designed to determine the accuracy of telephone reference service in seven divisions of the University of Minnesota library system. It was the first of its kind to look at telephone reference service at a major ARL library. She found that little reference interviewing took place with the proxies, and that only 60% of the questions were answered correctly.
  4. Childers: in 1978, Childers published the results of another study he did involving 57 libraries in Suffolk County, New York in which every library was asked twenty questions. It was the largest study done at the time. The findings verified earlier studies by providing an accuracy rate between 48 and 58%. The other important thing it did was advance the technique of unobtrusive testing because four question types were used: 1.) factual questions 2.) it tested the ability of librarians to negotiate questions and their willingness to do so 3.) how well they provided patrons with citations to documents 4.) how well they could provide a patron with a book.
  5. Myers and Jirjees: Marcia Myers studied forty libraries representing 361 public and private "non-black" institutions in the Southwest, and found that there was an accuracy rate of 50.4%. She used sophisticated analyses, and it was the first time a study showed that reference librarian performance in academic libraries was comparable to that provided by public librarians. Shortly after, Jassim Jirjees used proxies to ask thirty-five questions in five New Jersey academic libraries. He used some of the same questions developed for Crowley's study, which made it clear that with the same questions asked at different times, there was a low rate of consistency. He also logged the number of calls it took to get a response, the time it took a librarian to answer, the quoting of sources, attitude of librarians, and the sex of librarian. These variables had never been reported in prior studies.
  6. Weech and Goldhor: took Childer's recommendation that a study should be done comparing unobtrusive with obtrusive testing. They used five Illinois public libraries in which to undertake their study, and found an accuracy rate of 70% for the unobtrusive, and 85% for the obtrusive. "The effect of knowing a test was being administered was thus found to be significant, though less than might be expected" (p. 63).
  7. McClure and Hernon: using government documents questions for their study, the researchers used library school students as proxies in 17 academic libraries in the Northwest and Southwest. Twenty questions were used, half in person and half over the telephone. They found that the Northwest libraries answered the questions correctly 49% of the time, while only 20% of the time in the Southwest, with a combined average of 37%. Other interesting findings were "[t]elephone questions were twice as likely to be completely answered in the Northwest, 3.5 times as likely in the Southwest" (p. 63). The Northwest libraries had approximately four times the budget dollars, volumes, and professional librarians as the libraries in the Southwest, but were fairly equal when it came to numbers of document paraprofessionals and librarians.
  8. Maryland: this study dwarfed all that had come before, unobtrusively surveying each of the 60 public libraries in the system using forty questions in each. The accuracy score was 54.9% for correct answers, and 73.4% if directions or provision of a book were also counted as correct.
  9. The author concludes by saying: "Until librarians deal effectively as a profession with the many and seemingly endless sources of error in reference work, we will remain passive observers of popular culture. Some of us will provide timely, appropriate, and consistently accurate information, but the institution in which we work will not be fulfilling its potential role in the information age" (p. 67).

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. This concurs with what I said in my June 7th e-mail to you. That is why it is imperative for government documents librarians to use the Internet sites because they contain the latest information available on many topics. One only has to remember the CRTC question, which could only be answered correctly using the Internet.

Daniel, Evelyn H. " The Effects of Identity, Attitude, and Priority." Journal of Academic Librarianship (May 1987): 76-78.

Some observations made by the author:

  1. Professional apathy was one of the findings coming out of Hernon and McClure's unobtrusive studies. The author finds it difficult to synthesize this characteristic with the eagerness and zeal she sees in the students she teaches in library school. Is there something in the attitudinal makeup of working librarians which causes this behavior or is it some aspect of the job that makes this so?
  2. She agrees with Hernon and McClure that all the questions asked in their study could be answered by using standard government sources available in any reference department, so she wonders if the problem lies with the uninteresting aspect of them, stating, "It occurred to me that perhaps the questions were not intrinsically interesting enough to challenge the mettle or engage the interest of the librarian. Are librarians more willing to discover the dimensions of a craps table than the total production of bituminous coal in 1868? … Do we prefer the charm of trivial pursuit to the honest-but-pedestrian factual answer?"(p. 77).
  3. The average time librarians spent helping Hernon's proxies was three to five minutes, but the amount of time spent might not be such a problem as it seems because rough statistics kept in reference departments seem to point to the fact that short factual questions should be answered in a short period of time. This is especially true when one considers highly experienced librarians who can find answers quickly, and do not want to leave others waiting at the desk.
  4. How can competence levels be increased if Hernon and McClure have found they do not improve with one-shot training sessions? Is it an internal, individualized determination to get better? Certainly, the skills needed to help a large variety of users are taught at library school, so an interested librarian should be able to build competence levels if they are determined to be a professional information provider.
  5. Since experienced craftspeople have gone the way of the dinosaur and been replaced by computers, and since there is a marked deterioration of products flooding the marketplace, "[o]ur attitudes as library/information people reflect our surroundings. The erosion of service and the erosion of quality in the products that we use in our daily lives may have affected adversely our attitude toward the provision of quality reference service" (p. 77).
  6. How much time is time enough? What will it take to increase accuracy rates to 80%? Are our efforts being utilized in the best sense if we spend more to increase accuracy rates for factual questions? Which professionals can claim they are right more than half the time? Mechanics?
  7. Were the low accuracy rates due to an overabundance of paraprofessionals on the desk? (see note #1)
  8. I think Daniel makes an excellent point when she tries to get at the reasons why libraries do not seem that worried about being wrong 45% of the time. She says that historically, libraries were not that involved in fact provision, and that it only became an offered convenience for patrons. She theorizes that fact provision by librarians could become a thing of the past, a short stay in the history of libraries and be replaced by expert systems or the like. (see note #2)
  9. As far as studies done using unobtrusive testing, professionals working with the public should have no problem with being observed and tested for skill.
  10. The findings of Hernon and McClure are disturbing, but they could be a reflection of the prevailing societal attitudes that are so evident around us, or from the fact that answering short unambiguous questions has not had a long history in libraries?

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. I would say that some of our results have been marred by paraprofessionals, but it probably works in our favour because we can say that is one reason why the numbers are so low and all the more reason why libraries should spend more money on hiring professional librarians.
  2. Do you think her concept is particularly analogous to what the Quebec government is doing with the kiosks?

Dewdney, Patricia, and Catherine Sheldrick Ross. "Flying a Light Aircraft: Reference Service Evaluation from a User's Viewpoint." RQ 34, No. 2 (Winter 1994): 217-30.

  1. Using students from the University of Western Ontario's Graduate School for Library Science as proxies, the authors undertook to evaluate reference service from the user's viewpoint. Rather than just using accuracy rates in which to make the evaluation, the authors used Joan Durrance's measure of a 'willingness to return' to the librarian, since ultimately, the user must be the judge of good or bad service.
  2. The other reason they decided upon 'willingness to return' instead of accuracy was because rates of accuracy are only conducive to measuring success rates of factual questions.
  3. The users asked questions that were important to them when visiting their hometowns.
  4. Results were similar for both academic and public libraries.
  5. The results were: 1.) about 18% of users were highly satisfied with their reference encounter. 2.) 15.6% reported that they were highly unsatisfied. 3.) When scores were collapsed into low, medium, and high ratings, less than 41.6% expressed high satisfaction, while 35.1% had a low satisfaction level. 4.) Asked whether they would return to the same staff member, 59.7% stated they would, 27.3% said they would not, while 10% were not sure.
  6. There was a strong relationship between willingness to return to the librarian and an overall positive experience, with factors such as librarian behavior and the degree to which the librarian answered their questions.
  7. Proxies were also asked to comment on how well they perceived the librarian to understand their question, with only 2% reporting that the librarian did not seem to fully understand what they were asking. 44.5% said that there seemed to be a good understanding on the part of the librarian. One thing that was evident from the written accounts was that often the librarians involved did not conduct a reference interview, but "[u]sers apparently did not diagnose the librarian's incomplete understanding of their information need as the reason why they did not get the specific answer to their question…" (p. 223). 55% of the librarians chose not to conduct a reference interview.
  8. Given the results that 40.3% of the proxies would not be willing to return, this study is in agreement with the multitude of research which states that patrons receive incorrect information 45% of the time. Therefore, "[i]t seems that no matter which outcome measure is used - accuracy, user satisfaction, or willingness to return - and no matter what type of library is observed, reference service is still not meeting the goals of effective information service in 40 to 45 percent of cases" (p. 223).
  9. Of the 72 proxies involved in this study, only 15 reported knowing that they had been helped by a professional librarian. A problem with name tags is still plaguing the profession.
  10. Some of the library staff who answered questions for the proxies asked good open-ended questions to elicit what their information need was, but only 45% of the proxies were asked one or more questions during the encounter. In 18 of the 42 cases where the reference interview was dispensed with, the first thing the librarian did was check the OPAC to do a keyword search, and for some, this is an automatic response. If nothing of use came up on the computer, many librarians did not seem to know what the next step should be; it was as if the catalog encompassed all the reference sources available.
  11. As far as librarians providing patrons with a call number or when they simply suggest a source and leave them on their own to search for answers, the results are far from encouraging. In 42.1% of the cases, this unmonitored referral led to information which was not helpful. When users are not properly interviewed and then sent off on their own, and with little instruction, there is a high probability of failure.
  12. What is so disturbing is that many of these problems can be resolved if librarians do some follow-up. Gers and Seward have said that the follow-up question may be the most important thing a librarian can do because it can make up for incorrect information provision. Follow-up questions can make the user's experience a satisfactory one and prevent a whole series of events from taking place. (see note #1)
  13. OOPS!!! The authors make the point I have just written out below and refuse to delete. In their study, some of the proxies ended up asking three different librarians for help, and that certainly is a drain on human resources.
  14. Communication training and help with building problem-solving skills seems to be in order for librarians working in reference departments
  15. And librarians need to learn how to provide good referrals, not simply suggestions

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. From everything I have read so far, it seems as if the lack of follow-up is really draining on resources because if you have any real urgency for information, it is likely you will return to the desk for more help. What happens is that the librarian in question has already run off with someone else and the patron has to begin all over again with a different librarian, who in fact could be helping someone else. In one of the other articles, perhaps the Ian Douglas one, he says that for factual questions, librarians should make sure they provide the answer in the first round, stopping a series of events from talking place, including causing frustration in the patron. Follow-up can also make up for no reference interview.
  2. The other problem with librarians using no identifying tags is that patrons can be at a loss to know whether the information or instructions they receive are in fact, the best available. Of course, the public may not even realize that people other than professional librarians work reference desks.

Douglas, Ian. "Reducing Failures in Reference Services." RQ, Vol. 28 (Fall 1988), pp. 94-101.

Many criticisms have been made against using unobtrusive testing for reference evaluation. Ian Douglas discusses some of them, and gives some insight into how corrective action is more likely to reduce failures at the reference desk.

  1. Douglas makes the point that the 50-60% accuracy rates reported in unobtrusive testing are not acceptable due in part to the fact that only short factual questions have been used to test librarians. He feels this does not reflect the majority of work done by reference librarians and should therefore, not be used to evaluate overall performance. (See note #1)
  2. The fact that questions have been re-used from study to study makes Douglas even more suspect of results, stating that "as all of the studies except one (my insert: done by Geraldine King and Rachel Berry of the University of Minnesota) involved a number of libraries, it is likely that the investigators consciously or unconsciously selected a set of questions to discriminate between the "quality" of service given by the libraries involved. When testing is done to discriminate between the various candidates, the ideal test results in a mean score of 50 percent and a large variance in the results of individual candidates. The attempt to discriminate between the quality of reference service provided by various libraries could account in large part for the uniformity of the results" (p. 96).
  3. Douglas believes that one of the major drawbacks to unobtrusive studies is they provide little in the way of how change can be implemented, with results being so limited that it is impossible to figure out where weak areas of service exist, and if the problem lies with reduced staff, inappropriate tools, with staff, or inappropriate policies for the handling of certain types of questions. (see note #3)
  4. The author also points out that the difficulties in preparing unobtrusive studies, and the costs involved in using them on an ongoing basis, hamper their value as a way of evaluating reference service on an ongoing basis. Weech and Goldhor have done studies which compare unobtrusive studies with obtrusive studies, and believe that since obtrusive testing is cheaper and easier to undertake, it is probably the better bet for most libraries, especially if they want to have some control and do evaluation regularly. (see note #4)
  5. First mode of failure is giving wrong information. It is sometimes difficult to detect, or even impossible. Douglas says we must assume that librarians are not aware that they are doing so, but is the most troublesome because librarians often have no way of contacting the patron if the mistake is uncovered. Research by the author seems to point to more wrong answers given when a question involves a time element, such as who is the president of such and such an organization? If librarians are aware of the fact that they do provide outright wrong answers to questions of this sort, they are likely to be more careful when providing information. Second mode of failure is the provision of incomplete answers, which occur 30% of the time. This could be due to the librarian not providing a source for the answer, which can easily be remedied by insisting that librarians do so at all times because it is good practice. The incompleteness of answers may also be due to incomplete negotiation of the question, which can be overcome by reviewing the procedures laid out for reference negotiation. Training can help librarians overcome this problem which is particularly troublesome when the patron is simply looking for a short factual answer. The third mode of failure occurs when librarians refer the patron to another agency or source. This does not have to be a problem because patrons may indeed get the information they need from a referral, but it is the uncertainty of them doing so which is problematic. One of the findings that came out of the unobtrusive study by Gers and Seward was that in only half of the cases where a patron was referred could a correct answer to the question be obtained. (see note #5) Douglas believes that if librarians are going to be referring patrons, they should know in advance if the outcome will be positive. This may mean phoning ahead of time to ensure success. Policy of this sort should be implemented to reduce failures. The other way to reduce needless referrals is to actually reduce the numbers given by identifying areas of service which are inadequate, including lack of the proper tools to answer certain types of questions as well as providing staff with additional training so that they are more aware of the sources they have at their disposal. The fourth mode of failure occurs when the librarian leads the patron to a source and does not ascertain that an appropriate answer can be found. This is particularly true when the desk is busy, or in academic libraries where it is common procedure. Douglas believes that "in the case of simple factual queries … it should probably be a matter of policy to find the answer for the patron. The situation rapidly becomes more complex when value judgments have to be applied by the patron to the information found" (p. 99). The fifth mode of failure is the failure to find an answer of any kind. These account for 20% of queries in the reference studies listed on page 95. Monitoring of these types of questions must be made if good reference service is the goal. The other course of action might be to devise policy on such questions, such as referral to a senior librarian or a specific agency. (what comes to mind here is a service such as Reference Canada, which proved helpful to me in the referral chase.)
  6. The recommendations listed above will go a long way in reducing reference failures.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. I think he is right in the sense that although Hernon and McClure do point out that they are only testing one aspect of library work, they have not stressed it to the extent they perhaps should have. I believe you must make it clear that this is only one aspect of the work they do, and does not reflect overall job performance. In this way, librarians across Canada will be more likely to admit that they do need help and more training to shore up their expertise in the dissemination of government information, especially now with its move to online sites.
  2. See page 95 of article for a nice overview of unobtrusive studies.
  3. I think he is wrong, since weak service is obviously found in the provision of answers to factual/bibliographic inquiries and in the use of electronic resources in government document departments.
  4. Especially given Crews' findings that accuracy rates differ only slightly when using obtrusive testing instead of unobtrusive testing.
  5. This is particularly apparent in our study since I can remember many of the follow-up calls to be dead-ends or what turned into a very complicated, and costly chase for the answer. I believe some of my referral calls turned into four or five part adventures. Have you thought about inputting that data into Excel and discovering the ramifications?
  6. Follow-up would also reduce the likelihood that a patron will walk away unsatisfied, and allow the librarian to learn many new things in the run of a day.

Dugan, Robert E., and Ellen M. Dodsworth. "Costing Out a Depository Library: What Free Government Information?" Government Information Quarterly 11, No. 3 (1994): 261-284.

The authors describe the development of a model that costs out what the Joseph Mark Lauinger Library at Georgetown University spends to support the distribution of federal government information. Since 1969 it has been a depository library, with a separate area designated for government documents, and has always contributed consider time, money, and staff hours to provide its user groups with the services needed to access government information. However, recently, in light of the government's transition to a largely electronic dissemination model, expenditures in staff, equipment, and support resources have increased greatly. Library administrators wanted to find out how much it was costing to provide these services. Three major categories of expenditure were identified: overhead costs, support or indirect costs, and direct costs associated with being a federal depository for government information.

1. First, they looked at library assets, in which they include the 4380 net square feet of space used for the government documents department, equipment (five microcomputers for public use, four staff computers, two microfiche readers/printers, five microfilm readers/printers, among other things), and the major asset is their collection of print and non-print resources, including directories, and indexes to government information sources.

2. Direct Costs, or expenditures which exist only because there is a government document department in the library. These costs include wages for librarians and support staff; information resources, such as microfiche backfiles, paper indices, and ready reference items; equipment, such as the maintaining of expensive microforms machinery; paper for printing; travel and training; telephone charges; and other supplies.

3. Support or Indirect Costs, or costs that would exist even if the depository system did not, but are supportive of it. These costs derive mainly from technical services support and are primarily labor-based, and involve maintenance of equipment, payrolls, additional cataloguing, and the administration of service agreements and collection development. In addition, support from the reference department in staff hours and BI training.

4. Overhead Costs include the utilization of square footage, insurance, and facilities maintenance.

5. Their conclusion was that the library spent four dollars for every one dollar provided by the GPO. Libraries such as this one, accept that there are costs associated with being a federal depository, but they do not appreciate the government trying to shift extra costs in their direction, or the perception held by Congress, the GPO, and federal agencies that what they get is free, and they have little knowledge of the expenses which libraries must endure to be a part of the program, expenses which are increasing because of the digitization of government information, and therefore, does not understand why libraries can't possibly supply anymore money. "Using depository libraries as a means of disseminating publicly financed information to the U.S. population is a good deal for the Federal government" (p. 275). (see note #1)

6. What should be done? 1.) As it seems that libraries in the depository system seem to want 'everything', collection development policies are in order since no one facility can handle the multitude of government documents that are produced. Should depository librarians be insisting that they receive everything? The authors use the example of document librarians demanding the inclusion of all CD-ROM products released by the government, even when there was no reason to believe they had the hardware or staff capabilities to utilize them. (see note #2) 2.) libraries must use a model such as the outlined here to establish what their actual costs are in being a part of the depository program, and then set priorities and strategies to address budget shortfalls, 3.) depository libraries need to get Congress' attention by making it aware of the inherent costs and problems associated with their role as information providers, which can be done through cooperating with national organizations like the ALA.

7. Considerations: libraries must realize that there is a lot of politics behind Congress' reticence on the subject of information policy. They too are caught in the transition of the Information Age, and new territory is being covered by all involved and at a speed which is anything but comfortable. There are also legal issues concerning copyright, financial complications, and pressures from special interest groups.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

1. Canada's 3.16 million dollar budget for the depository program seems to concur with this. And maybe some of the politics around this is that if they can show that librarians are not disseminating government information at a high enough level, then how can they expect the program to provide them with more information and more money. Perhaps it is a smoke screen of sorts. Interesting to conjecture about. I will think more about it, but there is no doubt that a domino effect is occurring here: without more money for training and equipment, librarians will still be giving out a lot of incorrect information. But why wouldn't they want the program to appear successful. It must be their way of not passing over anymore money. What do you think?

2. How can any one organization be proficient at everything? Don't you think that it is more beneficial to be an expert at some things? Libraries need to remember that they have historically had an their mandate an ideology as preservers of information and as those institutions which have been able to fill in information gaps for their users. they cannot be all things to all people. They have to stringently ascertain what kinds of information their user groups are fundamentally interested in and try to be the best they can be in providing access to it, and then use a rigorous system of referrals to help the rest. Libraries are about connecting people with the information they need, not stock piling like car dumps.

Durrance, Joan C. "Factors That Influence Reference Success: What Makes Questioners Willing to Return?" The Reference Librarian 49/50 (1995): 243-265.

Most of the studies done on reference service have concerned themselves with how accurate the librarians are when answering questions at the desk. This can be problematic. "The unstated assumption behind accuracy as the measure of reference success is that librarians are in the question answering business, since accuracy focuses only on one outcome of a reference interview: a correctly answered question. Measures of reference success need to encompass the other dimensions of reference success" (p. 244). What about bibliographic instruction and advice on search strategies? Many patrons walk away knowing something they did not when they entered the library.

A few things that make patrons more willing to return:

  1. Staff who seem available to offer help, rather than making a patron feel as if they have interrupted something very important. Patrons are already nervous enough approaching a reference desk without being made to feel uncomfortable.
  2. It helps patrons to know the name of the librarian who is handling their reference inquiry.
  3. Librarians should focus their efforts on making their first few words with a patron constitute a successful beginning. Instead of making guttural sounds, grimaces, or offering silence as a reward for approaching the desk, librarians need to use open questions to begin a reference interview, and behave in a friendly, welcoming manner. "Observers found that statements used to open an interview can be either welcoming or off-putting. However unintentionally negative an opening remark may be, it nonetheless can have a powerful effect on the listener. It can serve to close off further questioning" (p. 251).
  4. A high degree of interpersonal skills and approachability exhibited by the librarian.
  5. Good listening and interviewing skills.
  6. Librarians must learn not to run away or begin moving around as soon as a question is asked of them. Such behavior leaves a patron confused and uncertain as to whether they should remain where they are or follow.
  7. Librarians need to practice follow-up and closure.

All of these behaviors are attainable through training, and should be instituted by adhering to a reference department's policies and guidelines.

My note: I contend that the most important thing reference librarians can do is get patrons to return. Even more important than providing them with accurate and well-thought out answers. This makes a lot of sense when one remembers that often, patrons have no idea if the answers they have received are correct or not. Thus, I see it as the same thing as selling houses: it doesn't matter whether every single thing goes smoothly when you sell a house or a building to a new customer. The only thing that matters is that you will get repeat business from the new customer and they will recommend you to their friends and family. Libraries need repeat users, there is no question about that, so if staff consider and implement at least some of the seven points listed above, they will bring some of the patrons back at least a second time round. I still believe that you should strive for excellence and try to supply a patron with some appropriate information, but if, for some reason that is impossible, the least one can do is smile, act friendly and concerned, AND FOLLOW THE SEVEN POINTS. At least a facade of high quality service is suggested, and that is what we are after, isn't it?

Durrance, Joan C. "Raising Expectations: Our Users' and Our Own." The Journal of Academic Librarianship (November 1992): 283-284.

Changing the environment can help improve reference service.

  1. Controlling the Environment: Just as fast-food restaurants, banks, and supermarkets use architectural nuances to rapidly move customers through their environments, "so too do librarians, knowingly or not, create an environment designed to truncate the reference encounter" (p. 283). One simply has to envision a typical reference desk, with patrons lining up to pose their question to the librarian. The Brandeis Library experiment, written about by Massey-Burzio is in fact, an attempt to change the environment surrounding reference work, offering separate information and research desks (a two-tiered system), to better handle the information needs of their patrons. The information desk is staffed by graduate students who are instructed to answer only directional questions and to refer patrons to the research desk after three minutes. What this does, is allow professional librarians to spend more time with patrons needing consultations, and to conduct reference interviews, to determine what patrons are really interested in.
  2. Raising Expectations: both patrons and student workers have such low expectations when it comes to librarians' skill, and librarians' themselves find it hard not to become burnt-out with the succession of directional and question/answer routines. In a two-tiered system, the level of expectation is increased as patrons are referred to a professional research librarian and the librarians are better able to use their skill and problem-solving techniques. How can librarians expect that patrons will know and understand what it is they do, if they do not let patrons know what they are capable of doing? It is little wonder that their expectations are so low.
  3. As paraprofessionals handle basic information requests, librarians are given more time to spend with patrons.
  4. In a two-tiered system, research librarians can concentrate on being problem solvers, and better able to identify, anticipate, and provide information to fulfill the needs of patrons.
  5. For reference service to improve and for librarians to find that niche in this new world of information technology, there must be someone out there willing to take a chance on a new approach to reference.

Durrance, Joan C. "Reference Success: Does the 55% Rule Tell the Whole Story?" Library Journal, Vol. 114 (April 1989): 31-36.

Some important points made in the article are:

  1. That environment seems to be an indicator of success and effects accuracy rates, and thus is it fair to equate good reference service with accuracy levels?
  2. The study used the method of unobtrusive testing to find out how the setting the library at the University of Michigan influences the reference interaction, librarian behavior, and accuracy. In this case, it was not the level of accuracy which determined success, but on the willingness of patrons to seek help from the same librarian at a later time. The study found that there was a 63% success rate.
  3. What they found was that users had problems in identifying the reference desk (some library reference desks were not marked in any way); whether or not they were dealing with a professional librarian or paraprofessionals, since name identification is so controversial; and signage was found to be a problem.
  4. A good point to keep in mind is that "[w]hen libraries were initially designed, the information function was minimal, but past decades have brought major changes in information giving in libraries" (p. 34).
  5. The study found that observers based their willingness to return to a librarian at another time more on how the librarian made them feel, much more than on accuracy rates or weak interviewing skills, especially if they were non-judgemental towards the patron.
  6. "How long must the library user interact with an unidentified library staff member at a desk that may not even be marked and that only sometimes identifies the type of occupant and even less often its specific occupant and virtually never indicates their credentials? Are librarians willing to consider altering the environment with the aim of increasing reference success and creating an environment that better serves the public?" (p. 36).
  7. Librarians must appear more interested in the questions they receive and try to answer them accurately because it is often difficult for patrons to go back to the same librarian for additional help, they instead must start all over again with another librarian, and this is not good time management for anyone.
  8. Bottom line is that the environment must be improved for better reference service to take place, and an element of professionalism infused.

Dyson, Lillie Seward. "Improving Reference Services: A Maryland Training Program Brings Positive Results." Public Libraries (Sept./Oct. 1992): 284-289.

Beginning in 1983, the Maryland Department of Education, Division of Library Development and Services (DLDS), conducted a survey of their public reference librarians' ability to answer reference queries of moderate difficulty correctly, with subsequent follow-up studies being held in 1986 and 1990 to ascertain if levels of ability in public service had remained the same, declined, or improved. Although the 1983 study had found that reference librarians only answered 55% of reference questions correctly, the numbers did improve over the years due to comprehensive training sessions and peer coaching follow-up. Both were geared to improving basic communication behaviors, which reference librarians can control themselves. Fundamental behaviors that radically increase the likelihood that reference librarians will be able to completely and accurately answer information requests include: verifying and clarifying a patron's request; asking follow-up questions to ensure that an inquiry has been answered satisfactorily; using open-ended questions; retrieving an answer in the first source; and giving their complete attention to the problem at hand.

  1. One thing that the studies revealed was that factors traditionally thought to contribute to correct answers (e.g., size of reference collection, size of staff, degree of busyness, length of time for conducting a transaction, etc.) are not associated with reference performance.
  2. In 1990, DLDS hired Transform, Inc. an independent company, to conduct the survey. The survey tried to determine: 1.) How likely are patrons to receive a correct answer to an information query? 2.)What factors influence librarian performance, including behavioral and environmental? 3.) What activities will contribute to librarians providing complete and correct answers?
  3. Twenty telephone questions and twenty walk-in questions were asked in the 87 branches.
  4. Used proxies who were trained by Transform, Inc.
  5. The questions included two types: "negotiation or escalator" (p. 285), and factual questions.
  6. Ten levels of correctness were used to judge librarians ability. See page 285.
  7. The number of incorrect answers dropped when compared to previous studies.
  8. 61.3% of the time, librarians were able to answer information queries that needed some negotiation.
  9. The 1983 study "determined that the behavior of an individual librarian does affect the correctness of answers received. Fortunately, these behaviors are within the control of the librarians" (p. 286).
  10. After the 1983 study, and again in 1986, librarians underwent training in the use of behaviors, and they did perform at a significantly higher level than librarians who did not. Six of the most important behaviors needed for the provision of correct reference answers are: 1.) repetition of specific question 2.) the asking of follow-up questions 3.) the use of open probing 4.) finding an answer in the first source used 5.) use of clarification and paraphrasing 6.) giving the patron their full attention. (in order of appearance)
  11. The highest scoring library branch scored consistently high in their use of the above behaviors.
  12. The study also looked at how peer coaching, training, and support activities help to support the use of specified behaviors over time. They found that training carried over a three day period did help librarians learn and practice the most important behaviors; peer coaching after the training was the second most useful; and policy laid down by the reference department on the use of model behaviors and their inclusion in employee evaluations, also proved beneficial.
  13. The study found that good reference performance is reliant on individual librarians exhibiting specific behaviors which are in their control. (see note #1)
  14. Supervisors and management personnel have a role in developing reference models of behavior and making sure they remain consistently high.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. This would concur with Hernon and McClure's belief that the quality of reference service a patron receives is directly related to the individual librarian who helps them.

Elzy, Cheryl, Alan Nourie, F. W. Lancaster, and Kurt M. Joseph. "Evaluating Reference Service in a Large Academic Library." College & Research Libraries 52 (Sept. 1991): 454-465.

An unobtrusive study was undertaken at Milner Library at Illinois State University between April 17 and April 24, 1989 to see how well reference librarians deal with factual questions. The researchers also wanted to find out how helpful library staff were, what conditions made librarians perform well and those under which they perform poorly. Finally, they wanted to ascertain how service may be improved at the Milner Library. (Since proxies were instructed to seek out particular librarians (known by desk nameplate), librarians could be evaluated individually as well.)

  1. The unobtrusive study used twenty proxies.
  2. Most unobtrusive studies have been undertaken to see how librarians fair across the country or in a particular state, such as the one done in Maryland. This study differs because it appears to be the largest study to date of reference librarians done focusing on one library.
  3. Librarians were notified that the study would take place sometime in the coming year.
  4. Since all questions could be answered by using resources at the library, the study also revealed staff's ability to use the sources found in the library.
  5. All proxies recorded both the answer and the source, time of day, and how long the interaction took place.
  6. Librarians were rated on accuracy, approachability and helpfulness.
  7. "In 58 cases, the librarian received a score of 15, meaning that he or she provided a complete and correct answer. However, the philosophy of service in academic libraries is to provide the appropriate sources or point the student in the right direction. If that level of service is accepted as adequate, then scores of 10 or above would be considered acceptable. This was true of 111 cases (58% of all incidents). If an appropriate referral to the card catalog or another floor is considered acceptable, the library's score increases to 121 cases (about 64% of all incidents). It goes to 128 cases (about 67% of the total) if partial answers are considered acceptable. In 18 of 190 cases (9.5%), the librarian could not or did not find an answer. In 36 (19%) instances, inappropriate referrals and sources or outright wrong answers were given" (p. 459). We must decide upon what percentage is really acceptable and adequate.
  8. Time of day was not found to be statistically significant in connection to accuracy rates or how the students perceived the librarians treatment of them.
  9. No correlation between the amount of time taken by the librarian and accuracy; the length of time did not reflect the accuracy or completeness of answer.
  10. The accuracy of a librarian did not seem to affect how students perceived they were treated. For example, some librarians scored low on accuracy and low on attitude, while the librarian with the highest rate of accuracy also scored the highest for attitude. Still others get high marks for attitude but scored lower for accuracy.
  11. Librarians at Milner are evaluated each year in three areas: service, research activity, and librarianship. Librarianship is given the most weight, but is the most difficult to evaluate. Often anecdotes from colleagues are used for such evaluation. Since unobtrusive studies are more reflective of the quality of librarianship, and offer a more concrete and accurate picture of service provided, it would be a better form of evaluation and more like the evaluations teaching staff undergo.
  12. Suggestions: Interviews with librarians who scored low; workshops and speakers to deal with burnout and to help improve reference service; find out what kinds of questions are difficult for librarians to answer correctly/completely.
  13. Findings from this study can be used to help individual librarians, the department in general, and the institution. Process should be repeated to see if scores will change.

Elzy, Cheryl, and Alan Nourie. "Letters." College & Research Libraries 53 (Jan. 1992): 81-82.

This letter was written in response to comments made by Charles J. Ten Brink in a letter to College & Research Libraries journal, wherein he criticized the study done by Elzy and associates at the Milner Library. He called the study a dispassionate analysis of reference performance that was conducted in violation of the relationship between the department head and the reference librarians at the library. He thought the use of student proxies was unethical, as was the suggestion by the authors of the study that this kind of evaluation could be used in salary and tenure reviews that librarians go through each year at the Milner Library.

In response, Elzy and Nourie, two of the researchers from the study had the following comments:

  1. Most research studies are indeed academic and dispassionate.
  2. Across the state of Illinois, university administrators are demanding accountability from faculty members for teaching effectiveness, and thus, faculty are evaluated by students at the end of every term, which is taken into consideration for tenure and merit pay. The only faculty members who do not undergo such evaluation processes are the library staff. The authors equate reference effectiveness to teaching effectiveness.
  3. The authors discussed the ethics of unobtrusive testing at great length before it was chosen as the method of research, and all were well aware of the pitfalls associated with it.
  4. "While no one really enjoys evaluation from either end of the process, it is a necessary activity and one which we feel is far better accomplished from within the profession and within the institution than by consultants from outside … While unobtrusive study may not be the preferred or popular method of evaluation, it is an effective catalyst for change" (p. 82).

Engeldinger, Eugene A. "Improving Reference: Preliminary Thoughts on a Return to the Classroom." The Reference Librarian 43 (1994): 183-193.

  1. Librarian Dissatisfaction: or more commonly known as 'burnout' occurs after working at a reference desk for a number of years, and being faced with the unending cycle of monotonous, unexciting questions. Librarians lose sight of the philosophical values and principles that they initially began their careers with.
  2. Library School: often this cycle of stress and uncertainty can begin in library school with particularly negative students forecasting the inevitability of being ill-equipped and unprepared to work as librarians upon graduation. In addition, there is the simultaneous degradation of library literature by many in the profession; neither does very much for building esteem. "The essential charge is that library school did not teach us what we needed to know to begin our profession and does not offer the professional development courses we really need to keep up with the field after graduation. Nor does the profession offer a usable literature" (p. 186).
  3. Return to the Trenches: a common theme is to have faculty members spend some time working in a reference department, instead of heralding empty advice from their 'ivory towers'. Certainly, some academic researchers would get a reality check if they had such an opportunity, and would perhaps better understand what it is to work on the front lines and not be so quick to lay all the blame on reference librarians.
  4. Return to the Classroom: Engeldinger suggests that instead of sending library science faculty members back to the trenches, perhaps it would be more beneficial to send practicing reference librarians to teach their skills and relate important professional insights to library school students. Besides helping new students better understand the job of a reference librarian, the process would benefit librarians because "they would look with new appreciation at reference librarianship, at what they themselves do, and the intellectual, philosophical context in which they do it" (p. 187). As a result, librarian 'burnout' may be prevented in some cases, as teaching may act as a stress release for some of those involved. Librarian 'burnout' can be a very serious occurrence in a reference department because it usually results in librarians becoming belligerent to library patrons, and offering very low quality service in general. By teaching, reference librarians will be forced to see issues in a broader context, rather than obsessing about every little problem that comes along. In addition to practical knowledge, teaching reference librarians can integrate some of the scholarly literature that does come out of the field and offer it to students for their consideration, as well as revisiting some of the more important 'classics' they may have forgotten about and which would be benefit them from rereading.

"The tension between the educator segment of our discipline and the practitioners is a real one, though probably most strongly vocalized by the latter. Inclusion of the practitioner in the classroom would help relieve the tension that exists between the worlds of the educator and the practitioner. It might be that this breach in understanding can be bridged if the educators put more stress on the practical. However, it seems to me that as a profession and as satisfied fully-functioning practitioners, it would be preferable for the practitioners to become more active as educators. They would look anew at their profession, through the eyes of those who must understand it well enough to teach it, and they would develop a more positive perspective on the professional literature…Last, and most importantly, the practitioners will be able to put their profession in proper perspective and reclaim the joy and excitement they experienced in the early years of their careers" (p. 192-193).

Eschenfelder, Kristin R., John C. Beachboard, Charles R. McClure, and Steven K. Wyman. "Assessing U.S. Federal Government Websites." Government Information Quarterly 14, No. 2 (1997): 173-189.

Some important points:

  1. The largest information provider in the world is the United States government, with the GPO shipping out over 110 million publications a year; providing 30,000 researchers with information from the National Technical Information Service each week; and 170,000 patrons visiting its depository libraries weekly. Now that government is relying more heavily on the WWW for dissemination of its federal information, the numbers of federal government departmental websites are increasing phenomenally, sites which are being heavily used. For example, the Census Bureau's site manages one million hits per week. All of this change comes from a desire to reduce the federal government debt, decentralize government services, cut costs, and increase revenues. Federal departments have been instructed to reduce discretionary spending associated with the dissemination of government information, and thus, use the WWW as a cheap and timely way to get information about their departments to the people. The problem is that "[t]his rapid proliferation of federal government Websites may be outpacing federal information management policies and dissemination guidelines developed to address issues associated with the dissemination of printed publications. While many of the values reflected by these policies - that is, ensuring fair and equitable access to information by all citizens and protecting information that may be sensitive or violate individual privacy - are still appropriate, the specific policies may not be practical for governing electronic dissemination via the Web" (p. 174).
  2. Key Policy Issues for Federal Agency use of web sites: 1.) Accuracy of Information: unauthorized changes can be made to web sites, even to government web sites, using the modifications made by hackers to the CIA's homepage as an example. This is a serious consideration when one considers how detrimental changes to health sites could be if incorrect information were posted. Federal agencies will have to develop a series of protocols and technically-sound safeguards to prevent the tampering of government information by outside sources. 2.) Although information is being posted on federal government web sites, this does not relieve agencies of their responsibilities to disseminate information in other formats, as laid out by OMB Circular A-130: such as providing information to the depository library program. Federal administrators have big problems with this mentality because they say that librarians and other intermediaries can easily download and print off necessary documentation immediately online, rather than have interested parties waiting a substantial amount of time for hard copies to be distributed. This requirement increases their direct costs, something they have been instructed to reduce by the present administration. "Given the limited resources typically available, the additional costs associated with strict enforcement of these policies could force some agencies to abandon the idea of using the Web" (p. 181). New information policies such as Government Printing Reform Act of 1996 (H.R. 4280) make it clear that electronically disseminated documents are still expected to find their way to the office of the Superintendent of Public Documents for distribution to libraries in the depository system. Of course, some administrators say that posting the information on the web is in effect fulfilling their obligation. Only time will tell if this will become part of the new way of doing things in the government. 3.) Information Collection Via the Web: those administrating websites for the federal government have to know who their users are so that information posted reflects realistic needs, while still protecting the privacy of those using the sites. These sites are generally connected to software that collects information on those entering the site, information that includes which pages were accessed, the time of the visit, and the IP address. Certainly these session logs can be used to ascertain user preferences and allow administrators some insight into what kinds of resources are important to the public, but they can also be dangerous for privacy since they reflect the information-seeking activities of users. OMB does not see IP addresses as personal identifiers, nor does it believe the procedure to be acting against the Privacy Act since there is no collection of social security numbers or e-mail addresses. They see it as a way of customizing federal government web sites and nothing more. "In general, one should evaluate federal use of the Web as an information dissemination channel on the criterion of whether it enhances overall public access to federal information recognizing the tradeoffs involved. Policy makers and Website administrators should consider the consequences of unauthorized modifications to government information. They should determine whether eliminating paper publications and disseminating information via the Web actually would result in significant social inequities" (p. 182). There must also be recognition that strict adherence to OMB Circular A- 130 by federal departments could be very counter-productive, in that it could force agencies off the Web and thereby, restrict access to important sources of government information.
  3. The Importance of Website Evaluations: (see pages 183-185 for criterion). The bottom line on web site evaluations is that making sure that federal government web sites are the best they can be benefits the public by increasing their access to government information resources. The continued use of better web application technology, assessing existing web sites with standardized criterion, and minimizing potential risks will only help in the transition from print to electronic resources of government information.

Ewing, Keith, and Robert Hauptman. "Is Traditional Reference Service Obsolete?" The Journal of Academic Librarianship (January 1995): 3-6.

"The demise of reference service will not occur merely because new technologies are introduced; the seeds for its demise existed long before computers entered libraries" (p. 3). Studies have shown that a large number of reference inquiries are directional/simplistic in nature, do not need the expertise of a professional librarian to handle them, and should be managed by a group of paraprofessionals at an information desk. However, a small number require a reference librarian. Such a two-tiered approach can go a long way to improve the quality of reference service.

What has technology done for librarians?

  1. It has made their jobs that much more complicated and has transformed the librarian into a technological assistant, who takes care of manual tasks such as paper jams, system crashes, and printer failure.
  2. It has made librarians technological instructors for the multitude of ever-changing computer software, interfaces, and digital databases; they are supposed to be computer wizards and BI experts, even though many never receive the training they need.
  3. All of this takes away from the time librarians have to handle serious research questions.
  4. Technological innovations such as 'knowbots', user-friendly interfaces, and online databases have removed librarians from their historical role as mediators.
  5. Certainly, the costs of supplying libraries with the latest hardware/software has resulted in job losses for staff.

Some believe that with the proper training, anyone can perform a reference interview, which is not a process "that requires honed skills, knowledge of behavioral and motivational paradigms, acute senses, and a semi-scripted dialogue to discern the "real question behind the question" [but rather] is a largely historical construct to support the need for a trained professional" (p. 4). And it does not take a professional to direct a reference interview far away from where the patron wanted to go, or scare a potential patron away from the desk because the person behind it seems deeply involved in a conversation with another staff member. On top of all of these problems is the astoundingly poor results that librarians receive when they are unobtrusively tested for accuracy. In addition, long lineups at the reference desk - with some patrons getting extensive help and others very little - seem to show that traditional models of reference do not appropriately assist patrons in their search for information, and that librarians need to rethink reference.

Some questions which librarians need to think about while they are looking for solutions: 1.) are there new roles for reference librarians to play?, 2.) who are the users of reference services in today's networked environment?, 3.) what types of training programs should reference librarians receive to stay current with computer and database technologies?, and 4.) what kinds of things are successful reference departments doing to make the transition to a networked environment?

There are basically five scenarios for future reference departments:

  1. They will remain the same as they have traditionally been.
  2. They may turn into classrooms, where information-seeking is taught by librarians.
  3. Reference librarians may be replaced by automated agents.
  4. Begin to follow a two or three-tiered system.
  5. Be eliminated completely.

It is up to librarians to decide their future and rethink reference before they are only a holographic memory found in a virtual library.

Farrell, Maggie Parhamovich, Ric Davis, Raeann Dossett, and Gil Baldwin. "Electronic Initiatives of the Federal Depository Library Program." Journal of Government Information 23, No. 4 (1996): 393-401.

Currently, the FDLP collects, catalogs, and distributes approximately 21 million documents throughout its 1400 depository library program per year. Although the select libraries receive free information, they are expected to purchase the necessary equipment and provide staff and space for the collection. From a traditional model of centralized printing and distribution environment, the government is moving towards one of decentralization dissemination for electronic publishing. It is up to the FDLP to move in the same direction if it wants to continue its role as providers of government information, and it has made some changes to incorporate this new ideology.

1. In 1994, the LPS issued a report called "Electronic Capabilities of Federal Depository Libraries", which was based on a survey of depository libraries' abilities and the amount of technological equipment at their disposal. What the survey was particularly interested in was whether or not they were prepared to handle government information in electronic form, and they found that 79.8% did have Internet connections, but only 37.1% of them provided it to their patrons. To serve the public adequately, these numbers will have to increase drastically.

2. In 1990, GPO implemented the GPO Bulletin Board for the dissemination of electronic judicial, executive, and legislative agency files, and has since renamed it the Federal Bulletin Board.

3. The creation of the GPO Access service which provides a directory for federal locator services; online access to publications such as the "Federal Register" and the "Congressional Record"; and a storage facility for electronic government information. GPO Access was initially provided free of charge to depository libraries, while companies and private individuals were charged subscription fees, but by December 1, 1995, all fees were discontinued, allowing those who were network literate to access the information without having to visit a depository library. Of course, depository libraries remained important for those who did not have access to computer equipment, or the ability to navigate the government sites on the Internet.

4. On the behalf of depositories, GPO continues to fight for access to more federal agency databases, as a way to build an electronic FDLP. This is not easy since agency documents are now primarily electronic and therefore, are not being coordinated or printed through the GPO as they have historically been.

5. In 1995, the SOD WWW site was developed and is found within GPO's WWW website. It was an important advancement because it allows for a single point of entry to all Superintendent of Documents' electronic resources, connection to GPO Access, the depository library directory, links to the gateway, and a searchable database for the "Monthly Catalog."

6. Currently, GPO has had to move much more rapidly than it expected towards an electronic dissemination model as a result of congressional directives, budget cutbacks, and the explosion in information technology. To help in the transition, Library Programs Service developed the Electronic Transition Staff (ETS), a team that is trying to implement technological solutions to the inherent problems of such a major move. LPS hopes that government information will be accessible through the depositories in three ways: 1.) CD-ROMs, diskettes, and some printed copies of electronic information, 2.) through Internet access to federal sites, 3.) and off-site through the 'gateway libraries' at no charge. To make all this possible, depository libraries will be expected to have workstations, equipped with graphical user interfaces; Internet connections; CD-ROM capabilities; and mechanisms in place so that users can retrieve, download, and print the information they require.

7. Pathway Services is a system under construction that will develop finding aids will be needed to help access government information in electronic form, and that is why LPS is developing 'pathway services', which will use advanced search, retrieval, and indexing tools to link users to the information they need. A subject bibliography will also be provided using subject terms to facilitate access.

8. GILS is a locator service that will assist the public in accessing federal government information, and consists of GILS records, agency core records, and Pathway GILS records.

Ferguson, Chris D., and Charles A. Bunge. "The Shape of Services to Come: Values-Based Reference Service for the Largely Digital Library." College & Research Libraries (May 1997): 252-265.

"Every day, the need becomes more apparent to deliver high-quality reference and instructional support through the network to all users of the library at all times and from all locations, commensurate with the expansion of the information and resources available for unmediated access from remote locations. Little attention has been given to the nature and quality of library service that will be required in a largely digital age""(p. 253).

The Future is Now, and what can librarians do to make reference service better for the patrons?

  1. Value-added and values-based delivery of services.
  2. Integrate technology into reference service.
  3. The use of the network for delivery of core services.
  4. Libraries should begin to consider other options for the delivery of reference service. Are patrons well-served by the traditional, central desk?
  5. The introduction of tiered service involves separating reference into an information area, and a research consultation office..
  6. Another option may be to use 'floating' or 'roving' librarians, or sending librarians out to campus offices, dormitories, etc.
  7. E-mail reference, information kiosks, reference expert systems, and self-service programs, are other possibilities.
  8. An increased interest and knowledge in the informational needs of users, and a shedding of the 'we know what is best for patrons' ideology.

"The value placed on high-quality service is reflected in increased attention to evaluation and the effective use of a variety of staff specialties and levels of expertise. And the value placed on personal service, that hallmark of reference, is honored by offering users the opportunity to consult with reference librarians in environments that are conducive to fruitful interaction" (p. 258).

Librarians must retain their traditional services and develop new ones to facilitate the digital age as libraries are in a state of flux due to computerized technology, the Internet, and electronic databases becoming more prevalent. Underlying the changes that are taking place is the realization that librarians cannot be replaced with an expert system any time soon because they will be needed to help patrons articulate their information needs, use the highly complex electronic technologies found in libraries, and to evaluate the information that is retrieved. Reference librarianship is changing as staff try to incorporate new models of service to meet the challenges of a digitized information environment, along with financial restraints, and the reality that not everyone is able to handle technological advancement equally.

Force, Ron. "Planning Online Reference Services for the 90s." The Reference Librarian 43 (1994): 107-115.

The diversity of online reference services has made future planning for them a complex process since there are so many options to choose from. However, planning for the integration of such resources is necessary if libraries want to offer timely, current, and quality service for their patrons. What are some of options?

  1. Local Access: most libraries, even the smallest, have some access to CD-ROM databases that allow patrons to search for information, without the library incurring great costs. The drawbacks to these mounted databases include the problem of radically different search software that varies from vendor to vendor, causing problems for instruction; differences in database licensing agreements; and difficulties in planning for future budgets due to vendors changing their pricing schedules.
  2. Local Gateways: offer access to databases which may be too large to mount on local systems, or unavailable in tape or in CD-ROM format. For example, CARL's UnCover, and OCLC's FirstSearch.

What are some of other things that affect planning for online reference services?

  1. Discounts: connect time costs and discount plans vary from vendor to vendor. Some, like Dialog offer educational discounts, while others charge lower rates for weekend and evening use.
  2. European Vendors: although North American organizations can take advantage of competitive rates from European vendors such as Germany's DIMDI, calculation of international exchange rates and fluctuations are difficult to factor in.
  3. Proliferation of Databases: almost twenty years ago, Dialog was already offering 86 databases, currently, it provides access to over four hundred. Many other information service contractors are as prolific. For librarians, it always difficult to decide which ones to choose: often, price considerations prove to be the deciding factor.
  4. Consumer Oriented Services: includes those of Prodigy and Compuserve.

Planning Challenges for the Future:

  1. Economic Considerations
  2. Locating online information: with such a proliferation of available databases, it is often difficult to remember which one is the best to use when searching for particular information. Searching the Internet can be equally as disturbing. Online reference tools, similar to Sheehy's Guide to Reference Books will need to be developed in the future.
  3. Building the Local Telecommunications and Computing Infrastructure: technological expertise and financial support will be needed to install the necessary telecommunications equipment necessary for sophisticated online searching.
  4. Ensuring Access for All

With the explosion in information and information technologies, increasingly, librarians have much more to consider than they did in the days of print sources and card catalogues. The provision of high quality reference services will be dependent upon the choices librarians make concerning online and electronic reference services and their expertise in using the products.

Ford, Barbara J. "From Discussion to Action: Changing Reference Service Patterns." The Journal of Academic Librarianship (November 1992): 284-285.

Just as staff burn-out, funding shortfalls, and changing technologies had been the focus of librarian literature in the 1980s, the 1990s has seen an attempt to find solutions for these problems. One way has been to introduce a new model for reference service, such as the two-tiered system written about by Massey-Burzio. "As the information environment continues to change, academic reference librarians will have to take risks, to experiment with innovative systems of service provision" (p. 284).

The two-tiered reference model seems to make sense because it offers both a place for quick answers to be given, as well as one that can help with in-depth research inquiries. At the information desk, paraprofessionals can screen clients, attempt to answer their questions, and refer them to professional librarians when they cannot. The research consultation service office offers a quiet place for a patron to sit down with a librarian and focus on their information problem. This system allows patrons to really see the skills and expertise of reference librarians, while it increases librarian job satisfaction and knowledge. This service is especially beneficial to advanced researchers who need more than a quick interaction at a reference desk and it gives them a chance to request an appointment with a particular librarian, familiar with their needs.

It seems likely that new patterns of reference service can help to improve its quality, but more studies should be done concentrating on user response to the new model. If librarians can generate information from user response, they will be able to plan for the future and become more effective at meeting the information needs of their users.

Ford, Stephanie. "Public Access to Electronic Federal Depository Information in Regional Depository Libraries." Government Information Quarterly 14, No. 1 (1997): 51-63.

In the GPO's 1993 "Annual Report", it reported that it had distributed 167 000 copies of 292 titles in 1993. Each year, the federal government disseminates more than 7500 electronic databases, as well as providing information through its Internet sites, locator services, and gateways, putting a huge burden on regional depository libraries to provide access to this electronic information. For depository libraries to distribute this electronic information, they must have the proper equipment, funding, training for staff, and technological expertise. This study looks at how regional depositories are managing. In 1994, a comprehensive study done by the LPS showed that depository libraries have their computer hardware/software, Internet connections, and were well positioned to accommodate electronic information for the patrons.

Survey findings:

1. In March 1995, surveys were sent to 53 regional libraries, only 41 responded, with 15 or 37% being both academic libraries and members of the ARL. 29% were non-ARL academic libraries, ten or 24% state agency libraries, three or 7% public libraries, and one or 2% a special library. Twenty-seven have a separate area in which to house their government collection.

2. Staff ranged from none to nine, with a total of 106 full-time professional librarians. Three regional depositories had no full-time professional librarians for their collections. One full-time professional librarian is the most frequent finding. Of the thirty-nine libraries which responded to how many hours are spent a week servicing the collection by professional librarians, ranged from twenty (one occurrence) to 253 (also one occurrence).13 libraries reported 20 to 60 hours, 12 reported 61 to 100, and 14, 105-253 hours per week.

3. Since public access to electronic government information is dependent upon many factors, this study looked at some of them, including 1.) OPACs: 93% had them, but only 71% included the depository records in the database. 2.) Depository Machine-Readable Information: 100% of the regionals include machine readable items in their collections, with 88% providing access to floppy disks, 100% CD-ROMs, 7% videos, and 73% public access to the Internet. 3.) Equipment: 100% had workstations for the public, and 73% provided workstations with Internet access. 4.) GPO Access: 78% provide the public with access to GPO Access. 5.) Gateway Libraries: these libraries offer twenty-four hour remote access to the public, and include user support. Ten of the regionals provide it, five being academic ARL, two non-academic ARL, one public, and two state agency libraries. 6.) Staff Training: 93% train staff in techniques for electronic dissemination to the public, and include workshops, and classes. Four have no training, 14 have one method, 13 two methods, and nine three methods. 7.) Promotional Activities: 71% engage in some sort of outreach or promotional programs, with 56% using some sort of brochure. 39% hold workshops, and three use other methods. 8.) Bibliographic Instruction: 98% use some type of BI for patron assistance in electronic information, 95% do one-on-one for electronic, 42% use classrooms for the instruction, and five or 12% have occasional BI sessions, appointments, or group training. 9.) Peer Connection: twenty-seven use e-mail to keep in touch with peers, and 37 subscribe to listservs. 10.) Attitude Toward Machine-Readable Depository Information: this was judged by asking librarians if they thought having electronic government information in depositories would improve patron access? Most lodged concerns as answers to this question, however, 83% believe access will be improved.

No differences could be found between ARL and non-ARL regional libraries, nor little differences between state, public, or special libraries. Most are trying to get better prepared for their foray into the electronic universe, and many are offering little resistance. Staffing seems to be the biggest problem, with the majority have only one full-time professional librarian, and without qualified, competent staff, you are dead in the water right from the start.

Gers, Ralph, and Lillie J. Seward. ""I Heard You Say…" Peer Coaching for More Effective Reference Service." The Reference Librarian 22 (1988): 25-260.

In 1983, the authors performed a statewide survey of Maryland public libraries. They found that reference librarians accurately answer questions 55% of the time, and that factors traditionally believed to contribute to accuracy, such as size of staff, collection, and length of time, were found not to be important. Most importantly, their study showed "[f]actors that contribute to improved reference performance are communication behaviors that are within the control of the individual librarian"(p. 246).

Training is required, but so much of the knowledge gained in those kinds of information sessions are quickly lost, particularly if no follow-up is done through coaching. Coaching can help trainees overcome some of the discomfort they will experience when trying to learn new skills, something which requires a great deal of effort and commitment. Coaching is needed to help people maintain newly acquired skills, and should be set up during the training program. In addition, the program should be made up of peers, as they provide an interim support until new skills can be internalized.

As a result of research done by Bruce Joyce, out of Columbia University, "we know that peer coaching is an essential activity in which you must engage if transfer is to take place. In order to facilitate transfer, workshop participants are asked to find a partner with whom they would feel comfortable and trust" (p. 249). Participants are asked to sign a coaching agreement and to work their way through the Model Reference Behaviors Checklist, which includes such things as approachability, interest, and follow-up. When model behaviors are exhibited 90% of the time by librarians, patrons can expect accuracy rates at least 80% of the time.

  1. Feedback is a critical component of the peer coaching process and must be solicited, timely, directed towards behavior modification, specific, and descriptive (either evaluative or technical).
  2. Support is also a precondition of the peer review process, with achievements recognized, and positive reinforcement used.
  3. In addition to coaching, other strategies can help in the transfer of new skills. They include modeling, a group action plan, the use of recent trainees as trainers, action plans, sharing success meetings, positive reinforcement, management rewards, and coaching by members of the management team.
  4. Peer coaching can be a very effective vehicle for libraries to use when interested in improving reference service.

Gers, Ralph, and Lillie J. Seward. "Improving Reference Performance: Results of a Statewide Study." Library Journal 110, No. 18 (November 1, 1985): 32-35.

In 1983, a landmark study was done of all branches in Maryland's public library system. It was carried out by the Public Library Branch of the Division of Library Development and Services, Maryland State Department of Education. It was conducted to find out how accurate the information received in reference departments is, and to find out the types of activities and level of resources needed to improve the level of performance. Forty questions were asked in sixty outlets of the twenty-two public library systems in the state, and included both direct and negotiation questions. The ten level scale for measuring correctness is on page 32.

Findings from study were: 1.) Correct answer with source - 38.2% 2.) Correct answer without source - 16.7% 3.) source where answer could be found - 10.1% 4.) Partial answer and source - 1.9% 5.) Partial answer without source - 1.5% 6.) Internal directions which led to correct answer - 8.4% 7.) Internal directions which did not lead to correct answer - 5.2% 8.) No answer, external directions - 7.3% 9.) Incorrect answer - 5.7% 10.) No answer/no directions - 5.0%.

Looking for variables which could affect correctness of answers given, the researchers grouped them into three categories: 1.) Resources: they found that the quality and quantity of resources have only a very slight effect on reference service performance. 2.) Demand: (whether question was asked on phone or was a walk-in, busyness) has only a slight effect on service. 3.) Behaviors have a strong influence on librarian performance, and includes level of negotiation, level of interest, level of comfort, and follow-up. (see #2 in following section)

Interesting findings: 1.) A busy librarian is likely to answer a question with accuracy 43% of the time, while a librarian who is not busy 42% of the time. (see note #1) 2.) "The variables that appear to make a difference in performance are behaviors that are within the control of the individual librarian providing the service" (p. 33). 3.) Accuracy of answers is directly related to whether the librarian uses questions to find out what the patron is specifically looking for, with 'no probing' almost never resulting in a correct answer and 'most probing' resulting in a correct answer 62% of the time. Follow-up: if a librarian does not ask the patron if the information received answered the question, they will provide a correct answer only 52% of the time, whereas, a librarian who does ask, provides a correct answer 76% of the time. "This may be the single most important behavior because it has the potential for allowing one to remedy lapses in other desirable behaviors" (p. 34).

To summarize, librarians provide correct answers to moderately difficult questions 55% of the time.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. Doesn't this concur with the findings from your proxy survey?

Gwen Harris Information Services. "Current Awareness and the Depository Services Program." Government Information in Canada/ Information gouvernementale au Canada 3, No. 4 (1997). Available:

Access to information about the release of Canadian federal documents has been increased through the development of the Depository Services Program website, especially since the Weekly Checklist has been included in its links. This tool is an important one because it can help locate latest releases and provide lists of documents from the archived back issues. The search feature is another valuable addition because it allows a person to search through the catalogue, and has a subject term locator built in, with availability status of documents cited. In addition, some of the abstracts of documents include hypertext links to full-text copies. Access to Guides to Government Information is another reason that makes this site valuable to researchers and the public alike.

The downside is that individuals from the public cannot order directly from the site, nor are there telephone numbers for selective or full depositories, and no URLs for the large number of full depository libraries listed. There are also lockouts on the site, which allows access only to depository librarians. However, all of these problems can be easily overcome to make this site a valuable tool for those interested in federal government information.

Harris, Howard. "Retraining Librarians to Meet the Needs of the Virtual Library Patron." Information Technology and Libraries 15, No. 1 (March 1996): 48-51.

Technological advancements have fundamentally changed libraries. As advancements continue, library administrators are trying to prepare for the structural changes that will occur as future libraries are modeled on virtuality, with virtual patrons. In reality, full integration of a virtual library will take a very long time. For libraries and staff to provide high quality service in the future, what is needed?

  1. The learning and understanding of new technologies.
  2. Organizational structure which is suited to learning.
  3. Libraries must encourage their employees to involve themselves in self-development opportunities.
  4. The consideration of customer information needs.
  5. Encourage the exchange of information.
  6. Emphasize collaboration instead of competition.
  7. Use new technological advancements to empower and inform all areas of an organization.

"Librarians will gain the understandings necessary to meet the needs of virtual library patrons not primarily by training but by a learning process which will guide librarians in the development, implementation, operation, reassessment, modification, and ultimately, replacement or elimination of individual virtual library services" (p. 50). Libraries need to consider generative learning over training if they want to offer high quality service in the future, and implement strong leadership to pave the way. Generative learning is possible through the implementation of a 'learning organization'.

Peter Senge is a leading writer in the area of learning organizations, whose seminal works The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, and The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization explain that there are five disciplines, which must be mastered when introducing such an organization:

1. Systems Thinking C the ability to see the big picture, and to distinguish patterns instead of conceptualizing change as isolated events. Systems thinking needs the other four disciplines to enable a learning organization to come about. There must be a paradigm shift C from being unconnected to interconnected to the whole, and from blaming our problems on something external, to a realization that how we operate and our actions, can create problems.

2. Personal Mastery C begins by becoming committed to lifelong learning, and is the spiritual cornerstone of a learning organization. Personal Mastery involves being more realistic, focusing on becoming the best person possible, and striving for a sense of commitment and excitement in our careers to facilitate realization of potential.

3. Mental Models C they must be managed because they do prevent new and powerful insights and organizational practices from becoming implemented. The process begins with self-reflection, unearthing deeply held belief structures and generalizations, and understanding how they dramatically influence the way we operate in our own lives. Until there is realization and a focus on openness, real change can never be implemented.

4. Building Shared Visions C visions cannot be dictated because they begin with the personal visions of individual employees, who may not agree with the leader=s vision. What is needed is a genuine vision that elicits commitment in good times and bad, and has the power to bind an organization together.

5. Team Learning C is important because currently, modern organizations operate on the basis of teamwork, which means that organizations cannot learn if team members do not come together and learn. It is a process of developing the ability to create desired results; to have a goal in mind, and to work together to attain it.

To summarize, a learning organization does away with the mentality that it is only senior management who can and do all the thinking for the entire corporation. It challenges all employees to tap into their inner resources and potential, in hopes that they can build their own community based on principles of liberty, humanity, and a collective will to learn. Learning organizations are important because they:

Hernon, Peter, and Charles McClure. "Library Reference Service: An Unrecognized Crisis - A Symposium." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 13 (Nov. 1987): 69-71.

In 1987, Hernon and McClure stated there was evidence that serious problems exist in the provision of quality reference service throughout academic and public libraries in the United States. Although their unobtrusive studies focused only on factual and bibliographic inquiries, and admit that reference service encompasses a much large universe of work, still "[a]nswering such questions correctly … is a key indicator of the overall quality of a library's reference service" (p. 69).

Some of their findings:

  1. Librarians answer factual/bibliographic questions in an incorrect manner half of the time, and give "half-right" responses.
  2. They are not knowledgeable about some basic reference publications in their libraries.
  3. They seem to have an internal clock ticking away which makes them spend minimal time understanding what the patron is looking for, as well as finding answers. (see note #1)
  4. By conducting superficial reference interviews, they often do not understand what the patron is actually in need of.
  5. Librarians will tell patrons they do not know the answer to an inquiry, will not search further, and turn the patron away without answer or referral.
  6. The next point says "infrequently engage in referral, either internal or external to the library" (p. 69), but I thought it was the opposite??
  7. Treat patrons abrasively, and display a lack of question negotiation and searching skills during a reference encounter.
  8. Librarians are over-dependent upon technology. (see note #2)
  9. They believe that the library catalog encompasses the library's entire record of holdings available to them.
  10. These findings are applicable to both public and academic libraries, regardless of staff, budget, or collection, or community size.

Their reactions to criticisms:

  1. Research over the past twenty years using unobtrusive testing in libraries documents a pattern that has stayed constant: that reference staff, when answering short unambiguous factual /bibliographic questions, provide accurate responses only 55% of the time. The fact that librarians have criticized the reliability, validity, and the ethics of using unobtrusive testing methodologies, and dismiss the findings as something that only happens in libraries other than their own, does not dismiss the consistency of the findings, and overrides this collective view. In particular, the claim by academic librarians that their philosophy is to lead patrons to some possible sources, with no direct provision of answers, does not negate the findings. (see note #3)
  2. Although librarians have complained about the questions used in these studies, even after a pool of them were given a pretest and were posttested on them unobtrusively, their scores did not change. Hernon and McClure's preliminary findings on such interventions is as followed: "One-shot continuing education workshops, seminars, etc. imposed on staff, that attempt to increase the accuracy with which they answer reference questions, are not likely to improve staff performance" (p. 70). (see note #4)
  3. That instead of being critical of the research method, libraries should realize that the findings really do give insight into library effectiveness and can help to identify issues which need attention, such as: 1.) should libraries be satisfied with 55% accuracy for certain kinds of questions? 2.) Is correctness a high priority for librarians? 3.) If librarians have trouble with short factual questions, what can be assumed about inquiries needing indepth analysis? 4.) In what ways are professional organizations and individual libraries responsible for improving reference service and the level of accuracy? 5.) What strategies will help with improvement, if preliminary findings of "one-shot" training sessions are so dismal? 6.) Should staff have to undergo continuing education which is connected to certification programs used by the likes of the Medical Library Association? 7.) Can we assume that there is an inappropriate allocation of funds to collection building, etc. and not enough money spent on fulfilling the basics of good and accurate reference service? 8.) Are the 55% findings directly related to staff incompetencies or are they attributable to administrative policies at work behind the scenes?
  4. Libraries have to take steps to determine the performance of staff and the quality of their service, and take steps to improve them. As much as managers seem to be more interested in quantity rather than quality, and continually increase the demands they place on staff, the realization must be that these institutions are at a historical crossroads of sorts, and crisis seems to be the prevailing outcome. (see note #5)

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. You can tie this into the fact that it doesn't seem to matter if librarians are busy or not. They spent the same amount of time with the proxies. Furthermore, your findings indicate that even when they were not busy, the rate of accuracy did not increase. I don't believe librarians can say they provide incorrect answers because they are busy.
  2. I have seen this time and again when telephoning for the referral follow-up and the current events questions. Librarians seem to not even try to use their own brains to begin thinking of a solution, they automatically say they are going on the OPAC first, and in the case of the current events inquiries, they tell me to come in and use the periodical indexes. There does not seem to be any other solution.
  3. If librarians are the gatekeepers to a world of knowledge, than we will have to do better to be respected. We can no longer make this claim if we are not willing to really involve ourselves in the provision of information in an enthusiastic manner. The unexamined life really is not worth living.
  4. Although we cannot use this ideology in the book, I believe that the real problem is that since librarians are real people, and real people, much of the time, do not care about doing a job properly, or having a good solid work ethic, and display laziness and corner-cutting on a continual basis, to me, it is no surprise whatsoever that they just drudge their way through their jobs without being thankful for what they have, and are unaware of the cultural, philosophical and even spiritual position they are in.
  5. We need to pick one: Quantity or Quality. Throughout the history of the world, libraries have been important institutions for the cultivation and preservation of humanity. Libraries are the repositories for humanity's knowledge; they are our past, our present, and our future. As futurist Paul Saffo points out, librarians originally were responsible for collecting information that was scarce, to make it available to a greater number of people (Saffo 1995,294). He goes on to say that "librarians were sort of mad information hoarders, who were hoarding in the public interest" (Saffo 1995,295), but that is no longer a realistic goal with the explosion in information and the shrinking budgets of libraries. Libraries have arrived at a critical point in their history, and they must choose to view the quality of the information that is bombarding society as more important than providing everything that is available. Should they have to close reading rooms, lay-off staff, and reduce their book budgets to buy more computers (Stoll 1995,177) while allowing students to access e-mail and chat rooms in academic libraries, especially when resources are so limited? It is information, information that is not being distinguished from knowledge, so it is allowed to continue, and simply because it was decided that digitized bits of data would be called information, no matter what it is relaying (Rozak 1986,14). Historically the word information was most often used to denote knowledge, now it shuns semantics and represents anything that can be coded into a series of zeros and ones (Rozak 1986,13). The differences in meaning have become blurred: "the word comes to have a have generality, but at a price; the meaning of things communicated comes to be leveled, and so too the value" (Rozak 1986,14).

A fine example of this phenomenon was written by Mark Slouka when he describes Ellie Frame, a young child appearing in an IBM print ad. The message is that if she had the right computer, with television capabilities, she could look at some of the greatest art pieces the world has known, surf for historically significant landmarks like the Great Wall of China, and be back in time to watch The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Slouka 1995,146). Slouka's point is a powerful one because it shows how easy it is to level the important things in life, and reduce their value in a sweeping, and thoughtless motion. He is not saying that the sitcom should not be on television, but that there is no longer the proper qualitative measure put on the wonders of the world. All technology comes with a price tag attached, and information technology's can be quite high because young children are initiated and it is so heavily involved with the way schools and parents educate their children. Slouka believes that the price is too high to pay for the transformation of children into zombies, involving them in a virtual type of reality when they are connected (Slouka 1995,147). Langdon Winner calls it "the absent mind," which is willing to believe the hype advertised by private moneymaking industries which say they really care about inspiring education and bringing democratic decision-making back where it belongs, in the hands of the people (Winner 1986,115-117). All through information technology! Imbedded in Webster's argument and stated in Winner's is the propaganda that equates a sheer supply of information with an educated ability to gain knowledge and act effectively on it (Winner 1986,108). Coupled with this is the wrong impression that anyone at all can access quality information if they are connected to electronic resources.

As libraries continue to automate systems such as cataloguing, and find money for the newest databases as they lay off real people, the problems will intensify. Librarians have been trained to search out the best information available on any given subject area, and know when to use print sources. Even if there was an Internet-connected computer for every patron entering a library, very few could search the databases for the information they need. They will require a specially trained human intermediary to sift through and filter out the nonsense, they will need a librarian. People need assistance to retrieve quality information, so libraries need to be extremely careful that the day will not come when a few lone librarians are surrounded by hardware and software linked to trillions of bits and bytes of every kind. As Clifford Stoll has so eloquently put it,

I suspect computers will deviously chew away at libraries from the inside. They'll eat up book budgets and require librarians that are more comfortable with computers than with children and scholars. Libraries will become adept at supplying the public with fast, low-quality information. The result won't be a library without books, it'll be a library without value (Stoll 1995,214).

Hernon, Peter, and Charles McClure. "The Continuing Debate on Library Reference: Where Do We Go From Here? A Final Response." The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 13 (Nov. 1987): 282-284.

Hernon and McClure were given a chance to respond to the two previous articles.

  1. Their research process: instead of librarians such as Bailey simply dismissing their findings based on the research process, Hernon and McClure belief that it is more fair to examine the entire process of research, including collection of data and data analysis.
  2. Instead of relying on the old standard of "informed opinion", research can challenge it. In regards to Bailey's criticism of the librarian's internal clock, which he dismisses on the basis of informed opinion and personal experience on the reference desk, library decision making should be based more on empirical evidence, and less on traditional assumptions.
  3. In all their tests of reference librarians, they have pretested all questions by submitting them to working librarians to make sure they were typical of those asked in libraries. They also used test-retest in six libraries.
  4. They agree that unobtrusive tests have their limitations, but are in concurrence with Thomas Childers' view that they do not elicit any unnatural responses in librarians. It is a practical, reliable and valid approach to "assessing the quality of one type of reference question" (p. 283), pointing out that library research has not always been so concerned with issues of validity and reliability in the past.
  5. Hernon and McClure argue that the 55% rule was based on the collective research findings of Crowley, Childers, Myers, Jirjees, and others, and is not applicable to any other reference inquiry besides factual and bibliographic.
  6. The collective research documents that there is a problem with some kinds of inquiries in libraries, but that many librarians refuse to believe it or are unwilling to admit it.
  7. Use quote: "Unobtrusive testing is not an end unto itself; it is a means that may be used toward improving the quality of reference desk service and reexamining the role public services play in the library and in the library profession; It is time to move beyond the question of whether or not unobtrusive testing is an appropriate methodology and who's to blame; we must now discuss strategies that address the collective findings of these reference studies. Comprehensive strategies useful for practitioners, library managers, and library educators are needed, not defensive rationalizations justifying either existing reference service practices or educational programs" (p. 284).
  8. Instead librarians should be asking themselves about the quality of their reference service and if it is at an acceptable level?; are the evaluation and training procedures they are using successful?; and are there clear objectives laid out for staff and how they relate to other objectives in the library.

Hernon, Peter, and Charles R, McClure. "Quality of Data Issues in Unobtrusive Testing of Library Reference Service: Recommendations and Strategies." Library and Information Science Research 9 No. 2 (1987): 77-93.

This article uses information from four unobtrusive tests done by the authors, as well as an experiment in which they pretested librarians, then had them participate in a workshop or a slide/script presentation, after which they were posttested unobtrusively.

Unobtrusive testing can help libraries find out: 1.) how accurately librarians answer factual/bibliographic questions 2.) frequency of referral 3.) how librarians negotiate questions 4.) how effectively they develop search strategies 5.) librarian familiarity of information sources in their own collection 6.) how friendly and approachable librarians are to patrons.

The kinds of information that is elicited from unobtrusive studies can be useful for library planning, evaluation, and decision making.

Issues that relate to the reliability, validity, utility, and information value of unobtrusive methodologies are very important: where reliability is equated with the stability and consistency of measurement; validity - either external or internal; and utility relates to how useful the data can be for library decision making.

  1. Reliability in unobtrusive testing refers to issues revolving around the coding of staff responses, and the development and administration of test questions. For instance, test questions should: 1.) be typical of those asked by the public 2.) the answer can be found in more than one source 3.) can be answered using "factual information or bibliographic references" (p. 81) 4.) be reflective of different types of documents and time periods 5.) can be answered from federal depository collections or enable a referral 6.) be pretested to ensure that all criteria are met 7.) not be open for multiple interpretations. Telephone questions should not require a large amount of interviewing, or be the type that the librarian would request a personal visit to the library in which to find an answer for the patron.
  2. Researchers must also decide how the questions will be administered: in person or on the phone.
  3. Proxies should be trained, and ask their question to whomever is standing at the reference desk. Although there can be no certainty that the person is a qualified librarian, it also makes the interaction more lifelike because patrons never know for sure who they are dealing with either.
  4. Researchers must specify what will constitute a correct answer before the data collection, since subjectivity can affect scoring afterwards. A coefficient of reliability should also be used, such as the Kuder-Richardson Formula 20.
  5. The majority of the unobtrusive studies undertaken have revealed similar findings. This also adds to the reliability of such testing. Data collection should be free from proxy or researcher bias, which is especially important since proxies have tended to give the librarians more direction than they are supposed to because they are supportive of staff. Proxy training and supervision are key.
  6. Internal validity makes sure that the researchers interpret the findings correctly, as well as considering if other variables or factors should be considered.
  7. External validity ensures that the findings can be generalized over a population. (see note #1) Funding is always a consideration in this case.
  8. To have utility of data, there must be a demonstration of reliability and validity. Utility answers the questions: 1.) what can the findings be used for? 2.) can the findings impact on decisions in the real world? 3.) can the findings affect knowledge or theories? 4.) is the study going to prove insightful, or will people ask why anyone bothered to do it? (see note #2) Will the findings have an impact on changing library policy to improve reference service?
  9. The authors suggest that unobtrusive testing should be combined with case studies because unobtrusive testing may fail to uncover special circumstances in particular libraries which affect reference service.

Hernon and McClure point out that with as much criticism as unobtrusive testing has undergone, there is no reason to believe that it evokes anything other than the natural responses of librarians. (see note #3) Issues of quality of data should also be considered. "Unobtrusive testing provides a powerful research technique for identifying problems in public service areas and assessing the impact of learning interventions. The profession as a whole must address the importance of assessing the quality of a broad range of information services offered by libraries. This concern is not one of interest only to researchers. Indeed, the vast majority of academic and public library staff have only a intuitive "feel" for the accuracy of their responses to reference questions and for many other aspects of reference service. In fact, they are often unable to provide tangible and empirical evidence that demonstrates the quality (effectiveness and efficiency) of their services" (p. 92).

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. For example, if one conducts an unobtrusive study of fifteen academic libraries in Ontario, using a small pool of questions, is that enough to generalize the findings to say that in all academic libraries we find that…
  2. Authors have footnoted Paisley, William J. (1969). "Behavioral Studies on Scientific Information Flow: An Appendix on Method." Gordon Research Conference on Scientific Method, New London, NH.
  3. Authors have footnoted Thomas Childers.

Hernon, Peter, and Charles McClure. "Referral Services in U.S. Academic Depository Libraries: Findings, Implications, and Research Needs." RQ 22 (Winter 1982): 152-164.

The authors' unobtrusive study of academic libraries in 1981 showed that only 37% of the 340 questions were answered correctly by reference librarians.

Important points made by the authors:

1. Reference librarians infrequently provide referrals to the public, even though the complexities of government information warrants the service as a way leading librarians, and their patrons to important information. ."..referral can result in access to timely and easily understandable information and can demonstrate that libraries provide an essential link in the information environment, and can develop an important referral file if they want to. Libraries may not contain comprehensive collections, but their staff members can assist the public in negotiating various information providers for the prompt resolution of an information need" (p. 152).

2. Referral should be more than a directional referral to the catalogue, or another librarian, and should be expected to do so. In this way, libraries can develop a very important reference service, as well as carving out an important place as information mediators in today's society. In theory, the depository library program encourages referral, and assumes that librarians will provide their patrons with reliable contacts, or appointments. However, Hernon and McClure found that only 27.6% of the 282 librarians who failed to find an answer for their patrons provided them with referrals, with 50.3% in the form of suggestions to come into the library or go to another library; twenty-four referrals were made specifically to another library (most often a public one); and 17.9% of all referrals were directing patrons to an external agency like the post office.

3. In twenty-four percent of the times when reference librarians responded that they could not provide a patron with an answer, no referral was given either.

4. Length of reference interview had no correlation to the likelihood that a librarian would offer a referral.

5. The chance of receiving a referral had no correlation with the extent of the library's government documents collection. 74.6% of the referrals in this study were made by librarians working with collections that reflected only fifty percent of possible selections. In addition, a separate government documents service area did not improve the chance of referrals, since only 14.4% of all questions asked at separate collections, resulted in referral. The number of librarians did not have any correlation with effective referrals being given either, nor was there very much evidence that co-workers ask each other for help with questions they cannot answer themselves.

6. "Libraries that receive government publications have a responsibility and obligation to make effective use of these rich information resources...they should consider developing collections of the more heavily used source material and at the same time expanding their referral capability. Referral must be considered as a legitimate and necessary aspect of reference service" (p. 157).

7. Librarians participating in this study most often offered library service that was 'conservative', meaning that they often did little more than point out a possible useful source, with referrals viewed as unnecessary. Staff members who have a liberal or maximum ideology towards reference service will find an answer or a definite source in which the answer can be found for their patrons.

8. Librarians who work with special collections, such as government documents must remember that users need the librarians to help them, especially when one considers unique cataloguing systems used for government documents and the fact that many libraries do not have their collections inputted in the OPAC. Confusion is the primary experience for patrons who try to find what they need on their own. "Documents staff members must fully realize their role as <disseminators of information> and assume the responsibilities that professionalism demands. If they cannot disseminate specific information, for what purpose do they provide reference service?" (p. 159).

9. Librarians who work with government documents must understand the structure and organization of the government, and be willing to offer personalized and aggressive service, which includes the provision of referrals.

10. Hernon and McClure's study showed that referrals are used very seldom, including for those times when librarians have no answer to give the patron.

11. Five categories of referrals: 1.) to a specific individual, 2.) to an information source, 3.) to an agency or organization, 4.) to another department in the library (maps, for example), 5.) information on a technique or method, such as the searching of an online database.

12. Frequent complaints from proxies are that the referrals they receive ware inadequate, incomplete, and confusing. Librarians must remember that specific directions, addresses, and phone numbers make up an important part of the referral process. (see note #1)

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

1. Or as Dewdney and Ross have pointed out, better than information they could have as easily received from someone they met on the street.

Hernon, Peter. "The Electronic Federal Depository Library Program." Government Information Quarterly 13, No. 4 (1996): 341-343.

As the Government Printing Office (GPO) is progressing towards a federal depository program, which eliminates paper and distributes and disseminates information exclusively in electronic format, what are the ramifications for libraries?

1. Opponents of an electronic system stress that the depository system will go the way of the dinosaur, because in theory, any library with access to the Internet, could be considered a s0-called depository. The crux of the dilemma is how Congress will see the future of the federal depository program. Will they support it? (see note #1) The more important aspect is the development of training programs for librarians so that they will have the skills to surf the Web, and use the various federal web finders to access government information.

2. Hernon says that three points have been forgotten in the discussion: 1.) since federal depositories have extensive microfiche, print, and other forms of government documents in their collections, what will become of those holdings? Will libraries' role become one of preservation?, 2.) how will librarians differentiate between authentic, citable, and original government information in electronic form, and what appears to be? Will the website information be archived by the National Archives and Records Administration?, 3.) since the discussion has shifted away from documents librarians and the ALA, and moved to the senior administrators of the 1400 depository libraries, how will that affect the process?

Hernon says it is time to take the focus off the GPO and provide support for the 1400 senior library managers who will determine the future of the depository system as we now know it.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

1. The same can be said for Canada. I wonder how this dimension plays into the government's take on federal depositories, and the politics of the situation.

Hernon, Peter. "The Literature on Government Information Policies, Practices, and Services in the Coming Years: Topics Meriting Inclusion." Government Information Quarterly 14, No. 3 (1997): 221-228.

Discussion Forum: Some Important Points

1. The United States government is downsizing its programs, services, and staff.

2. And a transference of responsibilities and services from the federal level to state and local government which may not be prepared to meet the challenge.

3. Information technologies are increasing, and paper-based government information decreasing.

4. As government tries to overcome fiscal pressures, while becoming more efficient and more accountable, they are using channels such as the WWW to disseminate their information electronically.

Hinojosa, Susana. "Re-Thinking Reference: A True Change?" The Reference Librarian 54 (1996): 95-102.

Change is something that libraries and their staff have been continually plagued with since the late 1980s, as shrinking budgets, pressure on personnel from increased workloads, and the ever-changing environment of information and computer technology were felt in libraries. In addition, these new computer technologies have broken down the traditional and once distinct barriers which existed between public and technical services and collection development, causing them to become blurred. In this climate of transformation, isn't it a good time for academic libraries to reconsider some of the more traditional priorities, procedures, and functions that they have held dear for so long? The time has come to re-think user needs; reevaluate staff expertise and skills; analyze budget allocation in reference departments for the present and future requirements of faculty and students; and eliminate barriers to access by introducing new classification systems, subject headings, and reducing racial, language, and cultural differences.

The reference librarian stands in a central position and acts as interpreter and mediator, and they realize that there is a need for more change if service is to improve. "Ironically, at a time when reference expertise in the new technology, plus knowledge of all the traditional reference sources, is necessary, is when reference service appears to be moving more and more out of the realm of work for libraries and librarians. The assumption appears to be that more and more advanced technology requires fewer trained reference librarians and that the 'traditional' reference question can be answered by trained library staff. Yet the new and more complicated library demands that a mediator role be maintained for users" (p. 97).

Many changes have been proposed in order to improve the quality of reference services, including instituting tiered reference, consolidation of service points, offering appointments for reference consultations, reorganizing reference departments, and viewing librarians as information brokers.

The primary focus in library literature is on how many mistakes librarians make, even though a large number of reference questions are not right/wrong dichotomies, but rather, have answers that are dependent on the users' needs, how a question is perceived, and the professional judgment of the librarian. More emphasis must be put on user needs, especially since many libraries do not know who their users are, and since technology is pushing once traditional libraries closer to highly technological virtual models. Instead of allowing technological systems to take the place of reference work, it would be more valuable to incorporate new technologies with the old, and thus, provide a higher level of service and increased access to information resources. The use of information technology and deeper insight into the needs of users, can go a long way in developing innovative reference service that works.

Hults, Patricia. "Reference Evaluation: An Overview." The Reference Librarian 38 (1992): 141-50.

Patricia Hults makes the point that evaluation of reference departments is now centered on quality, or how good the answers are, rather than on the criteria of quantity (i.e. simply counting the numbers of questions asked). Patron surveys were found to be very popular with libraries because of the excellent results they provided of service, but studies performed by Samuel Rothstein and others found that since patrons are happy with any service at all, they are not good barometers of quality. What methods could libraries use to hone in on quality? The measure of quality has its roots in unobtrusive testing begun twenty years ago by Crowley, who conducted one of the first such studies of reference performance, and has accumulated in libraries using unobtrusive methodologies, patron surveys, and peer review programs to get a better idea of how well they are serving the public. Today there is a distinction between qualitative and quantitative approaches to evaluation.

Terance Crowley and Thomas Childers published their landmark study entitled Information Service in Public Libraries: Two Studies in 1971. This was the first indication that reference librarians correctly answered questions about 50-55% of the time. Numbers of studies followed, including those done by Hernon and McClure, but most librarians and heads of reference still believe that is not the case in their libraries, that they do answer questions correctly much more often than 50% of the time. As the studies continued, the criticisms of unobtrusive studies began to appear, with articles by Bill Bailey and others arguing that flaws in research designs, such as lack of third party observation caused the results to be invalid. Jo Bell Whitlach has questioned both the validity of the questions used in unobtrusive studies, and the problems associated with using such tests to evaluate the whole of a reference librarian's job. Accuracy of answering certain kinds of questions cannot be the only criteria for testing the quality of reference service. Hults agrees that "no method of evaluation measures the totality of a job or is free of design error" (p.143) but that the important point is to find the causes and cures for reference service failures. A major study undertaken by Gers and Seward of the Maryland Public Library system found that a number of factors such as librarian interest, and most importantly, follow-up, constitute the highest predictive factor of success. (See note #1 below) We must be able to "accurately measure how well we provide [the] service we say we provide and then improve service with training that works …" (p. 149). She believes libraries must choose an evaluation program, such as peer review, and then use the results to provide accountability, and increase the service provided.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. The librarians do not seem to have done much follow-up in your proxy study, which may have to do with the liberal versus conservative approaches to reference, or the practice found in academic libraries of leading patrons to the sources and then letting them find sufficient answers themselves. I believe that follow-up may have been replaced by the giving of referrals.
  2. Many other studies are mentioned and examined in this article, but since I have all of them in separate articles, I will wait and discuss their findings and conclusions as I go along as a way of time management. I hope we are in agreement.

Jardine, Carolyn W. "Maybe the 55 Percent Rule Doesn't Tell the Whole Story: A User-Satisfaction Survey." College and Research Libraries 56, No. 6 (Nov. 1995): 477-85).

  1. Since reference librarians really are the liaison between the patron and the library, it is very important to look at the entire process of reference, not simply the accuracy of questions asked. Even if a patron is provided with the correct information, it does not mean that they would be willing to return to that librarian on another occasion. (also see Dewdney's work on the topic, which I will have separate) User satisfaction is tied up with components other than accuracy, including how they perceive they were treated. Did the librarian conduct themselves in a non-judgmental manner? Were they enthusiastic and helpful? (see note #1) As Jardine points out, this is particularly critical in academic libraries where the interaction between students/faculty and librarians is often one which presupposes a non-factual inquiry, and therefore, satisfaction is much more dependent on attitudes and behaviors. (see note #2)
  2. Quantitative methods of evaluation, which count questions asked and answered, certainly cannot reflect the reality of the reference experience because they leave out one of the most important components: our patrons, and how they feel. And although a librarian may answer a question correctly, their performance is not gauged. (see note #3) Qualitative methodologies are the requirement, but with a consideration of librarian attitude and behavior. The focus must be on what the librarian does and how they interact with the patron. As Ronald Powell points out, "Few studies that have focused on the patron as the primary source of data on reference effectiveness have been reported in the literature" (See note #4). Note: a list of similar studies are noted in this article, but since I will be dealing with all on an individual basis, I will not run through all of them now, except to say that Joan Durrance's study found that 60-64% of patrons said they would return to the same staff member, using 'willingness to return' as the tool for reference evaluation.
  3. This study was conducted at the library for the University of Albany, New York in 1993. The researcher surveyed users on librarian attitude and behavior exhibited during the reference process. The main question was "If you had a choice, would you return to this librarian for help another time?" (p. 480) Librarians were well aware of the survey taking place, which brings up the Hawthorne Effect since the findings show a 99% success rate in regards to overall satisfaction. Although the librarians were often busy and had no way of knowing if they were serving a patron who would fill out a survey form, the researcher and department head believe that the findings reflect reality. (see note #5)
  4. Its importance lies in the fact that it showed that user satisfaction has a lot to do with the librarian's behavior because "Fewer than 75 percent of the patrons who indicated that their questions were answered correctly said they were "very satisfied" overall with the librarian who helped them, so slightly more than 25 percent of the patrons who had their questions correctly answered were still not completely satisfied with the service they received…Obviously, things like patience, friendliness, and enthusiasm do influence a patron's overall impression of a librarian" (p. 483). We must certainly acknowledge the opinions of the patrons.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. If you go into a restaurant and have supper, and you find the food was poor to fair, but the waitress and host were very professional and friendly, it is likely you would return at least a second time to the establishment. I know there were times on this study when correct answers were furnished to the proxies, but they left the library with a bad taste in their mouths. Like I said before, I guess you could have had a box for the proxies to tick to try and establish their satisfaction level, but the war stories will provide great insight into this important feature of reference service: whether the public is willing to return. Certainly this must be a major consideration for libraries when information is so readily available through so many new avenues like the Net.
  2. Did we have more incorrect or incomplete answers for academic librarians? As far as the literature reads, we probably did, do we know? You can tie this in with the liberal versus conservative approaches to librarianship, and Ian Douglas' belief that for factual questions, even academic librarians should do more than lead the patron to the source. They should answer the question for the patron or direct them to a solid referral.
  3. I would also note here that the librarian is not always aware if the answer they provide is correct. They may believe it to be. By the same token, the patron does not always know if the answers provided are correct, as seen very clearly in the proxy study. The fact that you did not provide them with the answers, makes the study that much more successful.
  4. We have article: Powell, Ronald R. "Reference Effectiveness: A Review of Research." Library and Information Science Research 6 (Jan. 1984): 3-19.
  5. But how realistic is this, and isn't it another reason for libraries to use some form of unobtrusive testing to establish reality. I would say that as important as patron satisfaction is, this study seems to have an artificial aspect to it.

Jones-Simmons, Carol. "Web Access to the Federal Government Depository Services Program: Reviewed from a Public Library Perspective." Government Information in Canada/Information gouvernementale au Canada 3, No. 4 (1997). Available:

Advantages: based on consultations with librarians and from the author's experience as a reference librarian.

  1. Having access to the Depository Services Program website allows librarians to have knowledge of current information pertaining to the program, updates, and information concerning federal government publications, with access to back issues. This is a great improvement from the irregularly published print newsletter from the program, entitled What's Up Doc?.
  2. Interactive Feedback: the e-mail addresses and telephone numbers of individual contacts are provided on the web site to facilitate any possible concern or suggestion that may be made about the program.
  3. Access to Additional Information: the website provides access to various additional links, including Guides to Government Information and the Weekly Checklist, with subject access links. These serve as pathfinders, collection development tools, and can help find information for patrons.
  4. Convenient and Fast Delivery of Documents: some government documents can be downloaded directly from the site, and there is also a mechanism which allows librarians to order desired documents electronically. This saves time and provides a system for keeping track of what has been ordered.
  5. Searchable Online Resources: the federal government publications catalogue is searchable, making the locating of documents for ordering and for public information, an easier process.
  6. Increased Potential for Networking Among Depository Libraries: provision of links to Canadian library OPACs, and other depository libraries both inside and outside of the country allows librarians "to expand their networking and resource sharing capabilities for government information beyond their own local, regional, and provincial networks to other geographic areas, and to other types of libraries" (p. 3).

All of these improvements can help to transform the program, and make it into a more personalized, user-friendly service.


  1. Slow Access: the problem with many government sites is slow access during peak hours, and the necessity for librarians to wait until off-peak hours to use them. Of course, this can be very frustrating for all involved.
  2. Design Improvements: a better design for the Weekly Checklist is in order to facilitate easier access to all sections of the publication, with extra links needed at the top and bottom of pages, so that constant scrolling is eliminated.
  3. Need to Develop Infrastructure Support: with cutbacks to public library budgets, it is not always easy to find the money needed for the additional staff, technical support, and hardware to provide users with access to electronic sources.
  4. Coordination in a Complex Centralized System: coordination is needed between branches and this new electronic service, to ensure that duplications are not made. There is a need for some kind of centralized ordering procedure to take advantage of these new improvements.

This site offered by DSP can do much to improve access to federal government information, for both users and librarians alike.

Kessler, JR., Ridley R. "A Brief History of the Federal Depository Library Program: A Personal Perspective." Journal of Government Information 23, No. 4 (1996): 369-380.

"Thus 34 years after the founding of the United States and in the middle of a war, Congress took time to establish the rudiments of a national information policy, based on the then original idea of sending free government publications to libraries. It has remained a mainstay of U.S. federal government information policy ever since. By furnishing, through the state executives, copies of congressional publications to libraries, Congress created one of the longest running and most important partnerships in U.S. history - that of government and libraries" (p. 370).

Forty-four years later, an outline for the depository system was developed, with Resolution 5 of the 34th Congress, Third Session stating "That the journals and Congressional documents … shall be deposited with the Secretary of the Interior, for the distribution to such colleges, public libraries, athenaeums, literary and scientific institutions, boards of trade, or public associations as may be designated by him" (p. 370). The Secretary had also been the authority to designate which libraries would become depositories, and by 1859, the FDLP began to provide government information to the public, something it has done for 136 years.

In 1895, "The General Printing Act of 1895" transferred the program from the Department of the Interior to the Government Printing Office (GPO), and the Superintendent of Public Documents to oversee the program for Congress. (renamed Superintendent of Documents). The other reason this act was important was due to its creation of three catalogs: the Documents Catalog (no longer compiled), the Documents Index, later known as the Numerical List and Schedule of Volumes, and the Monthly Catalog. In addition, the law allowed for more types of government publications to be deposited by requiring Executive Departments to distribute their information to the public free of charge. "These principles are the holy trinity of federal documents librarianship: government creates the information, depository libraries house and service it for public use, and the public gets to use the information for free. These three principles have become the foundation of the entire professional doctrine of U.S. documents librarians" (p. 371). (see note #1)

Another important piece of legislation came in the form of the Depository Library Act of 1962, which created regional depository libraries, and added both more types of government publications and increased the number of depository libraries in the system.

The author says that most documents librarians are trained on the job by teachers and mentors, stating that "training for the profession remains primarily one of apprenticeship and training from professional associations" (p. 372). (see note #2) Kessler points out that unless a library has experienced librarians to service the public, providing information free of charge, then they serve no purpose at all. Staff must give personalized help to patrons, and be knowledgeable about the basics of government organization and structure. Government documents are a very complicated area in the realm of information, and it is not easy for people coming into libraries to find the materials they are in need of. That is why it is imperative to have well-trained staff on hand to take them through the steps, and successfully search out information with them. Government documents librarians must be "service fanatics" (p. 372), who philosophically understand that they are the liaisons between the government and the people: they are serving as proponents of a democratic system.

Change is Coming to the FDLP:

  1. In the 1970s, a wave of new government and commercial indexes and finding aids were available, greatly changing the accessibility of government documents, the kinds of research possible, and gave librarians the power to offer extensive reference service. For example, Carrollton Press published the Cumulative Subject Index to the Monthly Catalog of United States Government Publications 1900-1970, while the Congressional Information Service, Inc. (CIS) began producing the Index to Publications of the United States Congress (1970-), and the American Statistics Index (1974-). As a documents librarian, the author says this last index changed the profession and made finding statistical information a great deal easier.
  2. New Expenses: this new accessibility did not come cheap. Abstracting services and indexes are very expensive, and depositories began to require hefty budgets to keep up with all the new tools.
  3. New Formats: Microfiche began in 1977, and by the mid-to-late 1980s, nearly 60 percent of all government information sent to the depositories was in this format. In 1993/1994, regional depositories were averaging 67, 000 microfiche a year. Although microfiche provided access to a lot of new information and saved space, many print publications were soon converted to the format, and there were worries about archival quality, expensive readers, and difficulties in using it.
  4. In June of 1976, the Monthly Catalog was produced in automated format, which marked the beginning of the electronic age that would change the federal depository program forever. The electronic tapes were then integrated into OCLC's system, and with assistance from Marcive, Inc. the cataloguing of government documents became easier as they developed a bibliographical access tool and enabled records to be inputted into library OPACs. Gary Cornwell of the University of Florida headed a drive to have government document records integrated into libraries' online databases, and thus, mainstreamed, to provide better access for everyone.
  5. CD-ROMs were the next major change that came in the dissemination of government documents, with the first one being sent to depositories in 1988 (Census Test Disk No. 2). This new technology made it imperative for libraries to provide access to workstations, with CD-ROM drives, and for librarians to learn the skills needed to use this format. The development of the Internet and the National Research and Education Network (NREN) continues to change the way government information is distributed, especially as more and more federal agencies are setting up homepages and posting their publications on them directly.
  6. New Legislation: The passage of Public Law 103-40 "Government Printing Office Electronic Information Access Enhancement Act of 1993" was a landmark law for the FDLP because it dictated that GPO use the Internet to give access to online copies of the Congressional Record and the Federal Register, making it clear to all 1400 depository libraries that the electronic age had arrived, and that moreover, the government would increasingly rely on this format as a means to save money. However, this new era is a difficult one for depository libraries to enter, as money is needed to buy the necessary hardware/software, upgrade equipment continually, and to provide specialized training for librarians lacking in computer expertise and searching skills: librarians who are more familiar with the traditional world of print-based information. All of these transitions have hit libraries and their staff hard, especially with the news that all government information is expected to be in digital format by the end of fiscal year 1998.
  7. Congress sees the need for these major changes as federal budgets continue to shrink, coupled with the belief that the public will have easier and more timely access to government information if it is in electronic form. Of course, there is the concern that not enough attention will be given to archiving information in electronic formats, nor does anyone have any idea how long archived information will be accessible as technology continues to proceed at a speed that is unprecedented (my note: one only has to think of all those people with beta tapes and eight track tapes, who would like to purchase equipment, but can't). Cost-efficiency is the only thing Congress is really concerned about; the future is not something anyone can foretell.
  8. All of this is difficult since the GPO has always resisted change, but as federal agencies are bypassing the GPO, and thus, the depository libraries, it is becoming clear that unless it begins to make some serious changes, the future of these libraries in an electronic age will be very tenuous. The GPO will have to begin listening to the issues and concerns that are being voiced by documents librarians across the country, and no longer remain silent. Silence is not the answer when so many fundamental changes are taking place, leadership is. As librarians see it, two major requirements must be met: 1.) a distribution system that is free, accessible, equitable, and dependable, and 2.) a dissemination program that is well-coordinated, centralized, and properly managed.
  9. The coming of the electronic age in government information should not change the fundamental principles that initiated the depository program, but the methods to carry out its mandate will have to be newly created for it to continue into the future. "History shows that the FDLP has always been in a state of change and that information specialists have had to adapt continuously to these changes. They have survived these changes because their most important contribution to the process has been to provide the "human element"… To return to the cornerstone policy provided by James Madison, depository libraries must continue to serve as gatekeepers to help those who wish to arm themselves against ignorance and maintain their ability to govern themselves" (p. 379).

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. If so, what will happen to the depository system if documents no longer need to be housed and user fees are attached?
  2. I think this bit of information is significant because it seems as if many of the librarians we came across in the study were quite inept at their jobs. I can only ask, "Where have all the mentors gone?"

Kleiner, Jane P. "Ensuring Quality Reference Desk Service: The Introduction of a Peer Process." RQ (Spring 1991): 349-360.

Peer review is becoming increasingly popular as a means to appraising performance. From a review of research done on peer review since World War II, the following conclusions can be made: 1.) they are better than ratings made by supervisors, 2.) they are valid, accurate, and reliable judgments of employee behavior, and 3.) they can be excellent predictors of future job performance.

Peer review seems to have its merits: this seems particularly due to the fact that employees are likely to improve their level of performance when they are allowed to participate in the evaluation. Evaluation of reference librarians is controversial, as are some of the techniques used in the process, such as unobtrusive studies, but there is no question that an ongoing, formalized program for evaluation is needed in every institution, which can be particularly problematic if the responsibility for evaluation of a large staff falls on the heads of the managers.

The Louisiana State University Libraries has an average of sixteen full-time employees, as well as eight to ten graduate assistants, all of whom need to be evaluated each year. The library was also interested in making sure that good reference service was being provided to all user groups, but particularly, the undergraduate population of the university. However, the department did not want to initiate any kind of evaluation which would undermine employee morale and cause negative outcomes that could affect service provision. At the same time, they realized that relying on the supervisor's observations would not provide a clear enough picture of individual members of the reference department. They decided upon using a peer review process for many reasons, including: cost savings when compared to other evaluative procedures, accuracy, validity, as a vehicle to improve service, staff were accepting of its implementation, and because peer review seems to be a factor in career development.

After reviewing the literature and contacting libraries which had implemented such a process, a committee developed a set of criteria for the process. It included: approachability, patron interaction, question negotiation, consultations and referrals, familiarity with reference collection, staff interaction, and individual attitudes. Each trait was clarified by a definition and was rated on a one-to-five scale. The library has carried out three such peer reviews, as of the date of this article, and added a justification element when very high or very low scores were assigned. Some staff members have enjoyed an increase in their overall performance evaluation, meaning they have improved over time. The third review concluded that 30% of the staff improved their reference performance. "A comparison of the review results strongly indicates that the peer process is influencing desk performance positively" (p. 355).

With all the other responsibilities expected of reference librarians (collection development, BI, specialized searches, meetings, and outreach programs), it is difficult to maintain a high degree of quality service provision at reference desks in libraries today. Burn-out can especially be a problem in today's climate of lay-offs and lack of funding. Still, high quality service must be a priority if libraries are to compete in the information world today, and peer review seems to have helped increase employee performance in this library.

Other Considerations:

  1. Although peer review is a subjective process and can be marred by personality likes and dislikes, the same can be said of evaluations done by supervisors.
  2. Peer review can provide a more balanced evaluation of employees, which is not possible when only one supervisor conducts an evaluation.
  3. Success will depend on having a staff interested in improving the professional development of their team members; employees who are able to accept the findings of their peers; a manager who is supportive of staff; and able to give the guidance and the element of objectivity needed for such a process to succeed. In addition, peer review should not be used to make salary or tenure decisions because staff should be able to concentrate on how it relates to improving their performance, and thus, improving reference service in general.
  4. Peer review is a good vehicle for pointing out negative behaviors that employees may not realize they are displaying, such as abruptness with patrons.
  5. It causes staff to focus more on their delivery of reference answers and gives an increased awareness that interpersonal skills are very important for the job they do.

Ladner, Sharyn J., and Hope N. Tillman. "Using the Internet for Reference." Online 17, No. 1 (January 1993): 45-51.

1. The job reference librarians have historically done is being drastically changed by the introduction of the Internet into libraries, "[w]ith the Internet, we reference librarians are, in fact, reinventing ourselves" (p. 50).

2. Interconnectedness with other librarians, OPACs, and the elimination of costly telephone calls, are some of the benefits of using the Internet.

3. The Internet provides avenues or listservs that subject specialists can use to find help. One interesting one for government documents librarians is GOVDOC-L@PSUVM.

4. "And in a very real sense, the Internet is an electronic Rolodex. It is a mechanism that links the information specialists to experts in diverse subject areas, an electronic filebox containing names like MEDLIB-L, BUSLIB-L, CHMINF-L, LIBREF-L. Each a gateway to hundreds or even thousands of contacts" (p. 50).

Lancaster, F. W. "Factors Influencing the Effectiveness of Question-Answering Services in Libraries." The Reference Librarian 11 (Fall/Winter 1984): 95-108.

Lancaster says that although unobtrusive and obtrusive testing has been used in many studies, there are limitations to what they can reveal about the factors influencing the probability that a factual, unambiguous question will be answered correctly. One reason is that diagnosis is difficult.

Factors likely to influence the probability that short unambiguous/factual questions will be answered accurately by a librarian:

  1. Will library accept the question posed? First, the librarian must understand the question. Secondly, the librarian will determine if the person is a legitimate user of the facilities. Thirdly, the question may not be answered due to policy restrictions (i.e. medical or legal questions are not answered readily at most libraries unless they specialize in such information).
  2. Can an answer be found for the question? Theoretically, an answer may exist for the question that has been asked, but it may not have been determined or recorded. Perhaps an answer has been recorded somewhere, but may not be available because of policy factors, such as amount of time a librarian is able or willing to give to the process. The librarian may also be busy, think the question is unimportant, or even uninteresting. (see note #1) Another policy restriction is the money that is available to spend looking for answers. Are the librarians able to make long distant calls?
  3. Collection factors: it is obvious that a patron is more likely to receive a correct answer if the library owns the source needed to provide it. Another element is how accessible the source is to the librarian because some reference librarians tend to rely too much on the ready reference sources close at hand. (see note #2) In addition, the organization of a source comes into play, especially on how well a source is indexed. If a book is indexed and is properly organized, there is more likelihood that the librarian will provide the patron with a correct answer. (see note #3)
  4. Librarian factors: the librarian should have knowledge of the available sources in which an answer can be found. (see note #4) They should also be expected to have some knowledge of current events, because inaccurate answers often come from the fact that the librarian does not know something has happened recently. (see note #5) A librarian's ability or non-ability to speak a foreign language may come into play, as well as a lack of communication skills. There are also the librarian's decision-making abilities, the perception that he/she has of how far they have to go in finding an answer, and finally the efficiency of the librarian.
  5. Question-related factors: the complexity of a question will determine whether or not some librarians will be able to provide a complete and correct answer for it, as will the obscurity of the question. In addition, the subject matter will affect a satisfactory outcome because every collection has its strengths and weaknesses.
  6. User factors: for example, librarians may be more determined to find an answer for a professor in an academic library, than they would a student. They are also more likely to look harder for a patron who treats them with some courtesy over a rude and pushy one. In addition, the librarian may provide an answer which is not easily comprehended by the patron.
  7. Environmental factors: a patron may more likely receive a correct answer if he comes in at 9:00, instead of at lunch time when the desk is being worked by only a few librarians. The same can be said if the librarian is not busy, compared to having three or more people waiting for help. Stress, can surely interfere with a librarian's effectiveness, perseverance, and accuracy. Effectiveness is also determined by the state of health, the amount of sleep, and the immediate surroundings of the librarian (i.e. if building is air-conditioned).
  8. Referral factors: sometimes a librarian will refer a question to another source, especially if there is an element of self-doubt, while others will not refer a question they cannot answer because they believe it to be a sign of incompetence.

To conclude, Lancaster says, " Finally, as electronic information sources are increasingly used to support question-answering activities, the importance of some of these factors will decline. Clearly, access will be more important than ownership and the size and the redundancy of the collection will no longer be a significant variable affecting the quality of reference service" (p. 107).

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. How interesting a question may or may not be should have nothing to do with a patron receiving an answer, though Evelyn Daniel (see article #20) wonders if that isn't the case sometimes. That would certainly answer in part why some of your questions were not answered properly by the librarians, since many would not be interested in two-row barley.
  2. Hernon and McClure also say they rely too heavily on the OPAC and assume that it reflects the totality of the library holdings.
  3. Government documents are not indexed very well.
  4. Leslie Morris' article comes to mind here. Can we assume that all reference librarians know that there is a reference tool called the Song Index?
  5. We have seen that in the current events questions and in some of the proxy questions. For example, the CRTC question.

Larson, Carole A., and Laura K. Dickson. "Developing Behavioral Reference Desk Performance Standards." RQ 33, No. 3 (Spring 1994): 349-357.

The development of behavioral performance standards for the reference desk can strengthen teamwork, improve staff morale, and as a result, improve the quality of reference service provision because the process focuses on quality, rather than on quantity. The University Library Reference Department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha decided to develop their own set of standards for behavior. It is an extremely busy department, and staffed eighty hours a week by six librarians and four paraprofessionals, with one of each being responsible for the desk at any given time. They believed that it was time that performance standards were written down so that an element of consistency would be given to service.

What they did:

  1. They met as a group to develop a picture of what ideal service was, based on behavior of staff. Each librarian recorded at least one key behavior they believed to be indicative of optimum service. Two years passed before the issue was again taken up, and this time, they decided they would draw up a list of major goals, which included: a.) the librarian displays a manner which invites users to ask questions, b.) the librarian conducts both a reference interview and a follow-up discussion, based on a series of acceptable behaviors, c.) librarian is aware and knowledgeable of library policies, d.) exhibits teamwork, and e.) is knowledgeable about reference collection and tools. With the identification of these goal areas, the next step was to prescribe a series of behaviors for each one, such as 'uses eye contact' and 'smiles while asking a patron if they need help'.

The process was an important one for the department because it gave staff a clearer picture of what was expected of them in terms of a common goal based on similarities and despite personal differences. In addition, it allowed individual employees to compare themselves against the standards and their supervisors to use the new criteria as a benchmark for expected behavior. Overall, the department believes that the creation of behavioral standards enhanced morale, developed a higher degree of teamwork, and improved the performance of their reference staff.

Lawrence, Gregory W. "U.S. Agricultural Statistics on the Internet: Extending the Reach of the Depository Library." Journal of Government Information 23, No. 4 (1996): 443-452.

"A change in how the public perceives information is driving a change in government publishing and information dissemination. While print materials are still preferred for some primary source materials, there is a growing realization that some information is better suited for electronic copy. Government response to increased demand for electronic information has led to a flurry of agency initiatives on the Internet" (p. 443). How does all this affect depository libraries and their staff? As Lawrence says, "[b]y and large, depository librarians have been left to their own resources as they attempt to extend their services beyond local print collections into a global, networked environment" (p.443). (see note #1)

The Albert R. Mann Library of Cornell University has been using the Internet as a forum to provide access to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's full-text and statistical data files, for the last two years, and it has included reference assistance, preservation, and data organization in the process. What they have done stands as a good model for the development of networked information. The USDA has three economic agencies working with it and the library to provide the data, and work together to fulfill their objectives of long-term preservation of agricultural information, and offering another way to access their electronic data-sets. The agencies benefit because they do not have to disseminate all their information in separate infrastructures, and pay the costs of doing so, nor do they have to continually replace the communications equipment since they have access to the network's professional programmers and newest computer hardware/software. In addition, the agencies do not have to worry about preservation of information, offering reference support, and are "enhancing public satisfaction with a single point of network access" (p. 451). They are the Economic Research Service, the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the World Agricultural Outlook Board. And it is free!! One of the main reasons they moved beyond selling their information on diskettes and CD-ROM technology was because they realized those formats have a limited shelf life, and they worried about preservation. Mann Library was interested in enhancing its collection of agricultural economic data; provide better access to authoritative and unique data; the assurance of a variety of access points, including FTP, Telnet, and the WWW; and to help remote users. All have been accomplished, the project has grown immensely and broadened in scope, and incorporates "a fundamental rethinking of the ways in which public institutions will grow and adapt to a new communications medium" (p. 445). And that is why the library has made its own collectio n available on the Internet through a network, instead of simply offering pointers to Internet resources. Their Print and electronic collections are subject specific and they have focused their resources on acquiring only information that is relevant to the research of the university, and their agricultural projects.

Information available through the Mann Library/USDA service: 1.) Data-sets: both replicas of data found in print form, as well as some unique statistical compilations, 2.) Reports: are in ASCII form to facilitate access, 3.) Support for the remote user.

How has this transition affected library operations? 1.) Acquisitions: has moved from mailed diskettes and e-mail transfer, to direct FTP, and all material is recorded in the library's catalog. 2.) Cataloguing Services: Cataloguers are experiencing no problems in cataloguing networked information, and give each file subject headings and a full description. In addition, the library uses a 'what's new' file on the network to alert patrons of new and discarded products, and service enhancements. 3.) Reference Services: is accessible through fax, telephone, and e-mail, and include ready reference questions, technical support, and subject content. Referrals are also given if an information request cannot be fulfilled.

Of course, staff training is what makes the network run smoothly, and concentrated on making sure everyone is computer and electronic literate, as well as good problem solvers. The library does this through one-on-one training, small groups, and classroom instruction.

By becoming the single point of access for these federal agencies, Mann Library is solidifying a future for itself, and other libraries should become the access point for specific government information. (see note #2)Direct partnerships between libraries and agencies can work.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

1. And that is what is at the heart of the problems facing Canada's depository libraries, and what is responsible for the low accuracy rates in your study. And it works into why are we happy that the study showed such a low rate of accuracy. It is reason enough not to give them any more money.

2. This would certainly take care of federal agencies bypassing libraries altogether.

Lipow, Anne Grodzins. "Thinking Out Loud: Who Will Give Reference Service in the Digital Environment?" Reference & User Services Quarterly 37, No. 2 (Winter 1997): 125-129.

The Future of Librarianship: there is trouble in the world of libraries and librarians.

  1. Change driven by technology: libraries have been slowly evolving due to the revolution in computer and information technology. Changes have been slow because of funding problems, uncertainties, and lack of direction from library organizations. Electronic information resources are causing librarians to rethink everything from cataloguing, collection development, reference, access, and how to integrate the new mentality with the traditional procedures of handling print materials. Reference service is particularly problematic because up-to-date service should include the use of both print and electronic resources on the part of the librarian, and the constant dilemma of providing users with the skills necessary for electronic literacy. Lipow would like to see reference services grow, and incorporate "top-notch (twenty-four-hour) reference services to users, whether they are in or out of their libraries" (p. 127). Without changes in the ideology surrounding reference service, the author believes that there will be a downward trend for reference work in general, and its perceived importance by users and librarians alike.
  2. Some early warning signs can include: 1.) Declining circulation statistics: many librarians perceive that reductions in circulation statistics are attributable to an increased use of Internet resources. In addition, if students are not using reference services as often as they once did, they will not be given referrals to the library's collection as often. 2.) Fewer walk-in users: increasingly, libraries are noticing that there is a correlation between the use of the Internet and the amount of time users spend in the library. As more and more users see the Internet as their virtual library, they have less need to walk into a library to use its resources. This situation is exacerbated by closures of local libraries due to downturns in the economy, as well as the pervading attitude that the information on the Internet is 'good enough' and more convenient to use. If students use libraries less often, it stands to reason that they will use reference services less. 3.) Staff cannot keep up: with the explosion in electronic resources and lack of training, many librarians feel ill-equipped, 'out-of-loop', and at a disadvantage when it comes to the Internet. Many libraries have always relied on an in-house expert to handle electronic searching in the past, with users led to believe that only technological specialists will be able to handle their Internet questions. Consequently, is it is any wonder why users approach reference librarians less, as they use the WWW more often? 4.) The elimination of reference desks: some libraries have replaced their traditional reference desks with 'information desks', staffed by paraprofessionals to handle directional questions. In-depth reference questions are parlayed to reference librarians for consultation, but with this intermediation, there is a break in the link and an uncertainty of whether questions are being properly answered. This would affect repeat service. 5.) Outsourcing: libraries, especially federal government libraries, are using outside agencies, which supply the staff to answer reference questions. The reasons are two-fold: a way to save money, and a way for outsourcing companies to make it. The downfalls are: greater staff turnover, a lack of library planning, decreased awareness of user needs, decreased knowledge of library resources, and a "sense that the staff's primary concerns are the concerns of their employer, not of the library and its clientele" (p. 128). 6.) Reduction in reference desk hours of operation: reductions in hours of operation may be attributable to lack of funding, but they certainly have a dramatic affect on the use of reference services across the board. 7.) Are search engines considered automated reference librarians? The mentality that sees search engines as better vehicles of reference than the human element, is becoming more ubiquitous in libraries. There are many studies that conclude this to be absolutely inaccurate and evidence that librarians will be needed as information sifters in an electronic information world, but librarians must fight for their place in the future. 8.) Large buildings, large staff? It is harder than ever to justify the money and space for large libraries and big staff as the transition continues from paper to digital collections. Many librarians equate the death of paper to the death in reference service, and believe it will be very difficult to change this ideology.
  3. Where do we go from here? Some libraries are trying to become more service-oriented in this climate of change, by offering after-hours telephone reference service; e-mail service; and remote access. Remote service includes search sessions available online, interactive, and real-time reference provision, such as the one provided by The Internet Public Library, using MOO. More pilot projects of this sort are needed to increase the number of people using reference services, and to help libraries to find their niche in this ever-changing world of information specialties. "With the emergence of the Internet, which provides library-like services to information seekers, what is that niche for us? Where do we fit in a world that has Yahoo! And online reference services provided by commercial firms (for example, What do we do that's unique and needed?" (p. 129). Libraries offer professional, quality, no-charge service that has historically been tied to ideas of democracy, lifelong learning, and access for all. We must do all we can to fight for the continuance of these principles and services.

Macaulay, Tyson. "Government Information on the Internet: One Issue." Government Information in Canada/Information gouvernementale au Canada 1, No. 1 (1994). Available:

The Canadian government has always seen itself as the driving force behind the development of industry in this country, using strategies such as subsidies, tariffs, regulations, and marketing boards to encourage the private sector. Currently, with high national debt, and recessionary periods, the government does not have the same resources to assign to business. Instead, the Canadian government tries to facilitate the business industry "through providing information to promote partnerships and technology transfers that will foster competitiveness in Canadian industry" (p. 1). The problem with these new initiatives is that instead of offering money or tariff protection, etc., the government is offering information, valuable information they are trying to control, "but unlike tariffs and subsidy, you cannot really control information, and this is the problem: government activities to control information valuable to Canadian industry may undermine the purpose for which the information is produced" (p. 1).

The Internet is now being used to deliver government information from such agencies as Statistics Canada, the National Archives, the National Research Council, Industry Canada, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, but the government would like this information to benefit Canadians and Canadian firms only, believing that it should not advantage non-Canadians, for example. Of the 7000 inquiries made to the Industry Canada site, 80% went to Canadian sources and 20% going to non-Canadian sources. Macaulay says that significant numbers of print-based reports have always gone to non-Canadian sources, so not much has changed, therefore, the government should continue to use the Internet for the dissemination of information. Restricting the flow of Canadian government information just because there is no way to ensure that it is only going to Canadians is not an option and will cause more problems than is warranted. Some options:

  1. If companies are required to enter a password or register to get access to government sites, then a bureaucracy must be set up to register companies, screen them, and keep track of all of them. In addition, there are many complexities involved in downloading restricted information, skills which may hamper a host of the companies trying to access needed information.
  2. Another option would be allow public access, while restricting it to Canadian hosts. That entails updating Canadian host sites daily, and the necessity of developing special facilitation for Canadian companies working in other countries. Overall, another bureaucratic nightmare.
  3. Allow free and easy access to anyone who wants Canadian government information, as many United States government databases are, and although that means Canadian taxpayers will be subsidizing the access, it does allow for the free-flow of information.

Governments will need to change in this new Information Age, with services and activities evolving, but the first step should be an openness where government information is concerned.

Macaulay, Tyson. "Cutting Off Access to Government Information: Loopholes in the Access to Information Act Generated by the Information Highway." Journal of Government Information 24, No. 1 (1997): 1-8.

It is important for government to provide access to its information because a.) having access to government information allows for comprehension of the political and democratic processes. Access to Hansard is such an example b.) Quality of life is improved through having access to government information concerning services, such as welfare and health care. In addition, fast and timely access improves overall quality of life. c) economic value is added to Canadian society when there is improved access to government information , using electronic mail, for example, to speed up business procedures. Who wants to write a letter of request or stay on the phone for a considerable amount of time waiting for important information, when a quick e-mail is sufficient and much faster?

The shape of government information: ten percent is available to the public and is unrestricted (and can be found through widely disseminated reports, regulatory documents, and news releases.); eighty percent is unrestricted, but not easily accessible to the public (this kind of information includes the thousands of local reports and complex acts and statutes.); while ten percent is restricted (including information on individuals, military strategies, trade secrets, and government deliberations.). Macaulay believes that "published information distributed under the Depository Services Program (largely in print only) to be generally unavailable since the requirements for finding, searching, and retrieving it severely discount the fact that it is technically publicly available and distributed" (p. 3).

Picture government information in the shape of a pyramid, with the 10% unrestricted and easily available information on the bottom, the 80% unrestricted but not easily available in the middle, with the top encompassing the 10% restricted information. As one moves up the pyramid, there is more extractable information contained in government information, information that could prove life-changing, a generator of economic value, and that which is able to offer insight into the future. "The challenge for the government is to develop a system for making the middle 80 percent publicly accessible and transparent (easy to find, search, and extract)…The time is now approaching when much of the 80 percent unrestricted information can finally be made publicly available in electronic form via the information highway" (p. 4). In May 1995, a survey showed that 3.5 million Canadians or 17% had Internet access, with the average user being between the ages of 18 and 45, having some secondary educational experience. But the problem is that although numbers are increasing, these people are often using computers that are three or sometimes four generations old in technological advancements, with slow modems, which is causing a retreat from, not an increase in "[t]he ability to deal effectively with electronic information…to a basic level of comprehension - a lowest common denominator of information format" (p. 5). This means that the government must accommodate the lowest levels of computer skill if they want to ensure that the public has access to its information resources. Other reasons for the government to take the 'lowest common denominator model' are problems with users understanding how to download or transfer government information from Internet sites, especially large files when coupled with slow modems, and often user-friendly, low-tech formats prove to be both more popular and flexible with the public.

Loopholes: 1.) The Access to Information Act has a very weak contingency covering electronic information technologies and their accessibility to the public. In addition, any information available for purchase, is not accessible through the Act. This data format problem must be considered by the government if it is concerned about providing access to government information since much of the machine readable data is now being published by private-sector companies with government permission. 2.) Tradeable Data is information the government views as possessing substantial value, and includes commercial, financial, scientific, and technical information - information that the government can refuse access to. These loopholes will have to be closed "if access to Canadian government information is going to be maintained and expanded in the future" (p. 6).

MacDonald, Alan H. "Mainstreaming Government Information in Canadian Research Libraries." Government Information in Canada/ Information gouvernementale au Canada 2, No. 1.4 (Summer 1995).

MacDonald says, "I came to the early belief that the ability of the publications of government to produce catatonia in librarians had nothing to do with form or content. It arose from the diligent application of arcane cataloguing rules that produce unfathomable hierarchical author entries seemingly designed to assure that no librarian or patron would ever be able to break through to their wealth of information" (p. 1). Providing better access to government information sources is a necessity in a democratic society, in which the public has a duty to be informed of issues pertaining to their government so as to allow them to make informed decisions.

The Players:

  1. The Politicians: who collect and disseminate the information.
  2. The Servants of Government: those who make, collect, or disseminate information.
  3. The Scholars: who need to have access to everything that exists, "in its purest, least adulterated form" (p. 3).
  4. Librarians: especially government documents librarians.
  5. Citizens: living in a democratic society, have a duty to know government information.

The mainstream is an unsegregated place where most people look for information, and includes the library, the airwaves, and the newsstand, all of which require basic literacy and some computer literacy. But what are our information rights? In the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, there is only one mention of information, found in the Official Languages of Canada (Section 18 (1), and it states that "[t]he statutes, records and journals of Parliament shall be printed and published in English and French…" (p.4). It says nothing about distributing them to the public, or how this section should be integrated into the new government policy of discontinuing print for electronic dissemination. Of course, Canadians have the depository program, the Parliamentary Channel, the Access to Information Act, and the Privacy Act, but they also have "[t]he $500 Budget document on the net; the Census of Canada at $250,000 a pop; significant reductions in print runs of many kinds of government information and soaring pricing for what remains; and Crown Copyright, a tool of integrity or a tool of control or simply a tool for the enhancement of revenue…" (p. 4).

Economic Challenges: Mainstreaming has always been affected by the costs of government information, and although the government has provided selected libraries with published information so that it can be mainstreamed into society, there have been many challenges to the depository program and reductions in the kinds of publications it includes.

Format Challenges: If libraries want to ensure access to government information, they must provide modes of access to many different formats of transmission, including network connectivity, CD-ROMs, computer tapes, and microforms.

Challenges of Physical Segregation: Why do libraries segregate their government documents, rather than mainstream them? Some librarians say that it is easier to control them, especially with their specialized cataloguing and formats, but this practice only serves to segregate them from users and is a "disincentive to the integration of government information into the mainstream of scholarship and teaching" (p. 7).

Challenges of Pedagogy: The use of government documents must be mainstreamed into the learning environment so that young scholars will acquire the skills necessary to use this information. Most people gets so scared even thinking about entering the documents area, let alone using them to complement their academic work, that it is paramount for instructors to integrate their use into course work, and set the ball in motion. It is nice to think that libraries have enough specialized staff to keep segregated areas of libraries well serviced, but they do not. This problem will become exacerbated when the bulk of government documents is transmitted into electronic form, and accessed by librarians who may not have the proper training. Instead, "having creating a dependence, we cannot service it, and that certainly is a disincentive to mainstreaming" (p. 7).

Challenges of Access: First and foremost, one must know that information exists before there is any chance of accessing it, and for it, in turn, to enter the mainstream. This means that it must be easy to use, easy to find, and easy to identify.

Bibliographic Answers: Proper indexes and catalogues are needed to bring access to government information into the mainstream. The library world has seen CODOC, NOMADS, and KWIC/KWOC, all of which intensified segregation of government information. There are some libraries which have kept the corporate headings and integrated the cataloguing into the OPAC, while others have fully integrated both the cataloguing and the collections into the mainstream. MacDonald is obviously a proponent of full integration!

Electronic/Technological Answers: First the OPAC, then CD-ROMs, and now the Internet, have liberated users in some ways, and given them independence from intermediaries. Digital projects around the world (the Vatican, being my favourite), have done more for providing access to special and unique collections, and are doing a lot to overcome 'place'. Anyone with access to a computer and connectivity can now see things they have only dreamed of seeing.

The Internet: The Internet will do more for mainstreaming information than we ever imagined. "Because the information is prepared in a highly decentralized manner without significant state intervention or even appropriation, it becomes a window on what we are - what we really are - not how we show ourselves when we dress up and travel, on our best behaviour. I would suggest that the World Wide Web is the window that we would be wise to share with each other" (p. 11).

Mackey, Terry, and Kitty Mackey. "Think Quality! The Deming Approach Does Work in Libraries." Library Journal (May 15, 1992): 57-61.

Adoption of Deming's Total Quality Management (TQM) system can help to improve the quality of service in a reference department. The fourteen-point plan was developed by W. Edwards Deming for the corporate business world, but libraries can also benefit from such a program which builds quality into every step of a process.

The following are Deming's fourteen-points, translated into the language of libraries:

1. Creation of constancy of purpose for improvement of product and service: organizations have two kinds of problems: today's and tomorrow's, and without adherence to a mission statement, it is very easy to get caught up in the tangle of problems and impossible to "maintain constancy of purpose" (p. 58).

2. Adoption of the new philosophy: everyone in the organization must be motivated by high-quality service; not more service, but by better service.

3. Cease dependence on mass inspection to achieve quality: because it is result-oriented and has nothing to do with the production of quality or building quality into every step of a process. "The old way: Inspect bad quality out. The new way: Build good quality in" (p. 58). This includes assuming that workers want to do a good job for an organization, can provide quality work, and should be given the chance to have input.

4. End the practice of awarding business on the basis of price tag; instead, minimize total cost - business contracts should simply be given to the lowest bidder because quality is forever forgotten. Instead, Deming believed that other considerations were more important than money. For instance, how a company handles mistakes, how it insures quality, and if it considers long-term R&D.

5. Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service: improvements = changes, and librarians must be prepared for them if they want to continue to improve service.

6. Institute training for all employees.

7. Adopt and institute leadership.

8. Drive out fear: fear works against production and quality improvements and causes high absenteeism, burnout, and high employee turnover. This area is a major responsibility of management.

9. Break down barriers between staff areas: internal barriers cause departments to work at cross purposes with one another, create hostility, competition, personal grudges, and lack of communication. Everyone must be committed to the library's mission statement and work together for quality service.

10. Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and the targets for the work force: since these often do little besides waste money and pay lip service.

11. Eliminate numerical quotas for the work force and eliminate numerical goals for people in management: examples include the requirement that pages shelve one hundred books per hour, and the provision for librarians to put together three subject bibliographies a year. Isn't it better to provide pages with the proper training and understanding that can develop the pride needed to keep their shelves in good order without quotas? Don't quotas often set the stage for mistakes?

12. Remove barriers that rob people of pride in their work: job descriptions, support materials, organizational goals, and involving employees in the organization develops a responsibility for quality in their work. Encouraging conformity, creating fear, and performance evaluations have no place in TQM.

13. Encourage education and self-improvement for everyone.

14. Take action to accomplish the transformation: "Quality does not come about by itself. It does not happen by telling people to work harder, by setting goals that encourage improvement, by threatening people with loss of their jobs, or by rewarding them with parking spaces. Quality results when every individual in the library understands and adopts the philosophy of never-ending improvement and when all the processes of library operations are in statistical control. To this end, Deming is adamant that the pursuit of quality must begin from the top down; the program cannot be driven by middle managers or grassroots advocates" (p. 61).

Massant, Eric J. "The Roles of Libraries and the Private Sector: Policy Principles for Assuring Public Access to U.S. Federal Government Information." Journal of Government Information 21, No. 5 (1994): 383-390.

Technological changes and fiscal pressures are greatly affecting libraries', government's, and the private sector's roles in the dissemination of information. There must be agreement on some basic policy principles if the future of government information dissemination is to be guaranteed: 1.) The public's right of access should be guaranteed because it is one of the basic principles of the American democratic system, limited only to protect individual privacy and national security. This means that access must be affordable; information integrity guaranteed; and the federal government should require that their agencies disseminate the information they have in a broad manner. Title 44 of the U.S. "Code" and the Freedom of Information Act stipulate that the public be directly furnished with information or through the depository system. 2.) Equal and timely access should be assured: information should be accessible without delay, and certainly not withheld. 3.) A diversity of information sources should be encouraged, which guarantees that the public can access government information through a variety of means, and often the private sector makes this possible by offering annotations, indexing, and organizational enhancers in many formats which are user-friendly. The private sector offers awareness and support, thereby, increasing the value of what is available to the public. As well, "these enhancements would never reach many people if it were not for libraries. The library/publisher partnership is essential for meeting the needs of many users. Libraries act as gateways to a variety of sources" p. 385). The federal government should ensure the role of libraries as disseminators of information by providing the funding needed to purchase products from both private and public sources. 4.) Monopoly control of public information and claim of government copyright should be prohibited. No entity should be given the right to monopolize government information resources, nor should the government claim copyrig ht control as a way to impede the use, dissemination, or sale of information which belongs to the people. 5.) Fees for access to information from the government should not exceed the marginal cost of dissemination. If the government lowers the price of its records, more people can access it, thus, costs of dissemination should not include the creation, collection, compilation, or storage of information. Only those fees needed to disseminate it directly to the user, since making money from government information is not a public service. 6.) The depository system and the direct support model: depository libraries are faced with an explosion in government information in a variety of formats, at a time when federal funds are at a premium. The depository libraries get 'free' information from the government, but providing access to it is very costly. The other problem they have is that they are not provided with any money to directly purchase for their collections, which means they have no amount of control to manage efficiently. The author uses the example of public radio which is provided with money directly with which it decides how to spend. Thus, the federal depository system seems to be run in a backwards manner. If libraries could administer their own funds, they could have "[a] more efficient, well promoted depository system that is demand driven rather than supply driven..." (p. 387), since they know best what their users are interested in. This might increase the likelihood of Congress supplying more money to participating libraries, and even expand the number. Besides direct funding, requirements laid down for government agencies to disseminate their information through the program as well, as well as a electronic locator for government information. In addition, a strong administrative support system to oversee the process perhaps in the form of a congressional standing committee. 7.) The public should be guaranteed an opportunity to participate in government decisions affecting public access. Libraries, the private sector, and the public should have the right to participate in decisions affecting access to government information.

Massey-Burzio, Virginia. "From the Other Side of the Reference Desk: A Focus Group Study." The Journal of Academic Librarianship (May 1998): 208-215.

Technology is changing libraries and the way they are being used. For example, remote access of library catalogues is on the rise, as library visits, circulation statistics, and face-to-face reference interactions continue to decline. Now is the time to reinvestigate the information-seeking behaviour of library users so that libraries can improve service and try to overcome some of the pitfalls associated with the explosion of electronic databases, electronic publishing, and Internet searching, coupled with lack of training for librarians. This new role for librarians is a complicated one, full of obstacles and new responsibilities, as the world of knowledge is being transformed into one of market commodification, with competition from the Internet and other information providers.

This focus group study will assess the degree and quality of reference service in light of these new trends, concentrating on user preferences and needs. The study was undertaken at the Milton S. Eisenhower Library, John Hopkins University, gathering information from users on the service they received and their perceptions of its quality while using the facilities. The methodology was qualitative, and consisted of six small (ranging from four to ten persons each) focus groups conducted in an interactive interview setting, with a moderator leading the discussions (carried out Spring 1995-Spring 1996). There were two undergraduate groups, two graduate, one faculty group, and one consisting of Continuing Studies students. Preliminary interviews were conducted, and selection was based partly on respondents having in-building use of the library for academic research purposes.


  1. Library users, regardless of their stage, status, or academic department, have many reservations about asking questions of librarians (see interesting comments on page 210). Most believe they should know where to find any information they might need, even though librarians must go to school to learn about the complex world of information. In addition, they believe that librarians will sneer at their questions, and reprimand them for their stupidity.
  2. Most library users felt pretty confident about their own abilities to use the university library, believing they were quite skillful at searching out the information they needed, but this was not collaborated by later sessions. For instance, all had trouble with basic library principles, with undergrads retrieving too much information; thinking that journal articles could be found in the OPAC; and they had little knowledge of the LC classification system. Graduate students were later found to have problems with conference proceedings; many misconceptions about the online catalogue; and did not realize that the newer periodicals fall under call numbers that keep like subjects together. Faculty had trouble looking up journals; conference proceedings; and lacked the necessary skills to use many of the available databases, while the SCS students were overwhelmed by the amount of information retrieved; could not find periodical articles; and had trouble understanding call numbers.
  3. There is a wide gap between what library users think they know about the workings of a library and their actual effectiveness, searching capabilities, and knowledge.
  4. Most of the users saw no reason to take a class in library instruction because they were confident that they would be able to fine-tune their skills over time; learn new skills from friends; and have the ability to pick up skills themselves.
  5. Comments seem to suggest that librarians need to aim lower when they try to convey information to library users: simple explanations on how to read journal citations; the difference between the OPAC and databases; and the differences in databases. All are skills that are poorly lacking in many users.
  6. Users like one page explanatory hand-outs to follow along with.
  7. Many felt that the staff at the reference/information desk were uninterested in their information inquiries and unfriendly towards them. Other problems included a hesitancy on the part of librarians to go to the computers to instruct; the feeling that the desk was a barrier against them; and the lack of referrals they received to qualified reference librarians (referred only 6% of the time).
  8. Signage problems, and a lack of library orientation.
  9. "The gap between the reality of the complexity of a library and the patron's perception of it as intuitive is one we clearly need to close and it will be a major challenge to figure out how to do it" (p. 213).

What Can Libraries Do?

  1. Use better signage, including some simple ones to explain the LC classification system.
  2. Make the public aware that librarians are available to help.
  3. Try to break down the self-service mentality that so many users have .
  4. Market the staff as professionals.
  5. Librarians need to be differentiated from other staff members.
  6. Try to identify some of the basic skills users need in order to use the library.
  7. Eliminate as many barriers as we can.
  8. The provision of user-friendly, point-of-need instruction.

"Without focus group studies, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to discover that library patrons think that using a library does not require all that much skill development and knowledge, that they are, therefore, unwilling to invest time and energy into developing those skills and knowledge, that the way we design our libraries reinforces the concept that information retrieval is as easy as finding cordless screwdrivers at a huge hardware store chain, that access to a professional librarian is valued and needs to be marketed, and that our users are embarrassed to have to ask questions" (p. 215).

Massey-Burzio, Virginia. "Reference Encounters of a Different Kind: A Symposium." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 18, No. 5 (1992): 276-286.

Strangely, with all the changes that have taken place in information technology and the dramatic increase in available information, one thing that seems to have remained stable is the way librarians deliver reference services. Massey-Burzio contends that positive changes can take place in librarianship if the traditional mode of reference service undergoes a transformation, and as a result, "challenge some of our deeply held notions and beliefs about what constitutes good reference service…" (p. 276).

Brandeis University's main library eliminated its reference desk in March 1990 because over the years staffing problems were reaching a crisis, with morale and energy levels of the staff being negatively affected. In addition, a telephone survey done in 1988 made it clear that to adequately staff their main library, they would have to face the prospect of hiring many additional librarians, using money they did not have at their disposal. Instead, the library decided to get rid of the reference desk, replacing it with an 'Information Desk' and a 'Research Consultation Service Office', using graduate students to staff the information desk to answer directional and ready reference, and professional librarians for the research service. The changes were made so that job satisfaction could be increased; higher quality service provided; to facilitate the best use of staff; and to improve the professional image of professional librarians.

Of course, there is no easy way in which to increase the quality of reference service, but it is also "clear that traditional reference service is best at providing information to questions that take only a few minutes to answer. Because of the sheer volume of questions that librarians must deal with, the more in-depth or difficult questions are necessarily handled too briefly and superficially" (p. 277). Thus, traditional modes of reference service underutilize the skills of professional librarians, and underserve many patrons. The division of labor at the Brandeis library helped both paraprofessionals and professionals to experience an increased sense of adequacy.

Findings from research done by Joan Durrance have concluded that the environment surrounding traditional reference service triggers mixed signals in patrons because they are never sure if their inquiry is being directed at a professional or a student. This is partly a result of many librarians refusing to wear identifying name tags and dressing in a non-distinguishing fashion. "The reference interaction can be problematic because, although reference users seek information or advice in a situation that sociologists would define as a professional encounter, the setting itself seems to suggest a different interaction - one more like a quick, commercial encounter with a bank teller or department store clerk" (p. 278). Confusion reigns!

Massey-Burzio says that it true that librarians may need to improve their communication and interviewing skills, but believes that "[w]hile these points are well taken, the more natural solution may be to change the environment" (p. 278). Librarians seem to equate availability of service with quality service. They need to realize that this only results in poor reference performance and an undermining of their own value as professionals. If a restructuring of all reference environments were to take place, with librarians answering more difficult and interesting directions instead of the high number of directional questions, it may begin to establish a more professional role for working librarians, and increase job satisfaction.

The Brandeis model of having two separate reference service points is one way a reference department can be reorganized to help improve service for the public and increase job satisfaction for librarians: "This reference model seems to significantly improve the quality of the interaction between the client and the reference librarian. The privacy and quiet of the research consultation office and the focused attention of a recognized professional seem to be the key to its success…Its success suggests that libraries should consider moving away from the simplistic notion of having an "available body" to answer questions and that more attention should be paid to the fact, well recognized by social scientists, that the reference encounter is a complex social and intellectual interchange" (p. 279).

McClure, Charles R. "Output Measures, Unobtrusive Testing, and Assessing the Quality of Reference Services." The Reference Librarian 11 (Fall/Winter 1984): 215-233.

Increasingly, there is more and more pressure to evaluate the quality of reference service provision, with an "emphasis on outputs, or the services provided from the library to the clientele…" (p. 215). Quality, not quantity of services is the focus: as traditional techniques of evaluation have concentrated on quantity, and therefore, lack validity in providing insight into whether informational needs are being met by reference librarians. By using quantitative measures, libraries have historically not known if reference services are meeting their objectives and priorities; the accuracy rates of answers; how staff time is being utilized on the desk; and finally, if there is some magic amount of time needed to provide accurate answers?, or in other words, is there any evidence that shows amount of time spent with a patron can increase or decrease the likelihood that a correct answer will be given? Library outputs are increasingly evaluated using unobtrusive testing, and the following is a list of output measures which can targeted through such testing:

  1. Correct Answer Fill Rate: is determined by dividing the number of correct answers given by the number of questions asked, and provides the library with data on how accurately certain kinds of questions are being answered. (see note #1)
  2. Correct Answers Per Reference Staff Hour: this measure divides the number of correct answers given by the reference staff hours, to give some indication of staff's accuracy levels within a specific time frame. (see note #2)
  3. Reference Services Delivery Rate: it is believed that a key indicator of reference service quality is the amount of time it takes to provide a correct answer. This can be measured by dividing the 'total amount of time for successful service deliveries' by the 'total number of successful service deliveries'.
  4. Cost Per Correct Reference Answer: can be determined by dividing the 'total cost of reference services for given time period' by 'number of correct answers in same time period'.

"The primary factor that currently limits the quality of reference services is an attitude of complacency, one which assumes that (1) the vast majority of answers given to questions are accurate and timely, (2) that the reference services currently provided are, in fact, accomplishing service objectives and resolving the information needs of the library's clientele, and (3) existing reference staff competencies and skills are "adequate" and are not likely to need improvement. These attitudes are based on assumptions which can be best tested by the use of unobtrusive evaluation techniques. Once they have been tested, specific strategies can be taken to improve existing levels of services and staff skills" (p. 225). (see note #3)

Unobtrusive testing is well-suited to collecting data on outputs, but there are Advantages/Disadvantages of Unobtrusive Testing:

  1. Library staff can be observed in their natural setting, under normal conditions.
  2. Accuracy levels can be determined.
  3. Can give insight into why librarians answer questions incorrectly.
  4. However, a lot of planning is needed to carry out such a project.
  5. Administration must have a commitment to report, analyze, and provide data.
  6. Library needs policies and objectives, as well as strategies to improve service based on findings. If not, there is no point. Unless the results are used to improve quality of service by implementing training programs and self-improvement strategies, the whole point of unobtrusive testing is bypassed.

Interesting point:

  1. In the Hernon and McClure study, factual questions were more likely to get a correct answer if asked over the phone. (see note #4)

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. Unobtrusive testing is a very important method because the correct answers are already known, something which is hard to gauge normally. Librarians assume they are providing the correct answer to the patron (CRTC). Often the most recent information is the hardest for librarians to provide because it has not yet been recorded in a print source, and that is certainly one of the merits of using up-to-date electronic government information.
  2. This data can be used to compare staff performance, and then be used to demand that good reference librarians be allocated more time on the desk to increase the accuracy rates. There is a win/win situation for the library and the patron.
  3. This is where you can go on-side with the librarians, and push the Federal Depository for some improvements in the way librarians are trained in the use of their information sources.
  4. Not so with yours?

McClure, David L. "Improving Federal Performance in the Information Era: The Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996." Government Information Quarterly 14, No. 3 (1997): 255-269.

With the onslaught of new information technologies, there will be problems with information management, and deficiencies involved with trying to bring together computer technologies, information, and work processes. 'Information resources management' (IRM) practices can help the government revolutionize the way it delivers services and information to its citizens. The Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996 builds upon the Paperwork Reduction Acts of 1980 and 1995, which outlined an IRM plan in order that the heads of federal agencies understood information needs and purposes, and that information must be collected and shared many times. The ITMRA of 1996 adopted management principles and practices employed by prominent public and private organizations to improve the performance of organizations. The Act stipulates that agency heads: 1.) to be aware of how technology and information resources assist in the delivery, management, and operationalization of services and programs under their direction, 2.) to weigh both quantitative and qualitative factors in relation to spending, benefits, and investment risks in the acquisition of information technology investments, 3.) be able to show how information technology expenditures improve program outcomes, customer satisfaction, employee productivity, and streamlining costs. In other words, ITMRA requests that agency heads make informed decisions and practice management control "in an area fraught with risk, dubious returns, and wasteful spending. Having access to better information and supporting analyses of ongoing costs, benefits, and risks, agency heads can present better budget information to Congress on how technology expenditures address effectively the pressing business problems of government agencies" (p. 256). ITMRA supports agency mission, it does not force change. Whether federal agencies take advantage of ITMRA to improve performance is a critical factor, and also if the OMB and GAO enforce the legislation's requirements by overseeing IT budgets.

To achieve dramatic improvements in the government environment using IT will be a challenge because there is more and more pressure to make cuts, while offering better services; the technology behind IT is rapidly changing all the time; and business failures involving IT can be extremely expensive, and many very costly developmental projects get canceled before completion. Still others come to fruition late and have significant escalations of costs associated with them. For example, after twelve years, and more than 2.5 billion dollars, the FAA opted to cancel its Advanced Automation System project because it had been plagued with problems. Why does the federal government have problems getting positive results for its IT projects?

1. Failure of management to oversee and manage controls.

2. Shortage of staff.

3. Poor contractor oversight.

4. Protracted procurement and acquisition cycles.

5. No benchmarking of performance.

6. Technical units are delegated to take care of IT issues.

7. The justification of IT expenditures before all processes are examined.

8. Lack tactical planning, good decision-making for budgetary concerns and evaluation.

9. No monitoring of IT spending, until it is too late.

10. Inadequate training and hiring practices.

11. There is no exact figure available for how much the federal government spends on IT, only what is reported to the OMB, which is approximately 26 billion a year.

The long term goal of ITMRA is to help agencies overcome some of these downfalls, and in the short term, expectations are that IT spending will be increasingly scrutinized, improved managing of processes, and better quality data on costs and returns.

ITMRA puts accountability for information technology and management decisions on the heads of agencies, who must appoint CIOs to executive management teams. As far as capital planning and investments are concerned, ITMRA requires scrutiny, control, and evaluation of risks, costs, and benefits. There must also be a systems for IT reporting and performance management from which success can be measured. These systems help to reduce costs, increase productivity, decrease cycle time, and improve service: there must be awareness of means and results.

McClure, Charles R. "Libraries and Federal Information Policy." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 22, No. 3 (1996): 214-218.

Government information policy is important for librarians to understand because it affects how libraries disseminate government information for the public. Libraries also have an important role to play in affecting how government information policies are developed, both at the national and local levels, and need to stay current with the issues involved because they are important stakeholders in the process. Policy changes can determine how libraries evolve, the services they provide, and the availability of resources: it can also transform traditional approaches to library service. "Only recently has information policy been recognized for its importance in shaping the evolution of societies. Libraries frequently serve as an institutional force to implement information policies through specific information policy instruments" (p. 214).

1. Information policy is an important area in public policy because: 1.) it has a great impact on the accessibility, collection, distribution, management, and retrieval of government information, 2.) has an effect on how society and individuals develop social, economic, and political choices, 3.) causes both advantages and disadvantages for different people depending upon their setting, 4.) has a direct cause and effect on how information technologies are used and applied, 5.) and because it has an effect on how all other policy systems develop and work. There is a symbiotic relationship between federal information policies and libraries.

2. In the United States, federal information policies are shaped by a number of key policy instruments, such as : 1.) The Freedom of Information Act, 2.) the Privacy Act, 3.) the USA. Government Printing Office's Depository Library Program, 4.) the Copyright Act, 5.) the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, 6.) and circulars from the Office of Management and Budget, and the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, such as the all-important Circular No. A-130.

3. Information is unique and therefore, it is difficult to develop clear, equitable, and useful policy instruments for all the stakeholders involved. Information has many characteristics, including: it cannot be 'used up' by being used; it is difficult to control all parts of information and to make sure that it will not be disseminated for free; the same information can be possessed by more than one person at a time; the value of information is hard to gauge until it is known to the user; information cannot be depleted; information can become obsolete; and continual use does not deplete it.

4. Information is an empowering tool in society, and libraries can be the link between the government and the public to provide resources that can improve quality of life.

5. Information policy issues are complicated because they must consider many different stakeholders, with different expectations, objectives, and various value systems. For example, libraries are one of the many stakeholders, and there are many issues of information policy they must consider; one is the public's right to information, which is considered essential in democratic societies. (see note #1)

6. Retrieval and organization of information of government information was difficult enough in a print-based system, but now, with the exponential growth in electronic information, there are so many new dimensions. For instance, constant change and chaos reign in a networked environment, and there is a great need for more user-friendly services and programs. (see note #2)

7. If libraries do not provide their patrons with electronic access, those who do not have computers equipped with the Internet at home, will be at a great disadvantage. There will be the 'haves' and the 'have-nots'. And that does not only refer to accessibility, what about network literacy? More and more, network literacy will be needed if we want to access federal government information.

8. The NII is the National Information Infrastructure, and is "an amorphous term for the collection of information technologies and the infrastructure that supports them..." (p. 217). The Clinton administration's support for the development of NII means that a revolution of sorts is taking place in American society, one that will drastically change society. The role libraries must play is to provide access to NII.

9. Copyright laws, ownership of information, and intellectual property rights will further complicate the position of libraries in a world of electronic information, as will 'what constitutes fair use?' and how will digitized information be priced?

10. There has been a decentralization occurring in the dissemination of electronic government information, with federal agencies mounting their own websites to help save money traditionally spent on providing the public with print sources, and even GPO DLP are finding it increasingly difficult to provide access to a cache of centralized information. Therefore, ."..librarians will need to have the skills and knowledge to access electronic government information via a variety of sources and Web sites. In short, the need for the librarian to serve as an electronic navigator and provide intermediation will not disappear. More likely, librarians will have to develop new skills and techniques to stay knowledgeable about this rapidly changing area...Libraries that fail to deal with these changes, fail to accept responsibility for access and dissemination,...or fail to recognize the need to transition from a print to an electronic information environment are likely to find themselves marginalized" (p. 217). (see note #3)

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

1. And if librarians do not know how to access the information, particularly electronic information, then how will that affect our rights, democracy, freedom, etc.?

2. What about problems with changed addresses, sites under construction, server failure, and Internet traffic, which makes for slow connectivity?

3. And incapable of providing accurate, and up-to-date information to their patrons.

McClure, Charles R. "Network Literacy in an Electronic Society: An Educational Disconnect?" in "The Knowledge Economy: The Nature of Information in the 21st Century", Queenstown, MD: The Aspen Institute, 1993, pp. 137-178.

Some important points made by the author:

1. Computer literacy is progressively becoming more important as rapidly developing communications systems and technologies make it possible for public information to be disseminated in electronic form. What are the implications when currently, there are some 30 million Americans who are considered functionally illiterate? There is an elite few, such as researchers, academics, and techno junkies who can be considered network savvy, but what about the rest of society? "The new communication techniques and the resources and services available over the Internet will continue to change the way we work and live. Those not connected or unable to use the Internet, however, may find themselves increasingly disadvantaged in the workplace, in dealing with daily issues, in being an informed citizen, and in living a quality life" (p. 143).

2. There has been inadequate federal planning and policy directives to ensure that libraries and their staff can move from a traditional model of librarianship to one which makes resources available to the public in electronic formats. Librarians need to be able to access, use, and communicate network literacy to the population, if the strategies of NII and NREN (National Research and Education Network) are to be successful and widespread throughout society. Therefore, strategies must be developed to ensure that electronic technologies will become integral in the 21st Century, as well as: capable of bringing different segments of society together (i.e. the haves and the have-nots); promoting social equity in terms of network literacy; and enhancing the role of libraries and educators to bring about the desired objectives.

3. Some inherent problems with moving towards an information society include the mentality that the public will naturally (I say miraculously) understand, use, and navigate easily through the network without intervention from local, state, or federal planning. The private sector, educators, and libraries will provide the resources and training required to transcend society. Is this a reasonable assumption?

4. One major ideological change from traditional notions of information is that network information is an empowering tool, rather than simply information. It has the power to change lives, contribute to a more productive society, and provide individuals with the knowledge to make better decisions in their lives. The White House Conference on Libraries and Information Services released a report in 1991 that included the following remark: "As dependence on information grows, the potential increases for emergence of an Information Elite and the possibility of a widening gap between those who possess facility with information resources and those who are denied the tools to access, understand, and use information....Today, now more than ever, information is power. Access to it and the skill to understand and apply it is increasingly the way power is exercised" (p. 173). (see note #1)

5. It is imperative to assist individuals, no matter where they are, to learn how to navigate in a networked environment, and learn how to use the information to empower their lives. Federal policies and programs should reflect and support this ideology. Debate must ensue.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

1. Author has footnoted White House Conference on Library and Information Services. "Information 2000 Library and Information Services for the 21st Century."

Mendelsohn, Jennifer. "Perspectives on Quality of Reference Service in an Academic Library: A Qualitative Study." RQ 36, No. 4 (Summer 1997): 544-557.

This qualitative study chose two librarians and two users, and tried to elicit from them to answer, "What is meant by the term "quality" as it applies to reference service?" (p. 546). An indepth interviewing process was used, along with a coding matrix to identify (1) key factors of quality service, (2) factors referred to over and over again, (3) factors that seem to work against quality service.


  1. Time, willingness, and knowledge were the codes most often referred to in the study, and "were also identified as being key factors in the provision of service, and lack of knowledge and time was cited as mitigating against quality service" (p. 546).
  2. Both knowledge and willingness were found to be interconnected, and without them, quality service is very unlikely. For instance, a librarian may have the knowledge, but without willingness, nothing happens, just as, a librarian may be willing to help, but lacks knowledge to do so.
  3. High quality service provision is evident when a connection is made between the librarian and the patron, a relationship of connectivity, with willingness, competence, satisfaction, and expectation coming together. (see note #1)
  4. Time and moral have an impact on action, assessment, and willingness, and are needed if high quality service is to be the outcome.
  5. Willingness is a component of professionalism.
  6. Knowledge also includes knowledge of collections. Users and librarians themselves, assume that staff know the collections, but is that always the case? (see note #2)
  7. Knowledge of search strategies, or knowing how the information is organized is also an important component in a librarian's knowledge requirements. (see note #3)
  8. Actively searching for information with patrons allows librarians to learn new things every day, and ascertain where they can find the same kind of information for another patron at a later date. If the librarian does not accompany the user, they usually have no idea if an answer can or cannot be found in a particular source. (liberal versus conservative) The research into high quality reference provision almost always cites users referring to librarians actively helping them find an appropriate source and making sure the information they want is contained in it. Therefore, the provision of high quality reference service seems to be three-fold: to encourage user independence, to teach users how to access information, and to provide information. (In academic libraries, the first one may be somewhat disregarded.)

Two major environmental factors that are essential for high quality reference service are: TIME and MORALE, and are factors dictated by library policy and managerial ideologies. For instance, if time is limited, morale may be adversely affected. Management may have a clear policy of allowable time spent with individual patrons and is usually related to: 1.) The cost of providing quality service: money is time, and depending on if good quality reference service is seen as a luxury or not. 2.) Crowd Management, especially during busy times can be problematic. "I think that the more information sources are coming on stream in the libraries, the more frantic the librarians are for the time to keep up and to set up in their own minds the kind of hierarchies of sources of information and ways to get people started towards information that they need to sort the patrons out in terms of what they can most profitably use" (p. 553) 3.) Appointments or Consultations 4.) Morale: how one feels is directly related to how well they can perform their job, and there is a direct link between morale and the provision of high quality service. Administrators may be more interested in having a 'body' on the desk, whether that person is a paraprofessional or professional, and may have forgotten that it could be detrimental to the provision of good service, and makes users angry that there are not qualified librarians readily available to help them with their questions. (see note #5) Appropriate funding must be allocated to maintain and improve quality service.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. Please refer to note #2 in article #40. There seems to be something to say about the user and librarian working together. And although Hernon and McClure have said that proxies often seem to be on-side with the librarians, their instructions are to be neutral at best. I remember how mad you got when you thought I had suggested to one of the librarians that checking on the web might be a good idea. This drives the point home because in real life, that is what I would have done - worked together. Failure rates can be somehow attributed to this lack of mutual connectivity in the process of reference service in libraries.
  2. It is obviously not true of government documents, in part, because the collections are not used by reference librarians on an ongoing basis. Now they also need to have knowledge of electronic government information, which in many ways could be easier for them in the long run because online search engines can make up for the poor indexing found in many government documents.
  3. I think it is very important for you to make this point somewhere - understanding the organization of knowledge is one of the most important aspects of controlling the universe of information, especially now with the introduction of electronic resources. For instance, it is a good place to mention her belief that librarians working in government documents need to understand how the government is structured if they have any chance to really help patrons in the area. I will reiterate my own point previously made to you on the phone that it should not matter to librarians if we asked them about barley or corn, what matters is that they understand that the government has sites for Agriculture Canada, the Wheat Board, the Egg Board, etc. They cannot use the excuse that they are never asked about two-row barley and that is why it is not reflective of questions asked of them because it should not matter if they understand how information is being organized and accessed.
  4. Studies have shown that librarians are often hesitant to leave the desk too long for fear of reprisals by co-workers, or heads of reference. That can be the case even if the desk does not seem busy at the time. Librarians sometimes have a hard time with their internal clocks, and fear it could get extremely busy just as they walk away.
  5. Good librarians should be working the reference desks in libraries, and should not be replaced with paraprofessionals. Being replaced, or put on call, can adversely affect librarian morale.

Miller, William. "Causes and Cures for Inaccurate Reference Work." Journal of Academic Librarianship (May 1987): 71-73.

  1. Libraries try to provide good service to the public, but they "have not really known how to provide uniformly excellent service" (p. 71). And although there are some evaluation techniques in place to test for quality, there is little consensus on how libraries can improve the service they give to the public.
  2. Value-added service is a luxury which libraries do not worry about providing because lack of staff, and cutbacks for resources were primarily things that libraries worried about. If they were questioned about service in particular, they provided an enumeration of questions asked at the desk and equated those with service provided. Libraries must do more than say they are interested in the provision of good service, and not equate it with the size of holdings, the numbers of questions asked, or how many new services they can now offer the public.
  3. Improvement has to begin at the top with the directors of libraries. "These people realize that good service is a black hole - the more good service a library provides, the more good service people will want, and the more resources will need to be devoted to providing it. Hence they have been reluctant to start the cycle … if the 55 percent accuracy problem is ever to be ameliorated, however, such directors will have to swallow hard and rethink the missions of their libraries, the organizational structure, and their use of resources" (p. 72).
  4. Most librarians are only average, with average knowledge. There are some really bright ones and some really dull ones.
  5. Over time librarians can develop some tricks of the trade and become somewhat proficient in answering the needs of the particular user groups in one institution, but when they move to another library, they often find themselves unable to handle the new series of queries that are presented to them.
  6. Miller makes a good point when he says that libraries put basically untrained people on the reference desks and expect that they can manage the whole world of information and provide exemplary service. Libraries expect this level of service even when their staff members have many more tasks to attend to such as, committee work. Many other duties take up more of their time than the service they provide to patrons.
  7. Some librarians feel that the time they must spend on the desk is a punishment of sorts, rather than the core of their professional duties, especially when particular librarians are asked to work more hours so co-workers can have more time to teach, work on projects, attend meetings, and do database searches for specialized clientele. Therefore, it is little wonder that reference departments can achieve as high an accuracy rate as 55% when there is so little cohesion and policy to provide high quality service to patrons.
  8. Managers must examine policy, layout the basic priorities and mission of the department, and give staff the support they need to provide quality service, even if it means eliminating some other services.
  9. Education for reference librarians must also be carefully considered.

Miller, William. "What's Wrong with Reference: Coping with Success and Failure at the Reference Desk." American Libraries 15 (May 1984): 303-6, 321-22).

Miller makes the point that all the new services libraries are offering have caused an overload of work for reference librarians. The problem lies, not in being able to offer more services to the public, as heads of libraries broadcast, but rather, in trying to manage all the services that are available already. The demand for reference services has increased, as more and more people come into libraries looking for help on many different tools, tools which librarians may or may not be suitably familiar with. (see note #1) The author points out that even a decade ago, libraries did not have to worry about providing bibliographic instruction to anyone, but now they have to worry about making sure there are programs in place for foreign students and those with special needs. There was no large program for librarians to develop user guides, pathfinders, freshman workbooks, and library tours. In addition, online searching was not a consideration, nor was worrying about finding the money for all the new technologies that are infiltrating the information age. He says, "That we are doing so much more is a tribute to our concern and good intentions. It is not, however, a tribute to our foresight and planning. We have largely ignored the consequences of our reference sprawl, and it would behoove us to consider such consequences now" (p. 303).

Problems associated with the explosion of services in reference departments:

  1. Staff are expected to specialize in everything, be all things to all people. They must spend their time on the reference desk, attend numerous meetings, have professional commitments, scholarly research, and develop new programs or tools for the patrons. These people often get wrapped up with all the other activities, begin to see their traditional role on the desk as a frustration, and do end up spending less time helping the public. How does all this effect their fellow reference librarians? Resentment looms deep, especially for those who spend more than their fair share of time on the desk, and can barely cope with the work they have traditionally done, let alone be proficient on computers, databases, and deal with the new programs of BI. These people have value, they just need retraining. "Instead of renewing these people's perspectives and skills, … or transferring them to non-public duties, administrators have found it easier (in the short run) to pass them by at raise time, giving them clerical chores, or an increasing share of reference desk time in order to free up their more energetic and involved colleagues for other activities" (p. 304). Many schisms have been developing in reference departments. Both groups need to be given more time for the traditional activities of reference, and that includes, spending more time with the patrons.
  2. Miller asks if we can continue to deny that there is a connection between the addition of new services and the decline of older traditional ones. Pretend that it does not matter that there are burned-out, possibly untrained people working reference? Have those people represent the profession to the public? And ignore the findings of unobtrusive studies, and believe that high quality service is the order of the day?
  3. How can we come to a compromise? Are there solutions? 1.) What about the staffing solution? Certainly increases in staff would be beneficial, but where will the money come from? Can we bill our patrons for our services and time? It is highly unlikely that libraries will be anything besides predominately non-profit. Unlike other businesses which experience an increase in profit commensurate with an increase in activity, librarians cannot expect any help with their overload in duties from added staff because libraries just do not have the money. 2.) Can technology help save the day? It can help in many ways to reduce time-consuming tasks such as original cataloguing, "but provision of help to the public continues to be a labor-intensive activity that machines have not ameliorated" (p. 306). Many of the new machines in libraries, do not save the librarians time because they generate more questions, demand training for users, and require maintenance. 3.) Alternative staffing arrangements? a.) Libraries have tried to create separate information desks to handle directional inquiries and have staffed them with clerical/paraprofessional staff. b.) Staffed reference desks with paraprofessionals and students. c.) Libraries have taken librarians from other areas of the library and put them on the reference desk to expand service provision. d.) Have created separate divisions to handle ILL, database searching, and BI. All approaches have their benefits, but there are also some inherent problems with some of them, such as the use of non-professionals to answer reference questions for the public. 4.) Planning and rearrangement of priorities? Long range planning for reference departments means that change must be considered, but for that to happen, we must admit that there are problems, limitations, and failures in the service we now provide. Nobody likes to admit to failure. Change will also bring dissension between those who want things to remain the same and those who can envision a brighter future.
  4. Before any change can occur, libraries must assess user needs. How can libraries plan to offer service until they understand what users of libraries really need? Useless questionnaires have traditionally been the avenue used to make such assessments, but they only provide a list of likes/dislikes. Instead, libraries need to uncover more about needs, and less about wants. A needs assessment is the kind of analysis that libraries have to move towards if they are serious about servicing the public need.
  5. "Institutions are quick to enunciate high ideals, but few are willing also to enunciate a system of priorities identifying those who will fall at the lower end of the scale. The practical effect of this, for reference departments, is that they are officially locked into a system proclaiming that universally excellent service for everyone is the priority. In practice, when we try to serve everyone superbly, we end up serving no one especially well…For a variety of reasons, reference librarians and those who supervise them have shied from these problems, allowing traditional services to decay like an inner city, while sprawling new services grow up around them" (p. 322).

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. Although this article was written in 1984, it is even more applicable today with the onslaught of the Internet, new databases, and particularly pertinent to us, the digitization of government information. If librarians do not have the skills to use the tools, how can they be expected to help patrons?

Monty, Vivienne. "Canadian Government Information: An Update." Government Publications Review 20 (1993): 273-282.

The Depository Services Program (DSP) has been providing Canadians with access to government publications since 1927, operating under the general guidelines of the Treasury Board, not any specific legislation. With no official legislation to back it up, all the DSP can do is hope that the guidelines will be followed. Beyond that, there is little they can do to demand compliance. "[I]n Canada only guidelines and no legislation exist for a depository program. There has been increasing concern among participating members of the program that legislation be passed to assure the continued viability of the program…This concern has been heightened by the fact that CCG-P's changed mandate "allows" it to compete with the private sector for government business" (p. 276), and to make money.

The Federal Depository Program: In 1988, the Library Advisory Committee (LAC) and the DSP formed a Task Group with an aim to evaluating the depository program. 1990 saw the rendering of its final report, entitled Partners in Access, which contained thirty-five recommendations for consideration. Since the DSP was operating on a minimal budget, they took action on some of the recommendations, including withdrawing numerous libraries from the program (media libraries, for instance), and made those pay for any government publications, as well as contacting federal departments, asking them to provide depository libraries with their publications.

As far as nonprint formats go, many departments in the federal government have claimed they have no responsibility for making them available to depository libraries, this being the case specifically for Statistics Canada, a large producer of electronic information. With hard work on the part of the LAC and the DSP, Statistics Canada floppy diskettes and CD-ROM titles have begun to appear on the Checklist, and late in 1992, Statistics Canada offered the 1991 census to seventy-five depositories. Electronic formats need to be considered as the technology is increasingly becoming a means to disseminate government information. The DSP funded the Electronic Products Task Force to consider such things as archiving electronic information and "what type of networking should there be and who will bear some or all of the costs of networking and licensing considerations" (p. 275). All of these questions are important when the budgets of both libraries and the DSP are receding. Who will pay for hardware/software, electronic products, and connectivity? Other occurrences affecting the depository program include the abolition of such agencies as the Science Council of Canada, the Economic Council of Canada, and the Law Reform Commission of Canada, all of which were dedicated providers of information to the depository program. In addition, the 1992 budget of the federal government stated that there was no longer a requirement for departments to provide annual reports of their activities, as long as the data could be found in other places, such as the Estimates. "Annual reports of departments have been among the most historical and useful government information sources in the past" (p. 276). On the bright side, there has been the creation of GOVINFO, a LISTSERV for government documents on the Internet that acts as an information network.

Statistics Canada: At the time this article was written, Statistics Canada was just beginning to be heavily involved in the electronic dissemination of its information and was working with the depository program to provide access to data. Not that it ever directly distributed any to the program, but it had them on their mailing list and distributed data when notified by the depository program. Currently, with its new mandate to disseminate electronically and to generate substantial revenues, it will be difficult for Statistics Canada to develop lucrative commercial contracts with the private sector when they are providing the same information for free to depository libraries. (As we know things have changed in the intervening years.)

Monty, Vivienne. "Due North: Issues in Access to Government Information, A View from Canada." Journal of Government Information 23, No. 4 (1996): 491-497.

Despite a variety of similarities between Canada and the United States, the two countries have very different systems of government, including the procedures and policies which govern the dissemination and access to government information. No legislation exists in Canada that requires the government to disseminate or provide citizens with access to its information resources, while the Americans have a strong ideology and laws that make it a constitutional right for them to access to government information. These differences have their roots primarily in copyright law: the Canadian government or Crown holds copyright in Canada, while the American Constitution forbids the government to retain it because it is owned by the people. Thus, there is less information flowing through the Canadian system compared to the American, even though both countries have federal depository systems that provide the public with access to information. One thing that we as Canadians must understand is that our access to information is different from our neighbors to the south, who have laws that guarantee them that information flows from the 'powers that be' to the citizens. Not so in Canada, where the elected officials have no legal requirement to make information available, and have the right to decide what and how much is released.

The Canadian Depository Service Program (DSP) has its roots in pre-Confederation years, but was officially created in 1927 by an Order in Council and later packaged with other Treasury Board directives, which do not have the force of law. Two things to keep in mind: 1.) depository libraries are selected by using a set of demographic and geographic rules, and 2.) there are no guidelines addressing the electronic dissemination of government information, with the bulk of government information policies being under common law instead of statutory law, leaving the DSP in a precarious position, and under constant threat.

"The DSP, despite all the threats against it, is now and has been for some years, under CCG-P (Canada Communications Group-Publishing). This has produced a synergy that has brought together the government's publishing arm (the Queen's Printer) with the government's sales and dissemination arm (Publishing). The combination has given the DSP the right to request (not demand) departments to supply a quantity of free publications for deposit purposes" (p. 492).

Currently, government information policy is threatening the depository program from four different areas: 1.) Privatization: large national debt combined with a pressure to downsize and reduce expenditures, equates privatization. (At the time of this article: ) The CCG-P was on its way to being privatized, leaving the DSP without the government's publishing arm close at hand. What does this mean for the DSP? It will no longer have easy access to published information; where and how will it get the materials it needs to meet the public's informational requests? Certainly, privatization will cause information to become more costly, with federal departments under greater pressures, and no hard and fast rules for the information products to be deposited with the selected libraries.

2.) Electronic Publishing: "In most cases the DSP must purchase documents from departments in order to disseminate them to the depository system. They are provided a budget for this, but their funding has not increased in several years to meet these increased internal purchase costs. Indeed, CCG-P has provided the DSP funds for years out of other areas to assist in the purchase of publications for the program. Interestingly, as electronic products become easier to create, paper products are viewed as being 'value added' and their price has increased substantially" (p. 494). The advent of electronic publishing has made federal government agencies and departments independent publishers, creating their own homepages and diskettes. Simply because a library is a depository depot for government information, does not mean that they receive everything published. For instance, the last federal budget was released on diskettes that cost $500.00, but there were not enough funds available through the DSP to buy them for the depository libraries, nor were many local libraries able to come up with the revenues necessary. Therefore, not many Canadians had the opportunity to look at their own federal budget. Another problem with electronic information is the licensing fees attached to the software for government data, software that is produced by private sector companies, which are in the business of making profits, not giving depository libraries free copies of their products.

3.) Departmental Autonomy: is another outcome of the decentralization, and means that federal government departments are under no obligation to publish through the CCG-P, and often use cheaper, private sector companies (my note: and homepages) for production. The do provide the DSP with publications at a reduced cost, but "[t]he departments consequently say that giving materials to the DSP actually costs them even if they are reimbursed to some degree" (p. 494). Decentralization of federal government departments has meant that cost recovery is necessary, which has increased the prices of information resources, and has accumulated into an atmosphere that breeds poor bibliographic control.

4.) Cost Recovery: the government has mandated cost-recovery as a means to increase revenues, particularly for data that it believes has market value. Statistics Canada is a case in point. It has historically been relied upon for its wealth of detailed statistics - information that was regularly and freely passed on to research and depository libraries and used by a multitude of people. Currently, their information is quite costly, in electronic format, and too expensive for even large institutions, depositories, or members of the public to afford.

Moore, Audrey D. "Reference Librarianship: "It Was the Best of Times, It Was…"." The Reference Librarian 54 (1996): 3-10.

Technology has greatly changed the work of reference librarians, and has given libraries reference tools, such as electronic indexes, which have impacted in very positive ways. Librarians have never before experienced such a need to constantly improve their skills, and keep proficient as technologies keep changing. Libraries need skilled staff to improve the quality of reference services; staff who are willing to be the intermediaries between the resources and the users: an historical constant.

Current Reference Services:

  1. Informational Services: helping a patron seek the information they need, by offering personal assistance. This could range from simple ready reference questions (constituting the majority of questions asked in most libraries), to complex research requests (taking up the most considerable amounts of time to answer). Online searching to answer reference questions is also becoming more and more important and is useful for answering ready reference questions, providing patrons with lists of appropriate citations, and is useful for answering difficult research inquiries.
  2. Library instruction: reference librarians must be the liaison between the information resources and the users, and offer instruction on how best to take advantage of a particular tool. This can be done one-on-one, or in group sessions in specially-equipped classrooms.
  3. Readers' Advisory

"Although reference librarianship has experienced many changes during its evolution, and is currently experiencing more, there has always been the core concept of personal assistance by the librarian to the individual seeking information. It is this concept that allows us to recognize in our past and present some glimmering of the nature of reference services for the future. We may have access to more information, receive it faster, in whatever format deemed acceptable by our wizards of technology, but the reference librarian who will continue to be the intermediary between a good deal of this information and the user will still be operating by the concept of individual personal assistance" (p. 9).

Morris, Leslie. "Unobtrusive Reference Testing vs. Obtrusive Reference Testing ." Journal of Interlibrary Loan and Information Supply Vol. 3, No. 3 (1993): 1-3.

An editorial:

  1. Given all of the unobtrusive testing that has taken place over the last five years, with findings that librarians answer questions correctly 50 to 60% of the time, Morris and others, especially librarians, have ethical and moral concerns about the methodology. The author is quoted in this editorial as saying "I find unobtrusive testing faintly sleazy. More importantly, unobtrusive reference testing is unnecessary" (p. 2).
  2. She makes the analogy between how teachers are hired and how librarians are hired. School administrators check the quality of teaching before they hire and visit teachers in their classroom while they are conducting classes. Morris says that when interviewing for reference librarians, potential candidates are asked about the courses they have taken at library school, but not on the depth of their knowledge. This seems to indicate a need for change in the dynamics of hiring practices. "Do you know or just assume that all the reference librarians are familiar with the Song Index?" (p. 2).
  3. It is the reference department supervisors who need to check ability and quality of reference service by some means of obtrusive testing. Obtrusive testing may not be able to gauge a librarian's attitude towards patrons like unobtrusive testing does, but that component can easily be handled by reference supervisors while watching librarians work.
  4. Increased training can improve the rate of accuracy at reference desks.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. I think the author makes some good points in this article. Supervisors should be more involved in observation and evaluation of staff. Isn't that one of the things they are supposed to be doing? Many problems could be taken care of if there was a good and fair supervisor on each and every reference desk, don't you think? I mean most people will try to get away with a lot of shabby work practices if they don't have anyone guiding and teaching them along the way.

Morton, Bruce, and Steven D. Zink. "Contemporary Canadian Federal Information Policy." Canadian Public Administration 34 (Summer 1992): 312-338.

"The Canadian information environment is such that the government views the information that it produces as a corporate resource" (p. 312), and furthermore, the costs of creating, collecting, and providing access to it, are very costly, and therefore, revenues must be recouped. What this ideology does in fact is to construct a new philosophy that disrupts the old traditional view that government information belongs to the public, free of charge. The implications of this statement are that government information is a valuable commodity that must be managed; management must not preclude public access to it; and policy is needed to implement/phase in a national information and communications infrastructure.

Some important points to keep in mind:

1. Information at the provincial level of government are a separate issue, and are not the focus of this discussion of national information policy.

2. Although Canada has a long history of examining its information systems (nearly thirty years), no long-reaching, coherent national information policy statutes have been put in place. With influences coming from the British and American concepts of individual rights and information dissemination, the Canadian approach is one of contradictions: government is best suited to decide what information that it needs to disclose to its citizenry, while at the same time, there is the belief that the public has a right to government information in a democracy.

3. In Canada, the government environment is one of decentralization, fiscal austerity, and privatization. One needs only to look at Statistics Canada, which provides information from their databases to agencies in the private sector for a fee and the permission to resell to any interested parties. Therefore, the private sector is playing a prominent role in the dissemination of government information.

4. In 1982, the privacy Act of Canada was passed through legislation, with specific contributions to the protection of data, restrictions on the surveillance, with a comprehensive code for the collection, protection, and disposal of personal information.

5. In 1988, the Treasury Board began to restrict the use of the Social Insurance Number, and plans to phase out its use over a five-year period. This policy reflects three principles that form the basis of Canada's current information policy structure concerning privacy, and they are: 1.) unless government needs information in relation to a program or activity, it will not be collected, 2.) personal information will be collected from the person directly, 3.) government will tell the person involved the purpose for which the information is being collected.

6. "There has been an emerging understanding, sometimes grudgingly, that access to information may be a public right rather than a privilege. It is this perspective that is explicitly articulated prefatory to almost all current communications and information policy initiatives" (p. 322). To do this, government must accomplish two things: organize government information to facilitate public access to it, and understand the climate that surrounds the public's need for information.

7. Canada sees their Crown Copyright laws to be their way of making sure that Canadian information remains Canadian, while the private industry sees it as an impediment to their role and investment in the information industry, and as a major restriction against operating in international markets. Canada only has to look to the south at the United States to see how increasingly their information industry is being dominated by mostly European companies.

8. "It is extremely difficult under the type of parliamentary government that exists in Canada to hide critical the final analysis, the fabric of Canadian government itself and an ever-vigilant press may be the ultimate safety net. This is consistent with the view expressed thirty years ago in the report "To Know and be Known" that ultimately basic freedoms depend on the proper functioning of the parliamentary system with the only real guarantee of liberty being the alertness and maturity of the Canadian public and their elected representatives" (p. 338).

Morton, Bruce. "Canadian Federal Government Information Policy and Canada's Electronic Information Industry." Government Information Quarterly 12, No. 3 (1995): 251-295.

Recent Developments:

  1. The Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC) and the information industry in Canada saw NAFTA as another way the country could compete in international market economies (especially the North American market), something they believe to be necessary for the future prosperity of the electronic database industry.
  2. In 1993, the Treasury Board's federal information policy reflected that there was a need for government to work with the private-sector to create a national information infrastructure. As well as, consideration of developing government legislation that would make universal equitable access, educational training through public and private resources, and the electronic dissemination of government information, mandated.
  3. Paper publications will continue to be diminished in favour of electronic formats.
  4. Users will have to expect to pay for information that is not universally in demand so government can recoup the costs of generating, collecting, and disseminating it.
  5. In 1994, the entire database of Industry Canada was made fully searchable and accessible, along with other federal agencies using the Internet for dissemination of its informational materials.
  6. It is hoped that the Internet will facilitate better communications between Canadian citizens and the government in an interactive manner, and a better degree of access will allow electronic provision to information such as statistics patents, trademarks, federal government legislation, and access to government officials.
  7. In 1993, the government underwent a major restructuring, which greatly affected information policy. The Department of Communications was eliminated, with telecommunication policy activities transferred to Industry and Science Canada, which also gained control of the National Research Council, Statistics Canada, copyright, and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council. Cultural and broadcasting activities were passed onto the Department of Canadian Heritage. In addition, the CCG-P was moved to the Department of Government Services; the Department of Supply and Services was eliminated; and a new unit called Informatics was created within the Treasury Board.
  8. Industry Minister John Manley announced the creation of a thirty member group for the newly formed Federal Advisory Council on the Canadian Information Superhighway on April 19, 1994 to develop objectives for the information highway, based on the creation of jobs, universal access at a reasonable cost, and the strengthening of Canadian cultural identity and sovereignty.
  9. Access Canada (1993), a document commissioned by Public Works and Government Services Canada, gave an outline for a national information infrastructure that would see the interconnecting of schools, government, homes, and businesses. This infrastructure will be a collaborative partnership between government and the private-sector, with a proposal that the government would control fifty percent, while the other half divided amongst private industries. Only time will tell if these recommendations come to fruition.
  10. Federal government departments and agencies were given the two-fold responsibility of allowing more access to their information resources, while at the same time, generating additional revenues from them.
  11. Attitudinal differences between the private-sector and government over information must be ironed out, especially, since historically, "[g]overnment and the private sector have vied with each other for so long that access, control, and empowerment have become so entwined that the larger issue of information flow as the lifeblood of democracy and economy has lost its focus" (p. 285).
  12. Although the government does view information as a corporate resource, it "has been rather parochial and not extended generously to the private-sector information industry, for which it could be the ultimate corporate resource" (p.285). Struggles for power and control are causing tension.
  13. With no single minister given the responsibility for handling the information infrastructure, there has been no overriding vision or management, and merely a series of separate initiatives and no cohesive voice from government on these issues. Nor does the ITAC speak for everyone in the information industry, which exacerbates the problems at hand.
  14. Increased competition, capital mobility, escalation in technological change, and the dissolution of national boundaries in economic production have all combined to contribute to information industry transitions.
  15. Morton argues that Canada's position on cultural nationalism will be detrimental when it comes to this new world order because "as it in any way might relate to electronic information it will put the Canadian information industry and Canada at a significant business disadvantage. It is impossible for commercial business or a government to protect or exert a monopoly on knowledge or information; neither knowledge or information in electronic formats are by their nature respectful of nationality or geographic boundaries" (p. 287).
  16. The Canadian government must develop a strategy with the Canadian electronic information industry to overcome economic, geographic, and demographic limitations that now exist.
  17. And finally, the Canadian government must develop some strong federal government information policies for the electronic industry.

Morton, Bruce, and S.D. Zink. "The Dissemination and Accessibility of Canadian Government Information." Government Publications Review 19, No. 4 (July/August 1992): 385-396.

Important points:

  1. The federal government of Canada sees its information as a corporate resource, and manages it as such, and therefore, it is not free. The government is interested in recouping the money it spends on the collection and dissemination of information, while recognizing that it has an inherent duty to provide access to the public through informal and inexpensive ways. Requests through the Access to Information Act are costly to the government.

2.) A sampling of the major government information players:

  1. The Canada Communications Group: known formally as the Canadian Government Publishing Centre, this government agency has been responsible for printing official government information, marketing, compiling the checklists for government publications, distribution, and administration of the DSP. Federal departments have historically funneled all of their publications to the CCG-P for traditional printing services, but in April 1990, a special status was issued to the CCG-P, which made "the Division's services totally optional for most federal departments and placed it on the same footing as the private sector" (p. 386). The CCG-P has different arrangements for publishing, depending on the department. For instance, in some cases it will be responsible for all costs involved, if it can keep any profits made, while setting the price, while other arrangements include charging a department fully for the publishing, or "the department must pay the difference between the cost of producing the publication and the price it wishes to have the Publishing Division charge" (p. 386). Federal departments may also opt for a co-publishing arrangement with an outside private-sector company, as long as it is set up by the CCG-P. Sometimes departments feel they must turn to the private-sector for publication of their materials because of slow response time. The National Library used the Publishing Division twice for the publication and distribution of Canadiana, and both times it had trouble with delivery of the bibliography and the CCG-P had placed such a high price on the publication, many libraries could never hope to purchase it. The National Library now uses a private-sector company.
  2. Depository Libraries: lacking any legislative power, the DSP is run on administrative regulations and is under the tutelage of CCG-P. At the time of this article, there were 50 full depository libraries in the program, along with 1300 selective depositories. The program allows the public free access to the government information received by the depository libraries, which is why fiscal restraints and threats to the program itself are a cause for concern. The libraries are worried about their future role in the dissemination of electronic information, with the lack of training, the costs for hardware, software, and connectivity, and especially since "depository libraries do not receive much of this rapidly proliferating body of information because the DSP has not been officially mandated to acquire such materials" (p. 388). They also worry that private-sector companies will soon be responsible for the distribution of machine-readable information, and the price of the materials will put them out of reach for most libraries.
  3. The National Library: established in 1953, it receives all Canadian publications through legal deposit, including all government materials that are published by the CCG-P. They also do their best to receive fugitive publications through separate arrangements with federal departments and agencies.
  4. Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (CISTI): is part of the National Research Council, and collects and manages technical, scientific, and conference literature.
  5. Reference Canada: a holdover from the Information Canada of the 1970s, provides the public with referrals over the telephone, directing them to the appropriate government department.
  6. The National Archives: for more than a decade, it has been handling machine-readable records, but has begun to run into problems due to the large variety of formats used to collect electronic information. This will increasingly become an issue to face in the future, as technological advancements continue at an alarming rate.

Other important points:

  1. The government considers information a corporate resource that can generate income, and is costly for them to collect.
  2. The private sector sees it as a marketable commodity.
  3. "Any time one considers the issues inherent in the management of government information, it is necessary to address contending dichotomies. Is it possible to balance the natural inclination of governments to be secretive with the citizen's right and need to know? Are management and control synonymous? Are the citizens better served if government information is left unmanaged; is unmanaged information truly less accessible? The point has been made that neither the government nor the people can afford to have government information go unmanaged" (p. 394).
  4. Can the average Canadian synthesize the bulk of information released by the government?

Morton, Bruce, and Steven D. Zink. "We Are Here to Make Sure that Information is Available, and Cost-Effective: An Interview with Patricia Horner, Director of the Canadian Government Publishing Centre." Government Publications Review 17, No. 5 (Sept./Oct. 1990): 397-410.

Patricia Horner not only is head of CGPC, she also oversees the Depository Services Program (DSP), and Reference Canada, both of which allow access to government information to the public (particularly those who cannot afford to pay for it). Horner is operating the agencies with a market-driven philosophy, which incorporates working relationships "with the private sector to make information dissemination more cost-effective" (p. 397). Horner says that they have been operating like a business since 1986, and are charged with recovering the costs of collecting, creating, and disseminating government information.

Concerns and Directions:

1. One of the things that Horner and associates are reviewing, is the concept of providing depository libraries with electronic information and all that entails. The issue is not only whether the libraries will want it, but also how they will provide access to it. Will they have the hardware/software capabilities to do so? One way to get around the problem of libraries which do not want or cannot provide access to electronic information is to develop regional electronic libraries to disseminate digitized government information.

2. Statistics Canada is both an independent publisher and not a Crown Corporation, which has retained its revenues from its publishing program since 1986.

3. Government departments are structured so that their publishing and communications professionals are centralized. The DSP is trying to use that to their own advantage: to have more of the free publications distributed through the depository system for greater access. The "Weekly Checklist" acts as the acquisitions tool.

4. At the time this article was published, the DSP had a budget of 3.16 million dollars. (I will try to find out what it is now, since I am surprised that it is not greater.) Reference Canada's is cited as being 3.941 million.

5. Fifty of the depository libraries had not ordered a depository publication in five years. As Horner points out, "How can these libraries maintain that government publications are fundamental to their collections when they have not requested any products?" (p. 406). Full depositories receive every title, while select libraries choose from those on the "Weekly Checklists."

6. Canada and the United States have about the same number of depositories.

7. Obligations to the Parliament of Canada include the publication of the Senate and House of Commons debates and bills, as well as Hansard and Gazette.

Murfin, Marjorie E., and Gary M. Gugelchuk. "Development and Testing of a Reference Transaction Assessment Instrument." College & Research Libraries 48 No. 4 (July 1987): 314-338.

  1. Previous to 1960, reference evaluation was basically a non-issue because it was believed that patrons were highly satisfied with the services they were getting. With the advent of unobtrusive studies, serious questions began to appear concerning the true state of service in reference departments, as accuracy rates hovering around 50% were revealed. Librarians found it hard to reconcile their historically-based success of patron satisfaction with the findings. As a result of many research studies and breakthroughs in the area of reference service evaluation, the authors have designed a survey instrument and 'protocol for data collection' to assess reference transactions and to identify what conditions are related to both failures and successes. They have called their evaluation instrument RTAI: Reference Transaction Assessment Instrument.
  2. Although they are quick to point out that there is no consensus on which evaluation method library researchers should use to measure reference success, Murfin and Gugelchuk have called unobtrusive testing perhaps the "greatest single advance" (p. 316) in the field. Even so, it has its own inherent limitations, such as 1.) the test questions must be typical of those asked at reference desks, be of an acceptable level of difficulty, and take a long time to write. 2.) findings of unobtrusive studies take time to evaluate. 3.) they are generally based on factual questions, and have not included the whole range of reference inquiries. 4.) answers are measured as right/wrong, and do not always take into consideration other outcomes, such as partial answers or other information that is useful in answering the inquiry.
  3. Since all methods of evaluation have their drawbacks, including unobtrusive testing, other evaluative models should be used in addition. Survey questionnaires are also useful in the evaluation of reference quality. The RTAI incorporates validity, reliability, utilization of natural setting, standardization, and allows for comparability, interpretation, and timeliness for the reporting of results.
  4. A pilot test was conducted in 18 libraries on a volunteer basis, with each library receiving 50 reference questions, 50 forms for directional inquiries, checklists for each question to be filled out by the reference librarian, and one for each question to be filled out by the patron.
  5. The researchers got 88.46% of the forms returned, with 46.32% of patrons reporting that they got the information they had asked for. In terms of their satisfaction, 79.48% of patrons reported that they were completely satisfied with the service they received.
  6. Results from this study seem to agree with previous ones done unobtrusively: on factual inquiries, patrons receive a satisfactory answer 50% of the time.
  7. In addition, the RTAI reveals that patrons do make a distinction between the way they are treated by librarians and the accuracy of the information they are given. In other words, "[a]lthough quality of information received is a factor influencing the patron's judgment of the quality of service, this is not the sole determinant. Inferences concerning the patron's ability to judge information critically, based only upon measures of their satisfaction with the services provided, are unwarranted." (p. 330-331).
  8. See appendix for RTAI.

Murfin, Marjorie E., and Charles A. Bunge. "Paraprofessionals at the Reference Desk." Journal of Academic Librarianship 14, No. 1 (March 1988): 10-14.

There has long been a debate over paraprofessionals working on reference desks. The pro side says that most of the questions asked at reference desks do not need the experience and knowledge of reference librarians to be answered. The con side says that using paraprofessionals is a disservice to the public, diminishes the quality of service, and lowers the probability that patrons will find the information they need for their inquiries.

This study was part of the Wisconsin-Ohio Reference Evaluation Program, which used the RTAI (see article #27), a computer-scannable form that analyzes information collected from patrons and librarians. The RTAI forms have two parts, one to be filled out by the staff member, and one for the patron. The study looked at data from twenty of the thirty-three academic libraries that participated in the larger study, and had requested to participate (were not randomly selected).

The findings for professional librarians were: 1.) Patrons found exactly what they wanted/satisfied 60.4% of the time. 2.) Patrons found part of what they were looking for or not satisfied 22.8% of the time.

The findings for paraprofessionals were: 1.) Patrons found exactly what they wanted/satisfied 50.5% of the time. 2.) Patrons found part of what they were looking for or not satisfied 29.6% of the time.

Reasons for patron dissatisfaction with paraprofessionals? Patrons said that they would have preferred more indepth information on their questions, or another viewpoint for the answer.

Information reported from patrons on their overall satisfaction rating (separate from their satisfaction of quality of answer or source) of the service they received from paraprofessionals indicated that 1.) They felt that they did not get enough explanation or help from the staff member. 2.) Clarification was needed for the explanations. 3.) Staff exhibited confusion about the inquiry. 4.) Not enough time spent with the patron.

The study showed that paraprofessionals have more difficulties with conducting a reference interview/negotiation of questions, as well as more problems with communicating with the patrons. When answering complex questions, paraprofessionals (44.3%) performed significantly less well when compared to professional librarians (59%). On less complex questions, there was no statistically significant difference. The lower the amount of time spent with a patron, the lower the success rate. (see note #1) And when comparing the higher scoring paraprofessionals against the lower scoring ones, those who did not perform as well did more directing to sources rather than helping the patron find an answer.

Other interesting points: 1.) paraprofessionals consulted with professional reference librarians on only 7.9% of the questions. 2.) patrons felt that they were being helped by staff who were not as knowledgeable as professional librarians. 3.) Paraprofessionals were less aware that the patrons they helped had difficulty in understanding the information they received. 4.) "It is clear that academic libraries that use paraprofessional staff at the reference desk cannot routinely assume that such use is effective. Instead, such libraries should carefully assess the effectiveness with which reference questions are answered, using their patrons' perceptions and other relevant data" (p. 14).

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. The mean time in our study is an interesting component. You should do stats on the amount of time spent answering questions correctly, and compare it to the time spent answering questions incorrectly. I think you have to address the problem of paraprofessionals on the desk in your book, and that is why I have included this article and at least one other. I am sure it accounts for some of the failures. Can we find out how many of the libraries studied use paraprofessionals on the reference desk?

Nelson, Michael, Colin Freebury, Don Rennie, Mary Anne Stevens, and Alan Way. "Federal Government Information Policy: An Introduction." Government Information in Canada /Information gouvernementale au Canada 1, No. 3.1 (1995). Available:

The very nature of government makes it a vast collector of information, using technologically-advanced systems to process and support it. Besides the collection of information, government must have processes in place to store, protect, and to disseminate information when it is needed. To facilitate the process, the Canadian government has developed policies over the years, policies such as:

  1. The Management of Government Information Holdings Policy: was issued by the Treasury Board in 1989 as a way to coordinate the management of government information in a cost-effective manner. Specific requirements were made to federal government departments: a.) remember that their information holdings are corporate resources, b.) information must be organized to allow for its wide use and access, c.) reduce unnecessary information collection, and d.) identification and conservation of program and policy decisions. MGIH is based on the information life-cycle, which is set out as planning, collection or creation, organization, storage and retention, and archiving or destruction. Management of government information is an accepted requirement and has been firmly established in federal government departments.
  2. The Government Communications Policy: the first communications policy was issued in 1988 to improve communications between government departments and the public. It has three objectives: 1.) inform the public of services, programs, and policies in a timely, accurate, and easy to understand manner, 2.) consideration of the public's concerns and attitudes when developing policies, priorities, and programs, and 3.) making sure that government is answerable, and accessible to the people of Canada. Of course, review and revision is needed since technology, mandates, and organizations have undergone drastic changes in the last ten years, all of which have an effect on communications. Many are hoping that a major modernization of this policy will soon be in place.
  3. The Federal Identity Program: created in 1970, and then under the responsibility of Information Canada. Today the government uses the flag, our coat of arms, and the Canada Wordmark to identify Canada, with the program now the responsibility of the Treasury Board. The Federal Identity Program is one of the largest corporate identity programs initiated by a national government, using two official languages, 18,000 government vehicles, and 20,000 facilities to facilitate its program directives. Currently, the program is undergoing change made necessary by technological advancements and electronic formats.
  4. The Access to Information Policy: effective management of information is a crucial operation of any federal government, and providing access to it, just as important. Canadians need access to government information, and knowledge of how government works and is organized, so that they can participate in the decision-making process. In July, 1983, the government issued the Access to Information Act, based on the premise that the public has a right to government information, to have access to information in a free-flowing manner, and that the dissemination of government information needs to be reviewed by an independent body. Of course, there are exemptions to the information that can be made available to the public through this act and include, information received from other countries; personal information; information related to national security and international affairs; Cabinet confidences; and materials that are readily available in museums and libraries.
  5. Privacy and Data Protection: in 1983, the government issued the Privacy Act, which protects the personal information of Canadian citizens, and allows them access to the data the government has collected about them. For its part, the government must protect this information from outside sources, allow for corrections, and "requires that government institutions publish descriptions of the categories of the personal information they have, and a description of the procedures individuals can follow to obtain access to their information" (p. 8). With the acceleration towards an encompassing electronic environment for government information, data protection and storage are becoming more of a challenge.
  6. The Security Policy: the Government Security Policy was issued by the Treasury Board in 1986, with the objective to safeguarding classified information under the control and jurisdiction of individual deputy ministers, for example. Information categories included under the GSP include Cabinet confidences; intelligence; national security; Canada's economic interests; defence; and data relating to federal-provincial relations. "The Security Policy considers that the security domain includes confidentiality, availability, and integrity. This means that when thinking about protecting information, it is not enough, for example, just to protect unauthorized individuals from seeing the information (confidentiality). It is equally important to ensure that the information remains accurate, complete and authentic (integrity) and can be used when needed (availability)" (p. 9). This policy was revised in 1994 as the end of the Cold War brought changes to national and international interests. The biggest security obstacle facing federal departments currently, is the reduction of funds needed to maintain a high degree of security for government information.

Nilsen, Kirsti. "A National Access Strategy for Government Information."

This is a position paper on government information and its current accessibility.

The trend in the dissemination of government information is a move away from publishing on paper, with an increasingly accelerated move towards the use of electronic formats. "Public access to government services and information will be primarily through electronic means" (p. 1). One of the conclusions of the document Building the Information Society, was that unless the public interacts with the government through the Internet, there will be many services they will have no access to. For example, electronic filing of income tax returns are becoming more commonplace. But what about those in society who are not connected to the Information Highway? They will have less access to government information, which is a concern, especially when this trend towards the digitization of government information was precipitated by "deficit reduction and technology imperatives" (p. 1), and not necessarily, as a public good.

Present policy: 1.) The Access to Information Act, some policies of the Treasury Board, and Crown Copyright currently control access to government information in Canada. As well, individual departments have their own directives for cost-recovery, and these can have an effect on access to information. Since being issued in 1984, the Access to Information Act has given Canadians the right to unpublished government information , with exceptions, "in any format" (p. 1). As Canada's Information Commissioner, John Grace has stated, the federal government does not always comply with the open access policy, but rather, keeps its information under tight control, complaining that compliance is very costly, and puts up barriers to access. Barriers such as denying access to certain materials, charging extremely high prices, which seem to get higher as time goes on, and operating with slow response times. There are many who believe that the government would save itself a lot of money and be operating under a more democratic process if it simply provided free open access, rather than forcing the use of the Access Act. 2.) Crown Copyright is the mechanism by which the government protects its information; it also allows the government to limit access to government information, information that is collected with taxpayers money. Crown Copyright acts against the Access to Information Act because it "prevents wide dissemination of government information through the private sector" (p. 2). The government sees wide dissemination of government information to the private sector as a means to generate revenues, and does so by employing agreement contracts with market agency databases and through franchising, which limits marketing competition and keeps access fees high. Currently, Crown Copyright acts as a monopolistic device that disallows distribution of government information through the private and public sector. If eliminated, the public could still get access through distribution in libraries and on free government websites, and information industrialists could market the information with value-added components, to a wider audience. 3.) Treasury Board's latest policy documents "define government information as a corporate resource and a commodity, rather than as a public resource or public good" (p. 2), and as Nilsen points out, if this philosophy is allowed to continue, the only access which will be provided freely, will be to those materials that are considered unmarketable and of little value. Or, the federal government may decide that it will only give free access to meta-information (citations), while charging for the content. All of these current policies will limit the amount of access Canadians will have to governmental information and change the nature of government information in electronic form.

Issues pertaining to universal access: 1.) How the public sees access to information is very different from how the government understands it, made obvious by suggestions from the Treasury Board that their duty to inform the public "is limited to information about federal policies, programs and services which should be disseminated free or at subsidized cost within indices and reference tools" (p.3). That is not providing information, only meta-information!! 2.) For Canadians to participate fully in their society, information rights must be legislated. 3.) Because Crown Copyright gives the government freedom to charge whatever it wants to for information, and acts as a monopoly, universal access to information is very limited. Statistics Canada being a case in point. Since the taxpayers of this country have already paid for the collection of information resources, shouldn't they be charged marginal costs, or nothing at all? 4.) The archiving and preserving of electronic information must be considered for government documents to ensure that they too will become a part of our historical record. These issues must be addressed in any future information policies.

Nilsen, Kirsti. "Canadian Government Electronic Information Policy." Government Information Quarterly 10, No. 2 (1993): 203-220.

The rapid progress of computer technology and the facilities to store electronic information have brought great changes to the information policies of the Canadian government. In 1989, Peter Gillis, Director of Treasury Board's Information Management Practices Group, "stated that over the previous decade the Board had to undertake a complete revamping of information policies because of advances in information technology which made earlier policies obsolete" (p. 203).

Key Issues:

1.) Preservation: the deletion and manipulation of electronic government information from databases, and its overall preservation is of great concern. In 1973, the public Archives of Canada asked the Treasury Board for the financial resources needed to deal with the problems of preservation, acquisition, and administration for historically-significant electronic information. Subsequently, the Machine Readable Archives Division was created, later being merged with the Government Archives Division in 1986. The National Archives of Canada also holds a substantial collection of electronic information, which it maintains. The National Archives of Canada Act (1987), makes it illegal for anyone to destroy government records without the express permission of the National Archivist, and that includes all formats of government information.

2.) Information Industry Involvement: considering reduced budgets and cost-effectiveness, as well as a desire on government's part to act as a support for the information industry, there has been a trend towards government/private-sector arrangements. (This is especially lucrative for government because they can take advantage of all the new technological advancements provided by private-sector corporations.) - particularly since the Green Paper, Communications for the Twenty-first Century noted that there was a need to strengthen the hardware and software industries of Canada. Robert Gibson of Micromedia has "argued that government could do a great deal to support the Canadian industry by allowing the private sector to release government information" (p. 205). This would also allow them to be more competitive with American information industries, which do not have to worry about Crown Copyright.

3.) Crown Copyright: Canadian information industrialists see Crown Copyright as a barrier to them doing business, and "limits its ability to exploit the market potential of the data" (p. 208). It certainly puts them at a disadvantage when compared to companies in the United States, who have free access to government databases. They want to see the Canadian government do away with Crown Copyright altogether. "In his 1991-92 Annual Report, the present Information Commissioner, John Grace, states that Crown Copyright is an "anachronistic relic" which is "capriciously and arbitrarily invoked" and is incompatible with the spirit of the Access to Information Act" (p. 208).

4.) Public Access to Government Information in Electronic formats: public access to data that is stored in electronic form is increasingly limited, as information, once in printed form, is now only found in electronic form. (Statistics Canada comes to mind here.) As government has set an agenda to make government information a marketable commodity using a cost recovery policy, and increasingly works with private industry, public access to affordable government information becomes tenuous, as profit making becomes the main consideration. This is particularly true of those who are disenfranchised in this country and without the resources to pay for the information they require. The other problem is "[w]hether public access will be enhanced by commercial marketing of government databases is questionable, particularly when one goal is to get around the heavy costs associated with the Access to Information Privacy Acts" (p. 210). If a vendor has distribution rights to a database, it is considered published information, and is not covered by the Access to Information Privacy Acts, meaning that an individual Canadian must pay whatever the market will withstand for the information.

Since the 1984 cost recovery initiative by the Canadian government, information policy has treated government information as a commodity that can generate revenues and help reduce the federal deficit, however, government continues to express its willingness and desire to enhance access for the public. It wants to help support information industries, provide access to the public, commoditize government information, and keep Crown Copyright, a very ambivalent situation to say the least. All in all, it looks as if access to Canadian government information will be reduced for the majority of the public as digitization becomes the dissemination tool of choice for the government.

Nilsen, Kirsti. "Government Information Policy." Government Information Quarterly 11, No. 2 (1994): 191-209.

"In the late 1960s and 1970s, government policy recognized the existence of a public right to government information. In the mid-1980s, government information began to be defined as a corporate resource which needs to be "managed" in a cost-effective and coordinated way. In addition, information began to be seen as resource which could be commoditized and commercially exploited. Consequently, the public right concept has been de-emphasized in recent policy documents" (p. 192).

  1. 1967 saw the first attempt to develop a policy for government publishing, it was called the Policy and Guide on Canadian Government Publishing. Some of its basic premises were: a.) that publications issued by the government were a way of promoting the effectiveness of its many branches, b.) government departments were expected to cover the costs associated with information dissemination, c.) that being said, departments' first priority was to get the information produced, no matter the cost recovery issues involved, d.) however, there was no requirement stipulating that Canadian citizens had to be informed, or even that they had any right to the information produced by the government.
  2. In 1968, Pierre Trudeau established a task force (Task Force on Government Information) to study federal departmental information services, structure, activities, and operations, which would subsequently, make recommendations as to how the public could be given a better understanding of governmental operations. The report was released on August 29, 1969, and was called To Know and Be Known. Its importance was based on its conclusions that the Canadian government had no general information policy, no agency to implement one, no guidelines to develop an information policy, and its recommendation that the citizens of this country have a right to know what is going on in government, with government being obliged to supply them with information in a timely and objective manner.
  3. Thus "Information Canada" was established in 1970, with a mandate to require federal departmental cooperation, while increasing effectiveness, and cutting costs, by better management of information resources and ascertaining the viewpoints of Canadians through solicitations. As a result, the Queen's Printer was absorbed by Information Canada, and "with it, the dissemination function" (p. 195). However, In January 1976, under allegations that Information Canada could not carry out its mandate, and that it had in essence become the machine for churning out government propaganda, it was dissolved, with the Publishing Centre transferred to the Department of Supply and Services (DSS).
  4. In 1977, a second edition of the government's publishing policy was published under the name Policy and Guidelines on Canadian Government Publishing. It stated that good communications between government and its citizens was the basis for a democratic society, with government publications acting as the foundation. Changes were made concerning the private sector and pricing of government information, namely, developing co-publishing liaisons with the private sector, and meeting customer demand, while maintaining a balance between costs and revenues, and without undercutting the private sector. Other changes saw the Queen's Printer taking responsibility for more Parliamentary printing and the Canada Gazette.
  5. In 1978, Chapter 335 Publishing was issued by the Treasury Board, and stated that government publications should be produced in cooperation with private sector Canadian publishers wherever feasible. In addition, federal departments were instructed to take on the full responsibility of publications not produced in liaison with the private sector.
  6. The Access to Information Act of 1983 forms the foundation of Canadian government information policy and stated that citizens have a right to access information found in records, with exemptions being very limited and specific, decided by an independent body. However, many problems with interpretations arose from this piece of legislation, such as "[t]he problem for departments …to identify their records and organize them in such a way that access is possible and easy" (p. 198). The other difficulty was that Prime Minister Brian Mulroney did not want information that could be potentially damaging or embarrassing released, causing senior departmental information officers to be very careful in their decisions concerning what constituted 'records', and thus advanced a atmosphere of self-censorship, and an adversarial ideology with those requesting certain types of government information.
  7. With Brian Mulroney and his Conservative cabinet came a major transition which was marked by a demand for expenditure concerns, and a new management mentality based on market mentalities and business philosophies. There was a call for cutbacks, the elimination of certain programs, firm parameters for recovery of costs, and a realization that government could claim more revenues for high demand services used by specific groups of people (my note: what comes to mind here is the commodification of very specific statistical information used by a small sector of society, i.e. researchers). Overall, an atmosphere of fiscal restraint, deregulation, privatization, and free market commodification "provided inspiration and justification for government to limit the amount of information that it makes available and to increase prices for that information which it does provide" (p. 199). A future trend seems to be that instead of providing access as such, government policy seems to be toward the development of tools that will provide lists of documents that can be purchased, not direct access to the information itself, with expectations that the full costs of the publications will be realized. Can it be said that in effect, Canadians will be paying twice for the information - once with their tax dollars, and again out-of-pocket? The same sorts of occurrences can be seen in American and British political arenas.
  8. Chapter 480: Government Communications Policy was published as part of the Treasury Board's Administrative Policy Manual in 1988, and is noted for its reminder to government institutions that the dissemination of information is costly, and therefore, must only be provided when revenues can be recouped through user fees or when the public has a definite right to be informed. As well, taxpayers should not be expected to pay the costs for the dissemination of government information for individual proprietary interests. Furthermore, individual federal institutions were given the latitude to decide what constituted proprietary interests and when they had a duty to inform the public, as new strict guidelines were laid out in this legislation. Of course, this was helpful in eliminating private sector profit-making, but "it is open to misinterpretation and may be used to restrict inexpensive access to information. Academic researchers, for example, may have a proprietary interest in their work, but are unlikely to make much of a profit from it" (p. 200). The bottom line ideology was that taxpayers were expected to shoulder the burden for the collection and dissemination of government information.
  9. In 1989, the Treasury Board's Management of Government Information Holdings (MGIH) did not supersede the Access to Information Act or Chapter 480, it was a furtherance to government information policy. Its high points include: 1.) while protecting the financial and legal interests of citizens and the government, management of information is seen as a corporate resource, 2.) organization of government information is a necessity to ensure that it can be widely used and accessed, with political and legal constraints kept in mind, 3.) "Reduce response burden on the public by eliminating unnecessary collection of information" (p. 201), and 4.) the conservation and archiving of historical or important information for the furtherance of educational and historical pursuits and studies. What the policy made clear was that financial interests were deemed to be the most important, even for the public, with the use of corporate terminology and an emphasis on business practices. The other concern with MGIH is that 'information needs' are defined in a very specific manner, as requirements that are perceived as essential and relevant. But since "[g]overnment has traditionally collected and published information that could be described as unnecessary to the operation of programs and activities [and] …collects data which no other body is likely to collect or publish…[t]his MGIH definition, when combined with other statements in the guidelines, can lead to restrictions in the scope of data collection. Narrow bureaucratic interpretations could result in less government information, in both traditional and electronic formats, than is now available" (p. 203).
  10. Communications was issued in 1990 as part of the Treasury Board Manual and stated, among other things, that permanent paper should only be used for the printing of archival and historical materials; CIP was to be used for all publications for sale, and some free ones; and there was an expansion of the Crown Copyright section.
  11. Among other recommendations, the 1992 National Summit on Information Policy identified that relaxation of Crown Copyright restrictions would increase access to information, as would standardizing the licenses for government information sales.
  12. Peter Gillis, Director of Information Management Practices with the Treasury Board, outlined the government's desire to become part of the corporate network on the information superhighway. The 'Electronic Service Initiative' seeks to have all government information in digital form, including online, in kiosks, and using CD-ROM technology, in conjunction with private sector companies, and emphasizing the corporate market view government has for information resources. What the government means by access is up for interpretation because there is an implication that informing the public about its services, policies, and programs will be disseminated free "or at subsidized cost, within indices and reference tools. These tools would provide directory entries and listings of purchasable information, not the information itself. Thus, access to government information is very narrowly defined" (p. 206).
  13. To conclude, although the government states that one of its major obligations is to provide its people with access to information, the last ten years have seen restrictions put on what information is available, with price tags included for other sources. By restricting information, government can condone hefty price tags for its dissemination. With a large national debt and pressure to reduce it substantially for the generations to come, Canadian political leaders and economists have tried to decrease spending on a departmental basis, privatize some agencies that operate under governmental programs, or at least outsource some operations to save money. By the mid-1980s, there was no longer the same emphasis on the rights of the average citizen to information sources, and rather, a radical shift to the commodification of it was evident. As Kirsti Nilsen has concluded, " The advent of computer technology…government restraint initiatives, and the cost recovery requirements have encouraged government managers to see information as a resource that can be commoditized and marketed to generate revenue. Government's desire to support a strong Canadian information industry has encouraged the view that government information should be marketed via the private sector" (p. 206).

Olson, Linda M. "Reference Service Evaluation in Medium-Sized Academic Libraries: A Model." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 9, No. 6 (Jan. 1984): 322-329.

There is a lack of standards for the evaluation of reference service performance, no national standards, and no yardstick against which to measure it. (see note #1) The goal of Olson's research is to determine the quality of reference service given to the public in libraries, and hopes that it will be the basis for the development of a standardized reference evaluation model.

  1. Objective #1: How well do reference staff perform in response to factual questions? She decided on obtrusive methods of evaluation, even though a librarian's performance can be negatively or positively affected by knowing they are under scrutiny. This objective endeavored to uncover the performance level of individual librarians; to provide data on reference staff in general; the identification of individual librarians' strengths/weaknesses with regard to available reference tools; and strengths/weaknesses of reference staff's overall knowledge of such tools. In this section of the obtrusive study, each librarian would be expected to locate the answers for fifty factual questions in a specific amount of time (determined by head of reference), with a scale of two points for completely correct, one point for partially correct, and no points for completely incorrect or no answer.
  2. Objective #2: How well do librarians answer questions concerning library services, policies, and procedures? Questions such as how a patron can get a copy of a specific dissertation, how does one go about reserving a book, or get access to reserve readings. Olson says this exercise should be given to the reference staff as a group and be completed in one hour, and points given for accuracy on the same scale as objective #1.
  3. Objective #3: How well does a librarian provide instructions for using reference sources? This is important in determining librarian performance levels since library instruction is a key element in the profession. Data can be collected by using a questionnaire to be filled out by users who have asked librarians for instructional assistance. The survey should be given out at randomly selected times, out of sight of librarians, with librarians only aware of the general time frame of the distribution.
  4. Objective #4: How well do librarians perform with questions needing negotiation? Since a patron can only receive the information they need if a librarian conducts a reference interview for certain inquiries, this is a very important component in reference performance evaluation. It is also the most difficult one for researchers to evaluate. Olson says that "… until a better method is developed which simulates the interview process, unobtrusive evaluation remains the best method available to ascertain reference librarians' performance on questions requiring negotiation" (p. 326). The unobtrusive testing can be carried out over a semester or longer, and include questions that are typically asked at the reference desk. Proxies should be used to ask factual questions of an escalator type, that need not be answered by using reference sources. Answers should be judged for accuracy using Thomas Childers' criteria on page 328. Each librarian should be asked ten questions over the study period.

This model will provide library planners and management with a lot of information concerning the quality of reference service provided in their libraries. "Improvement of service must always be the overriding goal of the evaluation process if it is to succeed. Evaluation of any sort is bound to cause considerable staff discussion and in some cases outright resistance. Only when …evaluation becomes the routine rather than the exception should library management and staff consider using the evaluation results in personnel matters" (p. 328).

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. In many ways, the work of Crowley, Childers, Maryland, Hernon, and McClure have given us a yardstick by which to evaluate reference service when it comes to factual and bibliographic questions.

Olszak, Lydia. "Mistakes and Failures at the Reference Desk." RQ 31 (Fall 1991): 39-49.

  1. Everyone makes mistakes, and there is a greater likelihood of making them as tasks are repeated. The sociology of making mistakes is quite complicated, and admitting that we make them is difficult for at least two reasons: 1.) Agreement of all parties is difficult to obtain when a mistake has been made. This is particularly true when there is an US against THEM mentality found in certain occupations. (see note #1) "Claiming superiority of knowledge and experience, members of a given occupation generally attempt to claim the right to determine if a mistake has been made" (p. 39). The other thing is that by admitting failure, librarians and other professionals are opening themselves up for scrutiny, even more criticisms, and opens the profession up for outside judgments, which can weaken a profession. 2.) The second reason is just as complicated and has to do with people's reluctance to point out mistakes made by co-workers which is threatening to one's identity in the workplace and their own sense of self and worth. (see note #2 and #3)
  2. Crowley and Childers were the first to raise the issue of reference staffs' ability to answer questions correctly, with their studies implying that they make mistakes with about half the questions they are asked. (see note #4)
  3. This article looks at how individuals working in a reference department define and manage mistakes encountered when answering questions at the desk. The author uses this very interesting analogy at the beginning of the article to set the pace: "A fifty percent success rate may not be unique to the library field, however. Strodtbeck and Sussman report that watch repairers have a fifty percent accuracy rate in diagnosing simple watch repairs for their clients. (see note #5) An investigation into their behavior suggests that watch repairers often talk their customers into unnecessary repairs and cleanings in exchange for offering customers a one-year guarantee on the repair. While occupational outsiders may believe that such behavior constitutes a mistake, Strodtbeck and Sussman report that this inability to identify and correct a problem accurately is not viewed as a mistake by the repairers themselves. Instead, the repairers view this behavior as a way to establish a business relationship with a new customer" (p. 40-41).
  4. Within all occupations there are goals and decisions made that are not necessarily evident to the outsider. By judging reference efficiency by counting up how many correct answers are given, may indeed provide a very narrow view of the process that takes place. (see note #6) The author points out that librarians may have an ultimate goal in mind other than the provision of correct answers. Librarians may conduct themselves at a level that is considered above reproach in the eyes of other librarians, but still not answer a question as correctly as some would like, or to the patron's satisfaction.
  5. This paper looks at a study done of the world of academic reference work and conducted at a large public research university in the southeastern United States, having five large libraries on campus. Study took place in the Spring of 1990 when the author observed the interactions that took place at the reference desk. Three questions guided the research: 1.) In the eyes of reference staff, what actions constitute a failure? 2.) How do reference librarians alert each other to possible mistakes being made? 3.) This third one compares the process to medical research and I am not going in that direction, but the author has used the four categories of errors that Charles Bosk had classified in his work studying surgeons. (see Charles L. Bosk, Forgive and Remember: Managing Medical Failure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.)
  6. Some observations: 1.) Since some staff never assist patrons in the reference department and do other kinds of work, only those regularly on the desk were studied. However, most have many other duties, and a high level of education with other Masters and graduate work to their credit. 2.) Staff sometimes have difficulty deciding if they have helped patrons, especially if they simply locate a source for the patron and move on to the next. Lack of follow-up may lead to misinformation, or a lack of skills required to find the correct information. These would include online searching skills, or being unaware that the library has certain tools on hand. The author considers these technical mistakes. 3.) There are also judgment mistakes which lead to misinformation: for instance, a librarian may have the proper technical skill needed, but decide to use an ineffective strategy or forgets about the best source needed to find an answer to a query, or misinterpret the depth of the question or the ability of the patron. 4.) Team members often realize a mistake is taking place when a librarian is spending too much time with a patron; the patron continues to come back for additional help; or hears an interchange at the desk which leads them to believe miscommunication has taken place, or at least that they have interpreted the patron's question in another way. What do they do? They can interject something to clarify the question, become involved by getting the patron to notice them, mention another source that could prove helpful, simply correct the other librarian, or try and find the patron and lead them to a more appropriate source of information. And sometimes, librarians will ask more experienced members of the team for help. 5.) Librarians will often blame their inability to answer questions on the patron. If they don't want to be a part of the process and help themselves, they are considered problem patrons. This is especially true when a patron wants the librarian to give them an answer, while the librarian wants to develop self-sufficiency in the patron by showing them how they might go about it. Patrons sometimes refuse to accept a librarian's advice or do not explicitly reveal what they really want to know. Both are considered problems. 6.) Librarians also are unable to answer certain questions properly because they do not have access to the proper tools. 7.) Librarians can also make Normative Errors by not displaying two attitudes in their work life: 1.) The joy of working with the public and providing a service to them. 2.) having the belief "that one knows more than one actually does" (p. 46). These people can be standoffish with patrons, unfriendly, and use body language which is not conducive to good reference work.
  7. Given what we now know about librarians and the mistakes they make, what can be said about the 50% accuracy rate? Since studies of accuracy rates only base correctness of an answer to a specific question, they do not look at competing goals which librarians may wish to meet during their interaction with a patron. There appear to be two goals involved in the process: 1.) The goal of teaching a patron the process of finding information, rather than simply giving them answers to questions. "Although they locate the answers to specific questions for patrons, they do not envision this to be their primary purpose" (p. 47). (see note #7) 2.) Keeping the amount of time on any one reference transaction minimized. Although most reference librarians say they would like to spend more time with patrons, even when traffic is slow at the desk, they do not spend a great amount of time with any one patron. It appears as if they cannot predict when the desk could become busy, so they want to be on the desk and available. (see note #8) There also seems to be friction between reference librarians if one spends too much time with a patron while leaving other members of the team swamped.
  8. Librarians must find a way to juggle the competing goals of finding patrons specific information, providing them with knowledge of disseminating information for themselves, and keeping the time spent with each patron down so as to do their fair share at the desk.
  9. What this study shows us is that not "every unsatisfactory outcome is … necessarily the result of a mistake… Consequently, the desire to provide a correct answer may not be the most important goal the reference staff has for every reference transaction" (p. 48). (see note #9)
  10. As the author points out, there may be more conflicting goals effecting reference service which more studies will need to uncover.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. For instance, library literature is reaped with complaints by working librarians that those who do research in the field, but who have never worked as librarians have an awful lot of gall to make criticisms and tell them that they are wrong 50% of the time.
  2. Author has foot noted Donald W. Light, Jr. "Psychiatry and Suicide: The Management of a Mistake." The American Journal Of Sociology 77: 821-38 (Mar. 1972).
  3. This is why I do not think that peer review can be the only method used for reference evaluation. Too much rivalry involved.
  4. Of course, this is not true. They make mistakes half of the time in answering factual/simple bibliographic questions. Something that is not stipulated well enough in the literature, something you must make sure to do.
  5. Here author has cited Fred L. Strodtbeck and Marvin B. Sussman, "Of Time, the City, and the One-Year Guaranty," The American Journal of Sociology 61: 602-9 (May 1956).
  6. Has anyone interviewed librarians to find out what their goals really are? I believe that sometimes, we don't even know we have goals or are not aware that our actions make some inevitable.
  7. I think this can answer in part for the low accuracy rate in the study, and gets directly at the differing values of liberal versus conservative reference ideologies, especially when looking at academic libraries.
  8. So it seems as if they have an internal clock that prevents them from spending more time with a patron, even if they can. Have we become the McDonalds of the information society?
  9. I think this goes a long way in explaining the 50% accuracy rate.

O'Mahony, Daniel P. "State and Regional Service Strategies for an Electronic Federal Depository Library Program." Journal of Government Information 23, No. 4 (1996): 427-434.

Currently, the FDLP is undergoing rapid change, sparked by technological advancements, lack of support by Congress, financial realities, and the government's intention of disseminating all of its information electronically. However, the depository program would like to continue offering no-fee access to information, and even improve services to its user groups. O'Mahony believes that depository libraries should begin working with regional and state libraries to evaluate the needs of their patrons in this new electronic era.

Since FDLP must undergo structural changes anyway, discussions have addressed "[t]he concept of state and regional service strategies for electronic government restructure the FDLP" (p. 428). Regional depository libraries are being overwhelmed by their service, collection, and administrative responsibilities, so the time has come for the FDLP to move towards a model which spreads some of these responsibilities to other libraries in the service area to facilitate a more comprehensive approach to providing service, especially in an electronic age. If the FDLP can develop a system built on cooperation, using an administrative body to oversee the region, no one library will be expected to take on more than it can handle. The bottom line is depository libraries should make use of any and every cooperative association they can, including affiliations in overlapping regions to efficiently and strategically meet the needs of its user base. Depository libraries might even consider teaming up with non-depository libraries, freenets, and regional Internet service providers to develop a gateway for government information dissemination. Examples of some working systems already in place include the University of Maine's depository library that services Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire; the Consortium of Rhode Island Academic and Research Libraries, which is utilizing many alliances such as the Ocean State Free Net; as well as South Carolina's decision to divide its regional depository responsibilities between two libraries to reduce the burden of administrative and service requirements, thereby increasing participation and the provision of government information.

GPO's Superintendent of Documents (SOD) should also play an integral role in developing new services and strategies to support the new direction the depository program is taking by mandating program-wide standards for service, the provision of training, administrative support, technical expertise, and identifying potential alliances.

For a cooperative state/regional model to work, a planning process to develop service strategies is needed and should include: 1.) Assignment of a team of librarians responsible for drafting, developing, and coordinating the plan and overseeing its implementation. 2.) A definition of the service area. 3.) Identification of regional partnerships which may include education associations, library networks, training organizations, freenets, Internet providers, depository libraries, as well as non-depository libraries. 4.) Assessment of regional needs to a.) identify the needs of users in relation to electronic information, b.) assessment of the technical infrastructure to ensure that it is adequate to provide information, c.) assessment of electronic storage capabilities in the service region, and d.) establishment of training programs to increase the proficiency of staff's Internet and computer skills. All will identify strengths and weaknesses that will need to be considered. 5.) Development of service strategies with goals that include acquisition patterns, storage collection, resource sharing, locator services, technical support, user support, and communication infrastructure, to name a few. In addition, the responsibilities for all participating members should be clearly defined. 6.) The drafting of cooperative service agreements. 7.) Review and evaluation of service strategies are needed in such a changing environment in order to continue to meet the needs of patrons.

With shrinking budgets, lack of congressional support, and the advancements made in electronic information dissemination, libraries must be prepared to meet the changes head-on, whether they like it or not. FDLP has always had a cooperative philosophy, and now must enhance it by taking advantage of local, state, and regional alliances to move the program into the 21st Century.

Parker, June D. "Evaluating Documents Reference Service and the Implications for Improvement." Journal of Government Information, Vol. 23, No. 1, pp. 49-70, 1996.

  1. This study used the Wisconsin-Ohio Reference Evaluation Program developed by Bunge and Murfin to evaluate the Government Documents department at Joyner Library at East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina during the spring of 1994. This library has a separate desk for government documents requests. The evaluation tool chosen allowed the reference librarians to evaluate their own performance, as well as having patrons evaluate their performance. This was done by using a two-part form for every question asked, with the patron filling out one part, and the reference librarian the other. Both were scanned into a computer for statistical analysis. Of course, one big drawback to using this kind of obtrusive testing is that librarians obviously are aware they are being tested, but the average success rate when using the Bunge-Murfin tool is an accuracy of 56.84%, which concurs with Kenneth Crews' findings that reference librarians, even when they know they are being tested, do not answer more than approximately 60% of the questions correctly.

Some of the findings are as followed:

  1. Users found that when they were helped by a librarian who was not busy and searched with the patron, the percentage of correct answers went up to 73.81%, and 70% when the librarian was busy, but still searched.
  2. An overall success rate of 74.19% was drastically higher than the findings reported by Wisconsin-Ohio Reference Evaluation Program when government documents questions were asked at a general reference desk (55.60%). This finding seems to point to a great advantage when there is a separate desk for government documents. (see note #1)
  3. The study found that one of the sources most often used to answer government documents reference questions was "librarian's own knowledge", being used as a source in 31.94% of the questions answered, with a 78.26% accuracy rate. "Own knowledge" then has a direct effect upon quality service and is thus dependent on the individual librarian. This concurs with Hernon and McClure's suggestion that "THE INDIVIDUAL LIBRARY STAFF MEMBER IS THE SINGLE MOST SIGNIFICANT FACTOR AFFECTING THE QUALITY OF REFERENCE SERVICE FOR GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS" (Improving the Quality of Reference Service for Government Publications, pp. 111). Therefore, an attempt must be made to hire the best government documents reference librarians possible, those who consider good reference provision a priority.

Within the realm of government documents in American federal depository libraries, what is known about their use comes mostly from surveys of users and quantitative studies. Important studies by Hernon and McClure have used the qualitative method of unobtrusive evaluation to focus in on the ability of reference librarians to answer questions with government documents, asking short factual questions. Some of the criticisms levied against them have been that since academic librarians often lead the patron to possible sources or demonstrate how certain indexes and databases work, rather them giving out answers to questions (which is supposed to develop library self-sufficiency in patrons), it is unfair for researchers to consider a non-answer, an incorrect one. In addition, since proxies are aware of the correct answers, this also changes the dynamics of a reference encounter. (see note #2)

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. I would say that separate gov docs desks have to be coupled with librarians who have specialized government document training to find a higher level of accuracy rates. One only has to look at Weldon where all reference librarians share time between the general reference desk and the one for gov docs.
  1. Since you did not provide the proxies with the accurate answers, you may have inadvertently made your study even more powerful, since, as you may recall, our proxies often marked an answer as correct even though it wasn't.

Postema, Beth, and Terry L. Weech. "The Use of Government Publications: A Twelve Year Perspective." Government Publications Review 18, (May/June 1991): 223-238.

Summary of article's important points:

1. Only eighteen studies were done on the use of government documents in the years preceding 1978, including seven citation studies, six user surveys, and five library surveys (covering over forty years of library research). The years from 1978-1989 have seen a great increase in interest, with twenty-five studies published. Circulation studies, three citation studies, six library surveys, and thirteen user surveys have been identified.

2. Findings from the last twelve years of research bring some of the following conclusions to light: 1.) Patrons of academic and special libraries make the greatest use of government documents, 2.) school libraries make the least use of government information sources, 3.) the analyzation of citation studies show that of subject literature, government documents represent a small percentage of information used, although, "[c]itation studies do seem to suggest the underutilization of government publications compared with the use of other cited resources, [w]hat citation studies do not reveal, however, is the level of importance of the cited government publications relative in comparison with other cited sources. It might be the case that the cited government publications are much more important to the work being reported than the other cited sources" (p. 227), 4.) economists, political scientists, and social scientists, in general, use government documents more than any other group in academic libraries, 5.) political science students use government information more than any other students in the social sciences, while economics faculty are moderate-to-heavy users, 6.) the most used documents are those published in the three years prior to use, 7.) one-third of social scientists use government documents heavily, or more than sixteen times during an academic year, 8.) those who do not use them, cite that access to the information takes more time than the information is worth, and believe the information is irrelevant to their discipline.

3. There are limitations inherent in all studies cited before and after 1978, including: 1.) citation studies are obviously biased toward academic literature, 2.) user studies have the problems of survey reliability, non-standardization of the questions asked, and data collection techniques to overcome, 3.) the perception of the librarian is the only one obtained when library surveys are undertaken.

Questions raised:

1. Statistical data far outweighed any other reason economists have for consulting government information.

2. Over 60% of those who used government information consulted documents issued in the previous three years. (see note #1)

3. Paper was the preferred format for those who use government information, with only 19.2% using microformats, and nearly 17% taking advantage of machine readable sources.

4. Many libraries do not have government collections put into the OPACS and circulation systems. (see note #2)

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

1. What will this do to the practice of archiving information? If the government believes this finding to be true, will they decide not to archive? Will federal depository libraries be the ones that will have to undertake this task?

2. Would use of government documents increase if they were more accessible in library catalogues. I would say that even many gov docs librarians are unaware of large portions of their collections. How will the mainstreaming of gov docs affect the dissemination of them in the future. I guess if they are put in the stacks, they will have to be inputted into the library catalogues, and thus be more accessible. Maybe mainstreaming is not such a bad idea after all. Will ask her about it.

Powell, Ronald R. "Reference Effectiveness: A Review of Research." Library and Information Science Research 6 (1984): 6-19.

  1. Evaluation of reference service is recognized as one of the most difficult, due in part to the private, one-on-one nature of a reference encounter, but at the same time, the need for more of an emphasis on evaluation is needed to identify strengths and weaknesses and to uncover the reasons for failure.
  2. Assessment must concentrate on output measures, instead of the traditional concentration on input measures such as collection and staff size.
  3. Although evaluation of libraries has traditionally been concerned with quantitative measures, those only represent an enumeration and not an evaluation. Evaluation must concern itself with an analysis of reference questions to ascertain rates of accuracy and speed of answering questions. (see note #1)

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. And that is why unobtrusive testing is one of the best ways in which we can ascertain reference quality, especially because we know the answers to the questions. This is particularly important because a lot of the time, patrons and librarians have no idea if the information exchanged is correct.

Quinn, Brian. "Improving the Quality of Telephone Reference Service." Reference Services Review (Winter 1995): 39-49.

Telephone reference could be an important component of a library's overall service provision, but many libraries and their staff overlook it, find it to be a nuisance, or "is considered secondary and subordinate to serving on-site patrons" (p. 39). Academic libraries seem to be less involved in telephone reference , which may be due to academic librarians believing that their primary role is to provide instruction, not information. "This belief may change as the quality of telephone reference becomes increasingly important due to emerging technologies that are becoming increasingly prevalent on many campuses. Dial-in access via personal computer and modem now enables many students to search library catalogs and other databases remotely. It is no longer uncommon to have students calling the reference desk from home with questions concerning the material they have found online. In addition, some patrons may prefer to communicate their queries via e-mail" (p. 40).

An organized telephone reference program can:

  1. boost a library's image.
  2. act as a recruiter for new users.
  3. help to increase a library's community value.
  4. provide a library with important insight into the community's informational needs.

Characteristics of Good Quality Telephone Reference Service: Accuracy Is Not the Only Thing to Look Out For.

  1. Speed: since a patron cannot see the librarian running through the steps associated with a search strategy, it may seem like they have been put on hold for a long time. Librarians should keep this in mind.
  2. Etiquette: with no person to look at, a caller is even more susceptible to the overall tone and manner of a librarian during a telephone reference transaction. Librarians should try to be friendly and thank the caller for waiting.
  3. Versatility: is needed when a librarian is trying to juggle more than one call or patron at a time, especially to prevent a caller from feeling ignored.
  4. Promotion: if the service is promoted by the library, there is more of a chance that patrons will call for help. If a library uses no publicity, it is not likely to be considered a very important component in the reference service strategy of the library.
  5. Policies and Guidelines for Quality Service: all libraries should have some policies and guidelines developed for telephone reference service, or follow ALA's RASD procedures. If quality guidelines are established, they can act as a benchmark for the librarians and help them to decide how long a call should take, when a caller should be referred, and how to handle legal/medical issues. All are important considerations if your library would like to be known for high quality telephone reference.

A Survey of the Literature: is sketchy at best, and somewhat difficult in helping to determine the quality of telephone reference because most studies look only at accuracy and give no consideration to the other elements that constitute quality.

  1. The 1980 study by Marcia Myers looked at forty libraries in the southeastern part of the United States. Accuracy rates ranged from 25 to 75%, but overall, librarians answered 50% of the twelve questions correctly.
  2. The 1980 study by Mary Lee Bundy and associates asked seven questions of nine public libraries. Besides a fifty percent accuracy rate, the researchers concluded that there was a lack of interest displayed by staff; no concern for the caller's informational need; librarians seemed to be in a hurry; little time was given for question consideration; little citing of sources; and reliance on memory, instead of reference tools.
  3. In 1987, Eleanor Jo Rodger and Jane Goodwin did a study of the Fairfax County, Virginia public library system:

What they did:

  1. Committee meetings for members of each library system focused on the broad issues of the study.
  2. A decision was made to limit the study to telephone evaluations because there was a shortage of staff time needed for walk-in evaluations.
  3. The study was conducted in the larger branches, with kiosks and small libraries excluded. Each library involved agreed to contribute one unobtrusive caller to the project, and decided that individual library systems would evaluate the performance of their own libraries, and no comparisons between data would be undertaken.
  4. The study was done over a five month period to eliminate the Hawthorne Effect.
  5. Each library was asked twenty-five questions, designed to be typical of those asked by patrons, including fifteen ready reference, five negotiation, and five that required a referral.
  6. They made sure that no librarian would be calling their own library, and as much as possible, one proxy would ask the same question at all the libraries to insure some uniformity. The other reason this was done was to prevent the librarians from knowing as few of the questions as possible.

What they found:

  1. That staff answer direct reference questions very well, but less well when escalation is needed. The following scale was used to determine results: four points were given for a correct answer, with source cited or referral given; three points for an accurate answer with no source; two points for an incomplete, partially correct answer; and one point for wrong information. Correct answers with source were given 56% of the time; correct, without source 5%; incomplete 30% of the time; and incorrect 9%.
  2. The other thing that the study tried to uncover was the demeanor the librarians used when talking to the proxies. In particular, they wanted to know how easy it was for the proxies to understand the librarian, the attention given to the question, and the overall manner of the staff person involved. They found that 89% of staff were easy to understand, 82% of the time librarians had a high level of attention, and 86% of the callers found the librarian professional and courteous.
  3. As a result of the findings, they saw that reference librarians needed refresher courses in conducting reference interviews, and that policy was needed to outline the procedures expected of reference service provision, with all librarians expected to follow the guidelines that were recommended.
  4. W.W. Scott did a study of academic telephone reference in 1988 focusing on 96 CARL member libraries to find out the extent of their services. He was interested in what types of guidelines the libraries had developed for answering telephone reference, and not how accurate they were. Of the 89 libraries which offered such a service, 79 had procedures in place that saw all telephone reference inquiries referred to a professional librarian; research questions were automatically a 'call-back' situation in fifty of the libraries, while 22 requested the caller to come into the library. Sixty-nine of the respondents did not perceive telephone reference provision as an hindrance to the reference desk.
  5. In 1991, Beth M. Paskoff used six questions in an unobtrusive study of fifty-one libraries. An accuracy rate of 63% was the average.
  6. A recent study was done by Duke on the 'Night Owl' telephone reference service at the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore. The records showed that on average, 59 calls were received each night, with an eighty-three percent completion rate. Ready reference questions accounted for 96% of the calls, with staff answering 84% of them. Callers report a 95% satisfaction rate.

From these studies, it is clear that telephone reference can become more effective, and more consideration should be given to speed, promotion, etiquette, policies, and versatility. What can be done to improve the quality of service?

  1. Training: even most library schools give no attention to the area of telephone reference, so is it any wonder that the service leaves a lot to be desired? There are many different approaches to training cited in the literature. See pages 45-46 of the article for further information.
  2. New Advances in Technology: for instance, the Enoch Pratt Free Library uses a 'wheel' with the capacity to hold four to five hundred core reference works to speed up transaction time. Books can be divided into subject matter or color-coded for easy identification. Another useful device is an electronic bulletin board for community information, or a WWW Page that displays links to reference works. Some libraries use a series of recorded messages for 24-hour access to FAQ, while others have given librarians their freedom through cordless and cellular technology. (If the Future Shop can do it, why not libraries?) Other possibilities include sophisticated voice messaging systems, and automated information retrieval systems.

Telephone reference service provision is an underutilized aspect of the reference department in many libraries, and given secondary status. Training for telephone reference is almost non-existent. Reference librarians do not see the telephone as a reference tool.

Rettig, James. "Future Reference: 'Sired by a Hurricane , Dam'd by an Earthquake'." The Reference Librarian 54 (1996): 75-94.

Reference service had its origins in a tradition that stood for the good of the public: as a way to help the public better itself. Since the 1870s, reference service has had an element of timelessness, with few changes occurring; that is, until the last decade. The last ten years have seen external and internal pressures affected reference departments, and "[t]here is a sense that a new reference service is struggling to emerge. As these external and internal forces build in strength, we can begin to discern the outline of future reference and can sense that hurricane force winds of change outside of libraries and earthquake-like pressures within will lead to a service that operates much differently…even as reference service's fundamental mission will remain unchanged" (p. 76).

The Past Decade has brought: a hurricane of changes.

  1. A proliferation of library instruction.
  2. Huge increase in number of services offered.
  3. Extensive programs to develop orientation curriculum, pathfinders, and workbooks for incoming students.
  4. A greater demand for in-person and telephone reference service.
  5. Reductions in staff.
  6. Budget cutbacks.
  7. Added responsibilities for librarians.
  8. The introduction of electronic information resources, such as CD-ROM technology and the Internet.
  9. Online catalogues became the norm, just as more patrons became the users of computers and demanded that libraries provide them with access to online databases and workstations.
  10. Librarians are responsible for many additional manual labor tasks, tasks largely brought on by the introduction of computer technology. At the same time, they view technological advancements as very useful tools.
  11. Librarians needed new skills to search electronic databases and other types of online systems.
  12. The growth of the home computer industry, and rapid improvements in software and telecommunications.
  13. The growth of e-mail communications and the increased demand for access in libraries.
  14. More competition from the information industry for libraries and their reference departments, as well as an increase in patron expectations.

Rethinking in the 1990s: Change must come to traditional reference service provision.

  1. New ideas and experiments are needed to relieve the strain caused by the above changes. A transition from talking to acting is evident in the four major trends that have been recently revealed: models that stress users first.
  2. Tiered reference service structures or a 'doing-away-with-the-reference-desk' model. Tiered service has already been instituted by Virginia Masse-Burzio at John Hopkins and Brandeis University. This model separates directional/informational requests from the more serious research inquiries that require reference consultations. In addition, it facilitates a better division of labor by staffing the information desk with paraprofessionals and students, who provide referrals to professional librarians located in the consultation office. This system also reduces the length of time patrons must wait, gives more time to patrons with complex questions, and raises the perception of the value of reference librarians and the services they provide. Other good things about consultations in a research office are that they provide patrons with the leisure and privacy needed to disclose their questions, and allow librarians the professional atmosphere and time to better weigh patron requests. The downside seems to be the use of paraprofessionals in territory that has historically been deemed the land of the MLS. However, there is evidence that the tiered approach to reference service is being experimented with around the world, and seems to have helped improve the quality of reference service in the libraries that have instituted the model.
  3. Roving Reference Librarians: roving or floating reference librarians are another discernible trend in reference departments, as a way to improve the quality of service. This trend is particularly helpful as studies have shown that patrons are hesitant to approach reference desks, even if they are terribly confused. With the proliferation of online systems, many patrons need service at their terminals, not at the reference desk. Criticisms include that by roving, reference librarians leave the desk unstaffed.
  4. Going out to users: setting up office hours in academic departments, or by doing presentations in classrooms, librarians can introduce students to new software and electronic databases.
  5. User studies: user studies are very beneficial because they provide insight into what services patrons find helpful, and elicit information about users' needs in the future. "Thus far, however, the effect has been more evident in rhetoric than in programs. Many librarians have not yet surrendered the role of deciding what is best for the users even though it rightly belongs to the users, not the librarians' (p. 89).

All these new trends focus on individual needs, requiring librarians to be client-oriented and more mobile, rather than content-oriented and anchored to a desk. They are all win/win situations for both staff and patrons!! "The hurricane of external changes and the earthquake of internal changes that have come together to produce the emerging Future Reference promise to produce an offspring much gentler and more productive than Twain's destructive, albeit colorful, lout. If reference librarians assess their environment, learn their users' needs and desires, and capitalize on opportunities offered in that environment, they will be able to develop a service program that meets users' expectations, that is focused on the mission of reference service, and that is adaptable enough that it will not suffer serious upheaval even when new forces within or without pack the power of a hurricane or an earthquake" (p. 92-93).

Rettig, James. "The Convergence of the Twain or Titanic Collision? BI and Reference in the 1990s' Sea of Change." Reference Services Review (Spring 1995): 7-20.

There seems to be two widely diverging views on BI: 'that it is the most important future consideration', versus, 'it has no future'. Rettig cites research by Roma Harris as enlightening for the topic, particularly her articles Bibliographic Instruction in Public Libraries: A Question of Philosophy (1989), and Bibliographic Instruction: The Views of Academic, Special, and Public Librarians (1992). She found that librarians in academic institutes tend to participate in bibliographic instruction more so than special librarians, who tend more towards providing their users with the information they need. Harris found that public librarians seem to fall in between the two extremes. Do academic librarians tend to show their patrons how to find the information themselves rather than to provide them with the answers, as a way to teach library skills that will last a lifetime? How can librarians best serve their patrons?

The Philosophy of Reference:

Historically, there has been three, long-debated methods of reference provision: 1.) the conservative position, which can be equated to instruction, 2.) the liberal position, which can be equated with providing the patron with the information they seek, 3.) the moderate position, which covers the middle ground. However, do reference librarians faithfully adhere to a particular philosophy and strictly follow it? And do reference philosophies help to shape reference departments? The author "suspect[s] that librarians' desire to do what is best for each patron makes reference practice highly situational and…highly inconsistent" (p. 9). The other problem is that there is no clear-cut and concise definition for what constitutes bibliographic instruction.

BI Undefined:

Values, beliefs, and semantic ambiguity have made a definition for BI problematic. The BI community has rejected many put forth in the academic literature, especially those that do not integrate a sense of user independence into the equation. Researchers such as Mellon and Frick believe that the purpose of BI is to develop independent use of library facilities. Obviously, others see BI as something very different. Both BI and reference service in general, have been subject to the external forces of change; change, in the form of automation, budget cutbacks, and the proliferation of information services (i.e. Prodigy) and resources. In addition, both have felt the pressures issuing from internal forces of change. For instance, librarians working longer hours on the reference desk; more responsibilities to fulfill, without the addition of extra staff; and a fundamental change in the way BI is perceived: "[i]t has shifted its emphasis from the teaching of tools and tool-based strategies to teaching critical thinking techniques" (p. 11). However, the thing that had more impact than all the others was research studies. Work done by Fister and Valentine, tend to conclude that there is no positive correlation between using the BI strategies set down by librarians, and undergraduates' ability to proceed through the research process. In other words, they seem to find suitable strategies themselves to reach the same end, and therefore, how valuable is BI? And should we say that one person's strategy for finding information is necessarily better than someone else's, or even assume that everyone can be instructed? Librarians themselves vacillate between suggesting that the primary focus of their profession is to offer service, and to offer instruction. Some librarians believe the focus should shift from teaching the mechanics, to teaching the process. There is quite a difference between the two.

Importance of Systems Design:

Librarians must realize that users will always choose the easiest way to do their research, and do not appreciate overly-complex or ineffective library information systems. The fact that many are so problematic, forces users into needing bibliographic instruction. It is like comparing using DOS with the point-and-click features of Windows. Which would you rather use on your own? Librarians should "devote energy to making systems easier to use and thereby minimize the need for compensatory user instruction…Designing systems in which these needs are paramount, designing systems that don't require instructional manuals, designing systems that give users a feeling of control over their work will certainly serve our users' needs. It will equally serve our needs and aspirations, for it will allow us to shift efforts from teaching the mechanical how-to of information systems to higher, more intellectually challenging and longer-term issues such as teaching the need for critical thinking" (p. 14).

By providing user-friendly designs for information systems, librarians can provide their users with a priceless gift: the luxury to concentrate on information assessment, rather than on information retrieval. With all of the technological advancements seen in the last decade, is it too much for users to expect that they can be given the freedom to make their own decisions and conceptualize their needs? With so many stresses coming from living in the 1990s, including a lack of time to do everything that is expected of us, the buzz word is 'multi-task', and letting technology help us to achieve our goals. So shouldn't libraries design systems that make life easier and consider the impact of societal trends? Rettig writes that "[c]hanges in both BI and reference ought to provide fertile soil in which the value of freedom will flourish…both reference and BI must surely change to avoid a titanic collision…" (p. 15).

Future Tasks for Reference and BI:

  1. Decide which things users will need to learn if they want to use libraries.
  2. Break down barriers.
  3. Design systems and use service delivery methods that make the process easier for users, not harder.
  4. Develop liaisons with faculty and computer scientists to help students form the skills necessary for critical thinking.
  5. Resource and time allocation for the improvement of information systems.
  6. Concentrate on the information needs of users.

Rodger, Eleanor Jo, and Jane Goodwin. "To See Ourselves as Others See Us: A Cooperative, Do-It-Yourself Reference Accuracy Study." The Reference Librarian 18 (Summer 1987): 135-147.

The staff and administrators of the Fairfax County Public Library (FCPL), Fairfax, Virginia believe that evaluation of information services should be an ongoing process, and although they knew what types of questions they were asked, what sources were used, how many questions came into the reference department, and what kind of services were requested, they did not know "How well are we handling the questions the public asks?" (p. 135). They decided to use unobtrusive testing to judge the accuracy and quality of the answers provided in their library. They assumed that they were doing better than the usual 50-60% accuracy (as most libraries do), and wanted to find out if that was the case, as well as how they could improve their reference service. Although unobtrusive studies are those which are normally done to libraries unknowingly, they had the model of the Maryland study (see article #28) to follow, and really wanted their own librarians to be involved in the process and not be excluded from the design and collection of data. They believed that if the librarians were involved in the process, they would have faith in the study and be more accepting of the findings. (see note #1) In keeping with this cooperative plan, they agreed that no individual librarians would be blamed, but rather, the library system would be seen to take responsibility for any failures in service. The problem they faced was a shortage of funds to carry out an expensive study using paid proxies to ask questions unobtrusively, and as a result, decided to use staff from three neighboring library systems in Washington counties as unobtrusive callers. What began as a necessity, turned into a learning experience for all librarians involved because it gave them a chance "of seeing themselves as others see them" (p. 138).

What they did:

  1. Committee meetings for members of each library system focused on the broad issues of the study.
  2. A decision was made to limit the study to telephone evaluations because there was a shortage of staff time needed for walk-in evaluations.
  3. The study was conducted in the larger branches, with kiosks and small libraries excluded. Each library involved agreed to contribute one unobtrusive caller to the project, and decided that individual library systems would evaluate the performance of their own libraries, and no comparisons between data would be undertaken.
  4. The study was done over a five month period to eliminate the Hawthorne Effect.
  5. Each library was asked twenty-five questions, designed to be typical of those asked by patrons, including fifteen ready reference, five negotiation, and five that required a referral.
  6. They made sure that no librarian would be calling their own library, and as much as possible, one proxy would ask the same question at all the libraries to insure some uniformity. The other reason this was done was to prevent the librarians from knowing as few of the questions as possible.

What they found:

  1. That staff answer direct reference questions very well, but less well when escalation is needed. (see note #2) The following scale was used to determine results: four points were given for a correct answer, with source cited or referral given; three points for an accurate answer with no source; two points for an incomplete, partially correct answer; and one point for wrong information. Correct answers with source were given 56% of the time; correct, without source 5%; incomplete 30% of the time; and incorrect 9%.
  2. The other thing that the study tried to uncover was the demeanor the librarians used when talking to the proxies. In particular, they wanted to know how easy it was for the proxies to understand the librarian, the attention given to the question, and the overall manner of the staff person involved. They found that 89% of staff were easy to understand, 82% of the time librarians had a high level of attention, and 86% of the callers found the librarian professional and courteous.
  3. As a result of the findings, they saw that reference librarians needed refresher courses in conducting reference interviews, and that policy was needed to outline the procedures expected of reference service provision, with all librarians expected to follow the guidelines that were recommended.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. Hernon and McClure point out that one of the major drawbacks of unobtrusive studies and the reason librarians do not accept the findings at face value, is that they do not trust the quality of the findings. They do not believe the researchers involved used typical questions, nor do they necessarily believe that there is any fairness, reliability, or validity in the process. The fact that these librarians were involved is interesting.
  2. Hernon makes this point as well. He believes that the findings of unobtrusive studies are really important because if librarians have trouble answering basic unambiguous questions, than one must wonder what happens when negotiation is needed for research inquiries. It is an interesting point I think, and does offer ammunition against the criticism that factual questions reflect only a small portion of reference work, and perhaps do not matter. As proxies, we also saw that reference interview techniques were rarely used by the librarians involved.

Ryan, Susan, M. "Square Peg in a Round Hole: Electronic Information and the Federal Depository Library Program." Journal of Government Information 24, No. 5 (1997): 361-375.

A Synopsis of Major Points:

1. The U.S. Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) has been in existence for more than 150 years, and has as a mandate to provide the public with access to government publications. The FDLP is a cooperative arrangement between select libraries and the federal government. There are nearly 1400 federal depository libraries in the United States.

2. It is administered by the Government Printing Office (GPO), which has distributed government publications in paper, electronic, and microfiche format to libraries across the United States, however, the very existence of the FDLP is now being called into question because of the speed with which technology is advancing. In particular, the rapid progression of electronic information systems and the government's policy to disseminate their publications in both CD-ROM format and on the Internet through GPO Access.

3. One of the biggest problems affecting the FDLP is the availability of government information through other avenues, including the Library of Congress' "Thomas Legislative Information Service", through fee-based private sector companies, and on websites posted by individual agencies of the federal government. Another, is how libraries and their staff learn to cope with the new world of electronic information: how to access, navigate, archive, and teach the public the steps they need to be network literate. And finally, the future of depository libraries is called into question because as the technology increased rapidly, there was a slow response on the part of the FDLP, due in part to its reluctance to move beyond the traditional role it had always played, as well as the policies issued from Congress, namely, the provision of funds to move the FDLP into a program which embraced the electronic advancements made in information dissemination. The Depository Library Council (DLC) urged the GPO to integrate electronic information formats into the federal depository program, and used the "Depository Library Act of 1962" to demand that all forms of government information be made available to the public.

4. In 1989, the libraries involved in the depository program received the CD-ROM version of the "Census Test", as well as thirteen other titles published by the government.

5. Two important pieces of legislation were passed in subsequent years: 1.) In 1993, the OMB revised OMB Circular-A 130, which acknowledged the depository system by issuing policy statements advocating that federal government agencies implement a system by which to supply the GPO with all information dissemination products for distribution to the federal depository library program, 2.) Congress passed Public Law 103-40, "Government Printing Office Electronic Information Enhancement Act of 1993 (more commonly known as "GPO Access Act"), which mandated that the public be provided access to all electronic government information. This legislation delegated three tasks for GPO: 1.) GPO Locator Service: the Superintendent of Documents must establish and maintain an electronic directory for federal government information in electronic format, called the GPO Locator Service, 2.) Online Access: it is also must provide Internet access to the "Federal Register", the "Congressional Record", and other government publications, and 3.) Storage Facility: the GPO is required to establish an online storage facility for stored electronic data files indefinitely for the purposes of archiving. This service is called the "Information Depository for Electronic Access" or IDEA, and it began operations on March 31, 1994. Access would be provided through the Wide Area Information Server (WAIS) to federal depository libraries in exchange for them allowing free access to the general public.

By 1995, GPO was forced to provide free access to "GPO Access" because of pressure from special interest groups and the private sector, which pointed out that they were entitled to the information as tax payers. The other reason was that the emergence of the WWW made it possible for federal agencies, as well as commercial services, to mount websites for their publications quite easily. With pressures to reduce printed publications, agencies offering free access to their databases produced a win/win situation for them and the public.

6. In 1995, Congress announced that all information provided to the depositories would be in electronic form by the end of 1998, leaving only twenty-four titles in paper format. This brought about an outcry from depositories. How could a totally electronic environment be attainable in two years? (See note #1) Libraries won a small victory, as Congress agreed to a more gradual implementation process for the electronic transition, and on February 29, 1996, the first Internet-only electronic government document was posted. The other problem for depository libraries was the requirement that they provide Internet access to the public by October 1, 1996.

7. The federal depository program is in a state of flux for many reasons, including their new mandates, lack of congressional funding and support, and an ideology based historically on print dissemination. ."..[T]he agency has failed to embrace a new dissemination model and instead has tried to fit its square peg traditional mission into the round hole of the electronic age. GPO correctly identifies the reasons for the failure of its current distribution model: federal agencies bypass GPO by producing, distributing, and storing their own information; federal agencies are under pressure to treat their information as commercial assets to be sold for revenue; federal agencies are entering into agreements with private publishers to produce titles previously in the public domain; and laws passed by Congress allow agencies to copyright government information, effectively removing it from the FDLP" (p. 368). By not mandating otherwise, Congress has encouraged federal agencies to bypass the GPO and, therefore, depository libraries: "Executive agency documents have traditionally made up two-thirds of depository titles and the decline in agency documents, rather than congressional documents, is what has hit the FDLP hard" (p. 371). (see note #2)

8. As GPO Access' success on the Internet grows, and more and more people download their own electronic documents from personal computers, what does this spell for the depository program? It will have to justify its existence in an environment which is predominately electronic because of the costs involved, however, it does help to preserve historical government information. What that means of course, is that its role will move from key disseminators of information to storage facilities of electronic government information, and the question will be, are depository libraries willing to continue to bear the additional costs for status when non-depository libraries can serve their primary clientele with government information by going to agency websites and GPO Access? As the author asks, "[w]hy would any depository library continue in a totally electronic program?" (p. 369). And if so, will they download and print off the information to allow for better access to their patrons? And if they do, is that not defeating the purpose of having an electronic collection? For now, GPO has offered little guidance to depository libraries struggling with these issues.

9. Will libraries stay in the program solely because they do not want to forfeit their government collections, which have taken them years to compile?

10. And what does all this mean for the public who can access government information easier, and in a more timely manner if they visit the Library of Congress' "Thomas Legislative Information Service", or services offered by private sector companies enhancing access to government information?

"Ironically, the very technology that the depository library fought so hard to include in the FDLP may be what eventually destroys it" (p. 373).

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

1. How could librarians be trained to navigate in an electronic environment? There doesn't seem to be any allocation of money for training librarians in the searching techniques they need to tackle the Internet. I wonder if there was any training program in Canada? If the federal government is saving so much money through its paper reduction program, and still expecting libraries to provide access electronically, who is paying for all the hardware and browser software? Full depository libraries may receive government information or access to it for free, but is it really free, if there is no money allocated for training staff, no money for computer equipment, and no large-scale program to instruct the public in the use of electronic information. I called Quebec, and no one seems to know much about the kiosk program, apparently it is very up in the air, no information has been provided to "Information Quebec" on it, and seems to be something they would like to do. If they do get it off the ground, will there be any training for the public? I think some of the issues will have to well stated in your book because if the Canadian situation is the same as the American, then the libraries seem to have gotten a raw deal, and the government should allocate money to the depository program for training.

Saffo, Paul. "The Information Superhighway is a 'Quivering Oxymoron' and other Musings on Government Information Policy in an Era of Rapidly Evolving Information Technologies." Journal of Government Information 22, No. 4 (1995): 289-296.

An Interview with Information Futurist, Paul Saffo. Interviewed by Steven D. Zink.

There are some prevalent issues influencing society's ability to access the myriad of publications and internal documents compiled with increasing fervor in this age of tremendous information explosion, and the Information Superhighway, which Saffo says is still in its utopian stage. Although "[m]any people are saying that this is going to revitalize democracy…The real problem with electronic technologies today is that they create tremendous stress on governmental systems because they leave no time for reflection by elected representatives" (p. 290). This is one of the major trends discernable in government practices today. Rapid change in the structure of government departments and policies: changes that have had an incredible influence in access to information.

Saffo does not believe that the government can fund the national information infrastructure because it will be too expensive, and that instead, it should act as a catalyst and in the future, as a regulator, rather than a controlling body because it is too big to be controlled. What about universal access? Saffo believes that there is a myth surrounding the ideology of universal access, based on everyone having access to libraries. "Even if libraries were widely available, people would still have to know enough to be able to use the access provided by the library. We seem to have to hang on to the myth of universal access and see it as a Platonic ideal…" (p. 292). There should be a push toward having more private sector companies disseminating government information, and open the market so that neither government nor private companies exclusively control information owned by the people. Of course, privacy issues connected to data matching are issues that must be addressed. Saffo believes the public will probably end up being forced to pay for an element of privacy in the future.

Information: to have or have not? Saffo sees it more as the difference between 'knows' and 'know-nots', rather than 'haves' and 'have-nots', and sees younger people in society as having the savvy to efficiently gain access to information in the future. Libraries will have a role as long as they change their outlook on the role they play in society: "Libraries were originally created in an era of scarce information. Librarian's jobs were to collect and thus make information available to a larger group of people. In that sense, librarians were sort of mad information hoarders, who were hoarding in the public interest. Now, information is so abundant that trying to collect it in one place is a pointless exercise" (p. 294-295). Not so anymore, with the realization that the days when libraries could collect everything 'just-in-case' are now over, and an increased necessity for librarians to visualize a rebirth and to help their patrons muddle through all the information to find what is pertinent to them.

Schumacher, Mark. "The Continuing Debate on Library Reference Service: A Mini-Symposium." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 13 (Nov. 1987): 278-279.

The Journal of Academic Librarianship put out a symposium on the accuracy of reference service in its May 1987 issue, which provided the findings of work done by Hernon and McClure (see previous article) and their 55% rule. Reactions from a reference librarian are chronicled here.

Mark Schumacher agrees with Hernon and McClure that librarians certainly should be able to do better than 55% accuracy rate on factual questions, they should not be abrasive with patrons, nor should they simply say 'they do not know' when given an inquiry. He also agrees that the authors have raised questions which get at some of the fundamental issues currently involved in reference service, namely: the crisis of cutbacks, continuing education, staffing decisions, and the relationship between technical services and those on the front lines of reference service. As a reference librarian, working 12-20 hours a week serving the public, he has some insight into the problems.

  1. That short, factual questions do not reflect the bulk of the work done by reference librarians.
  2. That reference librarians are more likely to be asked for assistance in finding books, articles, or help with databases and indexes, and thus, use skills of instruction, evaluation of materials, and question interpretation and not simply fact provision.
  3. Schumacher stresses that he tells his patrons to come back for more help if they do not find the information they are looking for in the source he has led them to, and stresses that "[m]anagers of reference services who instil in their staff the attitude that a reference interview is not necessarily over just because the patron has been handed a reference book have done more to improve the quality of reference service in their units than do all the theoretical discussions of organizational structure, goals, and mission, work attitudes, and priorities" (p. 279).
  4. He makes the point that reference librarians should be able to ask their co-workers for help when they do not know how to proceed since no one person can have the universe of information in their heads. A sense of team playing and interdependence should be developed within reference departments.
  5. Time is always a factor: how much time can you spend with one patron, especially when there are others waiting for help?
  6. He raises the interesting dilemma that reference librarians find themselves in: the energy it takes to go to meetings, the pressure to do academic research, the time it takes to prepare BI lectures, computer-search interviews, and fulfill community service quotas, effects how much vivacity one can bring to the desk or give to a telephone reference inquiry. He believes all of these pressures do help to explain why there are so many incorrect or incomplete answers given at reference desks. (see note #1)
  7. Schumacher believes that besides restrictions on time, and staff cutbacks, there is also the problem of evolving technologies which need to be considered, along with problem patrons.
  8. He says that if librarians could work in more supportive atmospheres and involve themselves in stimulating activities, they could face the reference desk with vitality and a good attitude.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. What this circle of duties also does is take the best librarians off the floor for extended periods, while replacing them with more inexperienced librarians or paraprofessionals, or people who are not seen as being capable or willing to be involved with research, etc., so they are given more hours on the desk, almost as a punishment for their lack of expertise.

Schwartz, Diane G., and Dottie Eakin. "Reference Service Standards, Performance Criteria, and Evaluation." The Journal of Academic Librarianship, Vol. 12, No. 1 (March 1986): 4-8.

When the University of Michigan wanted to establish criteria for the evaluation of librarian performance, the Reference Department at the Alfred Taubman Medical Library decided to develop a set of standards. This article describes the process, but more importantly, how it affected the evaluative aspect of reference librarians' work. Thirty-one qualities were identified as being associated with good reference service, qualities which fit into three distinct categories: behavioral characteristics, knowledge, and reference skills. (see list on page 5 of article). Having done this, they did a review of the literature to see how other libraries had implementing reference evaluation, and found that the taking of surveys or unobtrusive studies were the two most commonly used avenues. The survey to determine satisfaction, and the unobtrusive study to pinpoint accuracy rates of librarians. Because both would be time consuming or expensive, and could not be done on an ongoing basis, they tried to devise something that could be done in-house on a regular basis. They developed a checklist with three levels of performance: 1.) "always performs at this level, 2.) usually performs at this level, 3.) performance needs improvement" (p. 6). At least two librarians were scheduled to work together, and after four months they all filled out the checklist for every member of the team. Problems associated with this kind of evaluation procedure include the stress of evaluating peer performance (see note #1 below). This is particularly true if the process is tied to merit or salary considerations. They found that because of this, the procedure could be quite destructive, competitive, and there is the added problem of subjectivity and inconsistent judgement. In the end, the library decided to use the checklists for self- evaluation, in hopes that the librarians would be honest with themselves, and divorced the method from the merit review process. The evaluation process has continued, and has been decided favourable in providing the l ibrarians with an insight into what is expected of them on a daily basis, and given them insight into their own individual deficiencies.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. This is the major problem with peer review. All evaluation strategies have inherent problems associated with them, not just unobtrusive methodologies.

Durrance, Joan C. "Reference Success: Does the 55% Rule Tell the Whole Story?" Library Journal, Vol. 114 (April 1989): 31-36.

Some important points made in the article are:

  1. That environment seems to be an indicator of success and effects accuracy rates, and thus is it fair to equate good reference service with accuracy levels?
  2. The study used the method of unobtrusive testing to find out how the setting the library at the University of Michigan influences the reference interaction, librarian behavior, and accuracy. In this case, it was not the level of accuracy which determined success, but on the willingness of patrons to seek help from the same librarian at a later time. The study found that there was a 63% success rate.
  3. What they found was that users had problems in identifying the reference desk (some library reference desks were not marked in any way); whether or not they were dealing with a professional librarian or paraprofessionals, since name identification is so controversial; and signage was found to be a problem.
  4. A good point to keep in mind is that "[w]hen libraries were initially designed, the information function was minimal, but past decades have brought major changes in information giving in libraries" (p. 34).
  5. The study found that observers based their willingness to return to a librarian at another time more on how the librarian made them feel, much more than on accuracy rates or weak interviewing skills, especially if they were non-judgemental towards the patron.
  6. "How long must the library user interact with an unidentified library staff member at a desk that may not even be marked and that only sometimes identifies the type of occupant and even less often its specific occupant and virtually never indicates their credentials? Are librarians willing to consider altering the environment with the aim of increasing reference success and creating an environment that better serves the public?" (p. 36).
  7. Librarians must appear more interested in the questions they receive and try to answer them accurately because it is often difficult for patrons to go back to the same librarian for additional help, they instead must start all over again with another librarian, and this is not good time management for anyone.
  8. Bottom line is that the environment must be improved for better reference service to take place, and an element of professionalism infused.

Seavey, Charles. "Fixing the Depository Library System: Some Thoughts on Vacuum Cleaners, the Manifesto, and the State of the Government Information Distribution System, with a Modest Proposal to Remedy the Various Ills Therein." Journal of Government Information 21, No. 2 (1997): 77-81.

The author reviews Peter Hernon's analogy of the current depository program being likened to a vacuum cleaner.

1. Hernon has said that the vacuum has three principal parts: (see figure #1 on page 78) 1.) Suction power, which is likened to the acquisition policies for government documents that are managed by the GPO and the Library Programs Service, 2.) the engine, which is the processing of government information through the Library Programs Service, including classification, cataloguing, and distribution, 3.) the vacuum bag, which represents the 1400 depository libraries that make up the network.

2. The system is currently overloaded due to a series of factors: 1.) the depository system or bag has demanded that the engine acquire more and more government information, 2.) however, the Library Programs Service (or engine) has not been able to keep up with the demands because of financial shortfalls, 3.) the depository libraries have asked for more material to be included in the system, but they have not been discriminate about what they have included in their collections, due to two factors: many librarians hold the ideology that more is better, especially if it is quote/unquote 'free'. (see note #1)

3. However, more can be a problem, especially if the documents are not relevant to the user groups served by particular libraries. 'Free' and 'more is better' have simply changed the rules and caused the focus to be washed away. As a result, the engine and the bag are overloaded with material that may be non-relevant, but more importantly, quite inaccessible due to no one even knowing what the collections are comprised of, and a shortage of funds for time to find out and space to properly display the information.

4. Previous suggestions to some of the problems: 1.) although Hernon has offered a discussion forum in his article, no solutions have been offered, except his desire to separate the depository system and the LPS from the GPO, 2.) Gary Cornwell, and associates in their article "Manifesto", have called for Congress to provide more funding for the LPS to handle the increased workload, 3.) Bruce Morton's reaction to Cornwell's "Manifesto" has raised the following issues: a.) given the basic mission of the depository program, there is too much information in the "List of Classes", b.) since the depository program includes more academic and specialized libraries than public libraries, doesn't that limit the accessibility of the general population?, c.) the "Manifesto" and depository spokespersons are drawn, not from the community, but from academic institutions, d.) how likely is it that Congress will provide more money for the program?, e.) libraries may say they are swiftly moving into the electronic age, but how many can even provide CD-ROM access to the 1990 Census, let alone the sea of electronic government information?

5. This paper is not interested in analyzing the new frontier of electronic information, but rather focuses on the handling of microfiche and paper formats that are very problematic. If solutions can be found to these collections, maybe depository libraries will be better able to take on electronic dissemination, especially when change is going to come whether we like it or not. Some suggestions made by the author: 1.) Libraries in the system do not need everything issued by the government, so cut the "List of Classes" by forty percent. Librarians should make the cuts based on user needs, and not, on fiscal realities, and librarians should imagine that they have to actually pay for the government documents because if they did, they would be more selective. This philosophy, along with an indepth collection development policy, would cut down on the number of documents going into libraries. (see note #2) 2.) One must question whether government information is best disseminated through academic and special libraries when it is supposed to be available to the general population. (I think what Seavey means here is that people would be more likely go to a public library, and the fact that only certain user groups are serviced at academic and specialized libraries.) Perhaps Congress should authorize more public libraries depositories. 3.) The idea that regional depositories collect everything and keep the collection forever should be discontinued because the vacuum cleaner is clogged and needs to be fixed if it is to continue its usefulness.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

1. But is more actually better in a system where even the cataloguing and space allocations are problematic for most libraries, to say nothing of staff considerations, and training? And whatever happened to collection development policies, of which I am queen, as you know?

2. And then, a well-constructed system of referrals would come into play. Throughout past decades, especially after the 1960s 'walk on the moon', libraries were very well funded, and there was not the amount of information there is today to deal with. As a result, libraries could theoretically have a universe of knowledge under one roof; they could collect everything of quality, but those days have changed with the explosion of the Information Age, the explosion in the publishing world, and the onslaught of technology, coupled with budgetary cutbacks to libraries. Everything has changed, and the days of 'just-in-case' are over. The mentality really must be 'just-in-time'.

Shapiro, Beth J. "Ongoing Training and Innovative Structural Approaches." Journal of Academic Librarianship (May 1987): 75-76).

As a deputy director of a library, Shapiro says that as much as libraries and librarians do not want to believe the findings of Hernon and McClure, nor the issues which have been raised by them, once they are carefully examined, they are not that surprising after all.

Some of her observations:

  1. Reference burnout has been written about in the literature, as has been librarians who are in the job too long, get complacent, and find themselves overwhelmed by the new technologies which are invading reference departments.
  2. Shapiro concurs with the work of Jim Rettig (see note #1) that states that there is a high turnover rate for reference librarians because they tire of being on the frontlines all the time and get frustrated by the numbers of directional questions they must answer. This accumulates into behavior which is abrasive, shorter interviews with patrons, an unfamiliarity with sources, and responses such as "I don't know" with no proper referral given.
  3. What this means is that reference departments are staffed with either burned-out librarians who have skills which are out-of-date, or younger inexperienced librarians, who as soon as they become proficient with reference services, move on to other positions.
  4. She agrees with Hernon and McClure that one-shot training sessions are unlikely to improve reference service to any great degree, and what is needed instead is a determination of the root causes, with consideration given to: 1.) Is a lack of familiarity with some basic reference sources due to a lack of training, education, intelligence, experience, or time to upgrade? 2.) Are the short amounts of time spent conducting reference interviews, and the apparent internal clock syndrome indicative of librarians who do not want to serve the public? 3.) When librarians answer they do not know and make no attempt at a proper referral doing so because they are ignorant, not trained properly, or lack time to think about the question and answer properly? 4.) Is abrasive behavior indicative of personality flaws or one of the symptoms of burnout?
  5. Shapiro believes that training is central to improving the problems that exist in reference departments, including inhouse programs and training with new electronic resources.
  6. Libraries must understand that with technological pressures and patrons who are more demanding than they used to be, an effort must be made to revamp images and become more sophisticated, instead of trying to keep the status quo.
  7. Libraries who have found that 70% of questions are directional in nature are now using paraprofessionals to handle some of the traffic and provide librarians with more time for indepth information searching. Other libraries have reference librarians on call, rather than sitting at the desk and dealing with questions easily answered by paraprofessionals and students.
  8. Library administrators must ask themselves whether it is fair to expect librarians to teach BI, do collection development, search databases, take part in professional activities, library projects, upgrade themselves, and still work 15-20 hours a week on the desk? Job rotation may be one of the solutions. Shapiro's library has found it to be beneficial in increasing morale, which is one of the problems uncovered by Hernon and McClure's study.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. See James Rettig, "The Crisis in Academic Reference Work", Reference Services Review 12 (Fall 1984): 13-14.

Sherrer, Johannah. "Thriving in Changing Times: Competencies for Today's Reference Librarians." The Reference Librarian 54 (1996): 11-20.

"Libraries are in the midst of a revolution. Technology is dramatically changing library practices and procedures. More significantly, technology is changing user expectations" (p. 11). Now, more than ever, successful reference service is attained by helping one person at a time: using technological advancements to provide quality service, with specialized services being the buzz word of the 1990s. To be successful, reference librarians must have the appropriate competencies of knowledge, skills, and attitudes, and they must never lose sight of the individual user and the intermediary skills needed in these complex times. Reference work requires a linking together of personality, skills, knowledge, attitude, and effective interviewing techniques if it is to be successful and provide the information needed to fill the knowledge gap in the user.

A library school degree is a good base for knowledge, however, librarians need to increase their understanding of information systems, software development, and technological advances. Even more than that, "[r]eal value comes with the ability to move on, to acquire the needed technological skills and even more importantly to leave them behind when they become outdated" (p. 14). Successful reference librarians are interested in continually growing in the profession and take on the responsibility to involve themselves in self-directed learning.

Other important skills and attitudes needed for the future success of reference work:

  1. the ability to parse or break down a question into manageable parts.
  2. the ability to decide which reference tool should be used to answer a particular subject inquiry.
  3. the creative force necessary to take a chance and try a new structure, system, or tool to answer a reference question.
  4. fine-tuned problem-solving skills.
  5. the self-confidence required to explore new databases with patrons, and experiment with new search avenues, without losing face when mistakes are made.
  6. honesty, creativity, approachability, dependability, tenacity, time management skills, good organizational attributes, and the willingness to finish tasks.

Most libraries are having problems with staff layoffs, budget cuts, and incredible changes experienced through technological advancements, and they are trying to provide good quality service by reorganizing reference departments, and using different staffing and economic models. "Good service, however, is the result of personal commitment and idealism tempered with reasonableness that combine to produce satisfied users. Paradigms aside, libraries are only as good as their front lines. Their consistency, success, and value are judged at that point. In today's world that front line may be a person or a computer screen but in either case it must be friendly, approachable, intuitive, and service centered" (p. 16). Focus on the individual user!

Shill, Harold. "NTIS: Potential Roles and Government Information Policy Frameworks." Journal of Government Information 23, No. 3 (1996): 287-298.

The National Technical Information Service (NTIS) began in 1945, and acted as a clearinghouse for U.S. research and development; since then, it has gone through many changes, including efforts to privatize the organization. The Clinton Administration sees it as a good model for an information dissemination agency. In 1992, NTIS released the following as its mission statement: "The National Technical Information Service (NTIS) is a self-supporting Federal agency that actively collects and organizes scientific, technical, engineering and business-related information generated by the United States Government and foreign sources and makes it available for sale to the research and development community, businesses and the general public" (p. 288). In addition, it handles Freedom of Information Act requests, CD-ROM mastering, and database dissemination for other federal government agencies. It calls itself self-supporting, and that means that it must generate enough revenue by selling its information products to at least break even: hard to do when many agencies bypass their services and supply the information directly, and since technical reports of the federal government cannot be copyrighted, it is possible for those in the private sector to copy and sell them. "Politically, NTIS cannot undercut its private-sector competitors by lowering its prices significantly without risking the charge of unfair competition. Financially, NTIS cannot price its products and services too high without losing customers" (p. 288).

In 1994, business and industry were responsible for 71% of the paper products sold; government clients bought 13%; while the academic community purchased 16%. As far as electronic information, business and industry 53%, government 41%, and academia only 6% of total sales.

NTIS is an important player for archiving technical documents having archived more than 2.6 million since the 1940s, including information for NASA, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy. Federal agencies have been mandated to provide NTIS with all of their non-classified reports since the American Technology Preeminence Act of 1991.

Two initiatives by NTIS: FedWorld and ADSTAR have helped to position the agency for the future. FedWorld was the prototype for electronic gateways, and is currently accessing information from more than 130 federal databases, provides public access, and allows NTIS to attract new users through its website ( which "features access to documents of current interest, major U.S. government sites arranged alphabetically and by subject area, the Commerce Information Locator Service (CILS), White House information, and major foreign sites of interest to the NTIS user community..."(p. 290). ADSTAR (Automated Document Storage and Retrieval System) is another important component because it enables the agency to scan print and electronic documents from anywhere, and to send copies to clients. Currently, they have a two day turnaround time for patron requests.

Six potential roles are envisioned for NTIS: 1.) a super-agency for international scientific and technical information (STI), 2.) the federal government's central repository and dissemination agency, 3.) have sole responsibility for the dissemination of federal government documents, as well as the archiving of both electronic and print STIs, 4.) an agency that controls government-wide dissemination for STI, 5.) it will become a government corporation, 6.) continue as is.

Having an organization of knowledgeable staff and strong leadership, with vision, NTIS seems to have a bright future, but there are problems with organizational shortcomings and vulnerabilities. Politically, there is still a push to privatize the organization; it may lose revenues because of documents being posted on web and gopher sites; and it will always be shortchanged by existing copyright legislation which makes it impossible for it to protect intellectual property.

Shuler, John A. "Civic Librarianship: Possible New Role for Depository Libraries in the Next Century?" Journal of Government Information 23, No. 4 (1996): 419-425.

The author makes some very interesting points about the dissemination of government information:

1. For the past two hundred years, government officials have distributed public information in a number of ways, including the use of public radio (one only has to think of Clinton's continued use of radio on Sundays), free subscriptions to government publications, the postal system, television, and through the organization of federal depository libraries, which have played an historical role in the dissemination of government information. Most often, particular libraries were chosen because of their links to institutions having social or political power structures. The people were well served by the cooperation that existed between libraries and elected officials, and as time went on, these libraries became important gatekeepers of public knowledge, and providers of civic awareness. "Depository libraries, as organizational forms, marry the physical and human capital resources of the local libraries with the human capital and skills of government information librarians, along with the social capital generated by relationships and arrangements shared among the participating institutions" (p. 421).

2. Over the last thirty-five years, there has been an undermining of the gatekeeping roles of elected officials and depository libraries, in the form of two major developments: 1.) the powerful network of information infrastructure that has connected computers across the globe to the Internet, means that citizens no longer need to rely on being geographically situated near a federal depository library to get access to a world of government information, (see note #1) 2.) the revival of a concurrent antigovernment ideology that stresses that individual rights have priority over the ideals of a 'public good'. What this entails are a number of demands for governmental reform and reorganization: 1.) the reduction of red tape and a smaller, decentralized federal government, 2.) innovative systems to distribute government products and services, 3.) the desire for local and state governments to take back some of the responsibilities they have lost since the mid-1930s to the federal government, 4.) more of an emphasis on nongovernment organizations, and 5.) the deregulation of large economic organizations, such as phone companies and the banking industry.

3. All of these developments have an effect on libraries, including how to deal with the technical aspects of collecting government information in an electronic age; how libraries can continue to provide 'free' access to government information that is very expensive to collect and disseminate; and is continuing to provide separate departments for government information "still serve a common good?" (p. 422).

4. There are many burdens related to being a federal depository library, which include the commitment to staff training, the purchase of hardware/software equipment, and the need for constant management. Many libraries believe that because these government collections are not used to the extent that other collections are, the burdens and responsibilities are too great, and with budgetary pressures, some may decide to give up their depository status, especially now when direct ownership of paper collections will soon be a thing of the past.

5. The author believes that civic librarianship and the development of 'community information organizations' (CIOs) can help libraries to use the electronic resources of the government and help libraries to become more involved in their communities in the form of outreach and education programs. Librarians will have to find their niche in a changing world in which tangibles may be a thing of the past, if they want to continue in their role as information mediators between the government and the people. This role is particularly ironic in an age when citizens can access the information from many other sites instead of coming into the library. "Ultimately, if government information librarians wish to reclaim their traditional rhetoric of "documents to the people," they are going to have to reformulate a new relationship among the physical, human, and social capital. In the nineteenth-century universe of depository libraries, physical and human capital were heavily invested at the expense of social capital" (p. 423).

6. There will be many problems and obstacles to overcome as the transition from paper to electronic continues to move full speed ahead, including how citizens will know what are valid sites of government information? what about corrupt data? will the sites be anything more than ephemeral? Librarians can see their future as liberating rather than chaotic. They will be able to explore new territory, and experience more productive relationships with their patrons searching for government information, and help them through their frustrations with the political system. In contrast with traditional government librarianship, which "focuses too much on "where" the information is coming from rather than where it should be going" (p. 424). Civic librarianship concentrates instead on supporting active public participation and on helping to create an arena of public dialogue and problem solving; and it can help to restore ideals of democracy, which were based on a solid communication system linking the people with elected officials. "The powerful integration of computers and telecommunications is replacing many of society's traditional "self-correcting mechanisms" forged by the printing press. These mechanisms include newspapers, books, magazines, pamphlets, journals, and newsletters. The national medium of information exchange, at least through the early part of this century, was the public postal service. These public resources, bundled together in this fashion in one building, create and sustain opportunities for citizens to learn, consider, debate, and exchange ideas. But that is true only because the libraries, reading rooms, lecture halls, and accessible government services generate further relationships and increase the formation of social capital" (p. 425).

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

1. And I say that is great when one considers the families who live in small outports across Newfoundland, and a multitude of other places which dot the planet. Why should only those who have physical access be the haves? That is why I have always seen the value of digital libraries.

Skrzeszewski, Stan. "A National Vision for Canada's Information Infrastructure." Government Information in Canada /Information gouvernementale au Canada Vol. 1, no. 4.5 (1995). Available:

Stan Skrzeszewski is the Chief Executive Officer of Canada's Coalition for Public Information (CPI), an organization that advocates access to the information highway for all, stemming from a belief "that the new information technologies have the potential to transform Canadian society from one that was dependent on agriculture, resource extraction and industrial production to one that is based on a less environmentally damaging, self-sustaining, post-industrial model, that is, an information society" (p. 1). An infrastructure is needed that is economical, and based on the tenets of democracy and social equity, and which provides access to information and creates a venue for communication. Skrzeszewski has identified three strategies which the CPI sees as integral to the development of an information society:

  1. Development of a strong national vision of an infrastructure for an information society: this must be done through a series of large-scale consultations with the public, and development of a national vision statement based on a.) universal and equitable access to information for all social stratas of Canadian society, access that is timely and effective, with free public lanes and spaces established for hospitals, schools, libraries, and community networks, b.) with the understanding that the free flow of information is one of the basic tenets of a democratic society, and without it, individuals cannot be empowered, c.) that access to all kinds of information, including artistic forms, promulgates the cultural dimension of Canadians, and "is essential for the enrichment of the human spirit" (p. 2), d.) that universal access to information is necessary for the development of a entrepreneurial and original society that has the resources needed for cultural and social enrichment. Free access should be guaranteed through libraries and community networks, e.) the promotion of entrepreneurship requires access to business, scientific, and technological information, f.) if Canada and its people desire a healthy economic community that will continue to grow, they need to recognize that research/development and life-long learning are important principles. Training programs are needed to ensure that universal access means that all Canadians will have the skills for living in a digital environment, and will be able to take advantage of the infrastructure to access the information they need, instead of widening the gulf between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots', g.) the provision of easy, user-friendly, and timely access to government information, h.) that monetary considerations should not hamper universal access to an information infrastructure because a national infrastructure will strengthen the economy and bring employment.
  2. National Access: moving from an industrial to an information society will not occur overnight, and therefore, Canada needs to have a National Access Board to oversee the process, made up of representatives from the non-profit, private, and government sectors of society. This board should establish short and long-term goals that have achievable objectives, and should insist that the federal government provide the funding required for library terminals, long distance rates, connectivity, and training, so that access can be funneled through the public library system. "The provision of government services and information via the Internet can be a reality only if there is broad public access, at low public cost, with an infrastructure and a policy that supports it and an independent body that organizes and runs it to serve the public good" (p. 6).
  3. The Digital Library: the national vision must have as one of its long-term goals, the building of a national digital library, built with federal funding, and developed through digital pilot projects across the country.

Sprehe, J. Timothy. "Ways to Think about User Fees for Federal Information Products." Government Information Quarterly 13, No. 2 (1996): 175-186.

Federal government agencies are now providing information to the public on microfiche, paper, fax-on-demand, disks, and through Internet websites, and wonder if instituting user fees is not a bad idea. This at a time when budgets are being cut, there is a demand for reductions in government spending, and movement to allow the public more access to more information. User fees would help the agencies to recoup some of their losses, but should they or shouldn't they?

Rationale for user fees: Title 5 of the Independent Offices Appropriations Act of 1952 states that "a reasonable charge will be assessed against each identifiable recipient for benefits derived from Federal activities beyond those received by the general public" (p. 176). Revisions of Circular A-130 "set user charges for information dissemination products at a level sufficient to recover the cost of dissemination but no higher. They shall exclude from calculation of the charges costs associated with original collection and processing of the information" (p. 176). And the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 states " [w]ith respect to information dissemination, each agency shall not, except where specifically authorized by statute, establish user fees for public information that exceed the cost of dissemination" (p. 176). No higher than the cost of dissemination, and no inclusion of the costs for acquisition and collection. There should be no attempt at making a profit!! But a way of getting around the issue is for agencies to provide the public with free basic forms of the information they are obliged to have, and charge user fees for value-added information, or enhanced forms of dissemination that are both expensive for the government to produce (CD-ROMs, microfiche), and easier for people to use. But one must question what is value-added. Is it simply putting in paragraph breaks, charts, an index, rows and columns? Can these be considered above and beyond what agencies are expected to provide to the public for free? Does anything done to data, constitute value-added? "So the real question is not whether Federal agencies should create value-added information products. In order to use information for programmatic purposes or indeed for any purpose at all, agencies must add value. Rather, the "real question" regarding added value is this: "Over and above the value agencies must add to information strictly for the government's use (i.e., for programmatic purposes), how much value should agencies add strictly for the public's use?" (p. 179). And if there is no money budgeted for adding value above those needed for programmatic purposes, but constant pressure to make the information more user-friendly for the public, where is the money supposed to come from? And how much money will be needed for user fee collections?

Two important points to consider: 1.) The establishment of user fees relies on the assumption that agencies have both the authority to collect and receive them. 2.) And since user fees are often deposited in miscellaneous accounts, and cannot be used by the agencies, why collect them in the first place? The alternative is to have another agency administer user fees for a series of federal agencies, but that would likely increase fees to end users.

Why not make a little profit off government information? Because "[t]he business of government is not to be in business" (p. 178), and should not be in the business of making a profit, but rather "regulate the marketplace" (p. 178). There are statutes, such as the Freedom of Information Act, that the government has to consider as well. And the federal government is complying at the moment, but what about local and state governments? There is a trend underway that sees more and more states putting prices on the information in their databases; states such as Alaska, Hawaii, and Colorado are exercising state copyright protection to do so, and are selling state legislative information to the legal research industry. The same can be said of local governments across the country, and both are doing it because they need to put money in the coffers. "The state and local governments tend to view the Federal point of view as interesting philosophizing that ignores contemporary realities such as cutbacks in critical social services because of revenue losses" (p. 179). And people often do not realize how expensive it is to disseminate information, and wonder what all the fuss is about when the agencies already have the information in their databases. They do not consider the peripheral costs associated with it, such as user help manuals, training aids, employees knowledgeable enough to answer technical questions, and what about errors in information? Agencies cannot just collect information, and then take a hands-off policy, they are inherently responsible for the information they release to the public. However, when members of the public really need information, but do not have the money to pay for it, there is legislation that allows the government to charge some groups lower fees. For example, health statistics are supplied to public health schools free of charge, while foreign parties may be charged more than other groups.

If agencies decide to charge, here are a few things to keep in mind: 1.) Preparation of explicit policies, and put them in writing, 2.) publish the policies, 3.) a clear method for tabulating the fees, 4.) assignation of costs, 5.) rules for administering user fees, and to measure true costs, 6.) periodically review the policy, 7.) where will the revenues go?

Stalker, John C., and Marjorie E. Murfin. "Quality Reference Service: A Preliminary Case Study." The Journal of Academic Librarianship (November 1996): 423-429.

You should be very well-versed in the WOREP system through the first set of articles I did for you. I will not repeat the details here.

If libraries had access to a list of factors that contribute to quality reference service, particularly if the factors were controllable, it would be very beneficial. Such data is available through the Wisconsin-Ohio Reference Evaluation Program (WOREP), which has named the Brandeis University Library as the highest scoring four-year institute. By assessing the factors that contributed to this level of service, the authors believe that there will be a better understanding of what constitutes quality reference service.

The Brandeis Library is considered a medium-sized library, whose reference department received the very high score of 72% on the WOREP scale of accuracy. Its other claim to fame is its adoption of the innovative two-tiered reference model that may have contributed to its success. In addition to examining the WOREP data, the authors took a two day visit to the library in 1995, both of which contributed to the following findings:

Factors for success:

  1. The reference collection was judged to be well organized and superior, with an exceptional biography section.
  2. The biographic collection was grouped together, defying the LC classification system. By keeping the materials together, reference librarians could offer quick service to patrons.
  3. The use of different sources, such as consultation of computerized databases, online catalogues, and OCLC, seems to indicate a higher degree of reference success.
  4. Librarian knowledge and consultation amongst librarians seems to be a factor in quality reference service.
  5. A high number of electronic databases, such as Lexis/Nexis, including extensive training for librarians on them. The presence of an expert during training sessions for librarians also seems to be a factor.
  6. The high use of periodical indexes.
  7. Reference librarians spend no more than nine hours a week on the research consultation desk to avoid burnout and stress.
  8. Reference team included a superior documents expert.
  9. The architectural design of the consultation area seems to have some relation to high quality service, as it is equipped with a large ready reference collection, telephones, computers, and other special finding aids. The information desk is situated in close proximity to this area, which allows for monitoring of paraprofessional staff.
  10. Administration is supportive of the department, and has a strong commitment to a high quality reference service model, while staff strives for above average levels of service.
  11. Time: reference librarians spent an average of twenty minutes per patron request, which is very much above the average when compared to other WOREP scoring libraries. "Of all the factors studied, time appeared to be the one which could account for the greatest portion of this library's success…Adequate time for explanations certainly appears to have helped" (p. 427).

The interesting thing about some of these success factors is that they are under the control of the reference staff. For instance, in-depth training on electronic databases can be mandated; reference collections can be arranged in a manner which provides both librarians and patrons with easy access; architectural lay-out; having an administration that is compatible with reference staff, with similar priorities; and providing sufficient time for each reference transaction. "Vital to the success of the model, nonetheless, is a commitment on the part of the library administration to high-quality service. The end goal must be to provide adequate time for each patron's question" (p. 428).

Stratford, J.S., and J. Stratford. "Computerized and Networked Government Information." Journal of Government Information 23, No. 5/6 (Sep./Dec. 1996): 749-754.

This article examines some of the newer models that are coming to the forefront in data dissemination.

  1. Electronic Depositories: the American Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) is being transformed into an electronic system. Congress initiated a cooperative study for the transition, with all interested stakeholders taking part. They included the Library of Congress, the GPO, the Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, the National Archives and Records Administration, the depository library community, and the Federal Publishers Committee, among others. Some of their major conclusions include the following: a.) interest in the expansion of materials distributed to the depository program, with an aim to making it more comprehensive. This expanded scope should be cost-effective due to the shift to electronic publishing by governmental departments. b.) concern that government departments and agencies will not comply with the statutes requiring them to distribute their publications through the GPO, which in turn funnels them to the FDLP. Compliance should be insisted upon by Congress. c.) permanent access to archived electronic government information is a necessity for the depository libraries. d.) the necessity of developing and identifying locator services, which will be critical for remote users of government information. e.) a longer time allotted for the conversion to an electronic depository system. f.) an "assessment of standards for creation and dissemination of electronic government information products" (p. 751). g.) assessment of how much it will cost depository libraries in the future to disseminate information in electronic formats, since there will be costs associated will the provision of workstations, training for staff, and the printing-off of electronic information from government websites, and, h.) legislative changes are needed for the transition to an electronic depository program, so as to give libraries the time required to provide access to electronic government information.
  2. U.S. Census Bureau DADS: development is underway to create a Data Access and Dissemination System that will increase access to census data products through private firms, libraries, universities, State data centers, etc. The downside is that users will be charged fees for most transactions, but the system should allow users to save money when compared to traditional forms of dissemination.
  3. Data Liberation Initiative: is a new policy issued by the Canadian government that will modify prices to facilitate use of government databases and Statistics Canada data files in Canadian academic institutions. It is a cooperative made up of Statistics Canada, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL), the Canadian Association of Public Data Users (CAPDU), and the Humanities and Social Science Federation of Canada (HSSFC). "Unlike the U.S. initiatives described above, where the intent is clearly to replace print products with online data dissemination systems, the DLI provides for access to numeric files with no print equivalent. There is no intent to replace or eliminate analytic print products" (p. 753). It envisions that universities will gain access to data through paying an annual set fee, and allow the information to be transmitted to students, staff, and faculty for their use.
  4. UN Web Server Enhancements: the Department for Economics and Social Information and Policy Analysis, UN Statistics Division, has posted a home page which features an online version of its Monthly Bulletin of Statistics (MBS) on a trial basis. Information on the site will appear many weeks before the printed data, and is currently free (at the time this article was written). Their hope is to develop a subscription rate based on the online and traditional printed versions in the future.

Sulzer, Jack. "U.S. Depository Librarians in Reality and Myth: A Framework for a Future Government Information Program." Journal of Government Information 23, No. 3 (1996): 307-325.

"Today, the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP) and U.S. depository librarians are confronted with a conflicting confluence of technological capability, politics, and traditional values. High capacity digital storage, fast microprocessors, and direct means of telecommunications and transferring data have formed a technological triad that requires thinking well beyond current standards, laws, policy, and philosophy…Because of the expansion of computer technology and the development of a common electronic information infrastructure, they are now also in direct competition with the educational and public service marketplace, the domain in which libraries and government information producers function" (p. 308). What does all this mean for documents librarians? They understand that they must change the way they have historically done their jobs now that the Information Age is here, not to say that their jobs are no longer important, but "[h] ow well librarians deal with it will determine the status of libraries in the Information Age" (p. 308). One of the most important problems they seem to have is that there is no conclusive data on how effective depository services are, what kinds of information that their users are in fact in need of, nor who their users are. These difficulties are intensified by the uncertainties that exist with technology in general and how it will affect political decisions. Overall, librarians have to adjust how they see themselves, and let go of their traditional views of librarianship, and begin to fine-tune the skills needed to perform electronic searches, provide better access to information sources, and create a system that will teach users how to take advantage of all the new horizons that have been opened up by the electronic age of information.

The author uses a great analogy when he compares the pre-Internet world to one of a Ptolemaic model, in which the GPO, depository libraries, and the government were really the nucleus of the information dissemination universe, with user groups orbiting around them. Currently, with the state of electronic information technology, the users are now in the middle of the universe, while the government and its agencies, the depository libraries, and a multitude of information handlers are circling around. There has been a fundamental shift in the information environment that allows users direct access at any point in the life cycle of information, and so it seems as if libraries need to concentrate less on being repositories, and more on becoming experienced service intermediaries and points of access to a universe of electronic information. Will they make the shifts in personnel, money and time needed to recreate themselves? That's the question to be answered! With communication technology being what it is, the 1400 depository libraries can form an alliance and collaborate as information providers of government information, in a virtual library gateway system. Virtual associations are needed to develop the structure and coordination required for information professionals to work together for a common cause. "The opportunity is at hand to build a new government information dissemination program based on useful services and products rather than a system of "just-in-case" repositories" (p. 313).

Some twenty libraries have already begun a system that provides direct remote access to GPO Access through their online systems; and the GPO Model Gateway Library Project means that there will be evolutionary changes ahead for the FDLP, with new alliances made to facilitate its development.

A lot depends upon the political environment: there must be a willingness to establish, for the good of the public, information policies at the federal and state levels. Currently, there has been no comprehensive federal electronic information policy developed with guidelines on how to handle the life cycle of electronic government information, or that will guarantee the public free access to electronic government information. Depository libraries must realize that their vision of government information dissemination is not the same as government officials, and that information policy development is based particularly on political and economic considerations. The Clinton Administration believes in providing better access to government information, but the foundation for its ideology is commercial and economic: to develop America's economic competitiveness in the global market. That is not to say that the current administration does not believe in every citizen's right to access government information because they do believe it to be an essential component in a democratic society, and it has provisions for schools and libraries to be a part of the interconnected network, but there is no mention of the FDLP in its agenda. Rather, they outline possibilities, such as a system built on thousands of federal agency offices from which government information can be communicated to the people. And the administration envisions libraries becoming part of a digital network of electronic information with connections to publishers, universities, commercial players, and research organizations. Congress has also gotten into the process by trying to break up the GPO, and sending the FDLP and the SOD to the Library of Congress. Its plan did not work out, but it required that the GPO report back on its vision of FDLP in an electronic government information dissemination system.

Ultimately, libraries must work with public interest organizations if they hope to influence the political system and sway it in their favour.

What must depository librarians do before they can develop a new system for the dissemination of electronic government information? Dispel some mythologies: 1.) "A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both" (P. 318). Eloquent as this principle is, librarians have used it to justify the federal depository program, and it has led to political battles with others in the information industry, such as those in the publishing industry. 2.) "Documents to the People. We are the gateway to government information for government by the people" (p. 318). The author says that libraries do not know who their users are, nor how effective the services they offer to these people are, and until they do, there can be no real hope of developing a plan on how the electronic environment will be traversed. "Until more is known about its users and the results of its services, it will be exceedingly difficult to agree on what the FDLP should be, let alone do any meaningful planning for the development of services in an electronic environment. Moreover, without such data, it will be increasingly difficult to argue for continued government support" (p. 318) (see note #1) 3.) "Not all depository libraries are created equal, but should be" (p. 319). This is a very unrealistic statement, and it has fundamentally crippled the FDLP by setting strict rules and regulations over what can and cannot be done by a depository library, rules that restrict access options, and a demand that even electronically-advanced depository libraries keep to the status quo set by the lowest common denominator in the system. 4.) "The FDLP is not an entitlement program for libraries"(p. 319). Bruce Morton has argued long and hard that the FDLP is nothing but a program which entitles mostly academic and law libraries that serve special groups in society, and not the general public (75% of American depositories are found to be in academic and law libraries). Would these same institutions, who support the sanctity of the system and hold the belief that the dissemination of government information, in any format, is an important duty they perform, still be willing if they had to pay for those materials which are now provided to them for free by the government? It is highly unlikely that any of the institutions could do without the federal subsidies. Bruce Morton feels that the entitlement program should be expanded to include more libraries. The author states that the entitlement program is one that should continue in an electronic age, and makes the point that it will be specially trained documents librarians who will be such important players in the system because they will provide what the government cannot afford: information skills to go along with the information. 5.) "Preserving print preserves access for a large segment of our population"(p. 320). Why are many or most federal depositories in large urban areas? Because those libraries have space enough to house the huge collections that make up government information. Librarians have long fought to keep print publications in the system as a way of continuing the long history of the program, but perhaps the time has come to think of smaller areas across the country who have no such geographical access to government information. Smaller libraries will always have space for a computer terminal, hooked up to the Internet, so maybe the time is right to expand the system to include more libraries which can offer electronic information to the public. This would "help to alleviate the problem of being a nation of "information have-nots," a problem traceable to the limitations of the ink-on-paper. Preserving print does not preserve access" (p.320). 6.) "The FDLP is the safety net for information 'have-nots' in the electronic age. All government information in electronic form, without some mitigating institution like the FDLP, will create a nation of information 'haves' and 'have-nots'" (p. 321), a concept which should probably have never been perpetuated by librarians because it relegates them to a secondary role, a sort of back-up system like welfare is. Rather, libraries are key players in a democratic system, librarians are professionals, and they must continue to be ensure that the public will be able to use their services in an electronic era.

The Future of the FDLP?

The FDLP should form the basis of a consortium of libraries, government agencies, publishers, etc. which will manage the networking of government information and develop a new and improved program of library services, all along taking advantage of what new avenues for access are opened up by the electronic era , and making sure that the information remains free.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

1. There is the possibility, which is suggested in this article, that it is necessary to have data on how successful services are before the depository program can venture to ask the government for an expanded budget allocation for training, etc. In addition, there seems to be a great need to know who the users of government information are, if there is any hope of developing a truly successful system of information dissemination, or to offer specialized reference service in particular areas. What I mean is if you knew that the bulk of patrons using Weldon's government documents, were say, farmers interested in any number of particulars, then the staff could make sure they are well-versed in these specialized materials. Apparently, there has been no work done to expose who is using government documents in Canada, and very little in the U. S., although I do recall reading that Hernon and McClure did some such study in the U. S.

Summerhill, Craig A. "The Emerging National Information Infrastructure and Reference Services." The Reference Librarian, No. 43, 1994, pp. 131-144.

With the advent and propensity towards electronic information, the Internet, and on-line services in libraries, there are both challenges and opportunities for reference librarians. Reference departments will have change as they are faced with "the changing nature of research practice"(p. 131). Advances in technology are moving so quickly that individual libraries are finding it hard to keep up with both the legal and economic issues that go hand in hand with the explosion. Problems and costs associated with upgrading computer equipment, the legalities of copyright, equal access to information, especially public information, and the provision of service and application. From 1963-1991, the money that libraries spent on salaries decreased, while the money on automation and operations increased (For further information see the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation report, "University Libraries and Scholarly Communication: A Study Prepared for The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation by Cummings and associates.) Trends in reference departments seem to be the demand for printing services attached to CD-ROM products; requests for specialized software packages which can handle full text search engines; and a decided change in how research is done, with users becoming more and more expectant of instantaneous access to electronic information. The other problem is with the quality of information that is available on the Internet and other electronic information services. Librarians need to have enough experience with the evaluation of such information as to help their patrons make qualitative evaluations of them, and intelligent decisions for their use.

Quote: "Reference librarians have already begun to face new challenges due to the introduction of electronic information products on such media as computer diskettes and optical discs. The network is going to exacerbate this situation and add an additional layer of technology which the reference staff will be required to master if the library is going to provide reference services in this area. Is the staff prepared to meet these challenges?" (p. 143) The author's opinion is "that reference librarians lag behind their peers in technical services in their understanding of computer and networking technologies mainly due to this focus on systems development for back room use. In this decade, administrative support for increased training of reference personnel and for the development and deployment of networked information retrieval systems will be the chief challenge facing many large research libraries" (p. 143).

Summerhill, Karen Storin. "The High Cost of Reference: The Need to Reassess Services and Service Delivery." The Reference Librarian 43 (1994): 71-85.

When undertaking future planning for reference departments, consideration must be given to costs, particularly at a time when libraries have been hit hard with economic realities. Of course, libraries could decide to keep the status quo and continue to hold their own, while offering the same services. They could also reassess reference services, its models of operation, established priorities, and staffing procedures, with a mind to making it more productive. "Information technology brings new questions about the most effective and efficient methods of organizing, storing, retrieving and accessing information, and indeed whether reference services as we have provided them in the past will be needed at all in the future" (p. 72).

The world has been rocked by an explosion in information, information technology, and the Internet; increasingly, information is seen as an important commodity, something to be valued. However, libraries have historically been egalitarian organizations, offering information for free to everyone as a social good. Is it time libraries put this service model aside and introduce user fees for access to information resources? No, but it is imperative for libraries to understand that there are advantages to introducing certain kinds of information technology into libraries, and if they use marketing strategies to help the public realize "that librarians can provide advantages of breadth of knowledge of information sources and retrieval strategies, specific knowledge of our local clientele, minimized bias and self-interest" (p. 73).

  1. The first step in examining reference service cost-effectiveness is assessing the product. Librarians would like to believe that the reference services they offer are worthwhile and valuable, but it does not mean that the community feels the same way or sees them as effective. Reference is supposed to be a process through which librarians transfer needed information from a source to a user, with the librarian having knowledge of both the information and the user, to facilitate effective service. Just as important are users' perception of librarians' role in the information world, since this influences the flow of money into libraries. Sadly, many users regard librarianship along the same lines as clerks in department stores, and do not view it as a complex or difficult professional career. Is that at all surprising, when librarians are seen servicing photocopiers, fixing printers, booting-up computers, answering directional questions, and delivering books to faculty members?
  2. The next step is to reconsider the services offered: are they able to fulfill the informational needs of users? This requires a reassessment of user needs so as to determine whether there are cost-effective ways to provide them to the public. Are librarians serving user needs by involving themselves in clerical tasks, when they could and should be facilitating the exchange of information from the source to the user? "It should not take an efficiency expert to tell us that this is not a cost-effective mode of operation. Engaging in these tasks simply is not serving our clientele well. These tasks can and should be done by clerical staff or at most by paraprofessionals. Understaffing of clerical positions is rarely the reference librarian's fault; most often it is the result of an administrative decision …" (p. 76). Are user needs being met when librarians spend some of their time explaining where the bathrooms are, instead of how to use Lexis/Nexis? "Telling someone the location of a restroom is a courtesy, not a transaction worthy of being recorded with a tick mark on the reference statistics sheet" (p. 77). Reference librarians should concentrate their services on bibliographic instruction; the provision of high-quality information services; and be available for research consultations.
  3. The next step is how to provide these services in an effective way, without losing personnel. Should librarians be providing emergency-like service in situations that are not life-threatening? Does research have to be high stress, inefficient, and lacking quality? Remind anyone of fast food chains? Secondly, many questions asked at reference desks are simple and directional in nature, and could be answered by paraprofessionals, leaving professional librarians more quality time to tackle high-level reference inquiries. Is there another type of service delivery method? A two-tiered reference model provides answers to informational, low-level questions at an 'information desk', and research or higher-level inquiries at a consultation office. A consultation model allows for uninterrupted, quiet, quality, and effective reference transactions to take place, and allows the user to see the reference librarian in a professional light.
  4. Reference departments do not always operate efficiently, which only adds to the high cost of reference provision. If a library decides to institute a two-tiered model, reference librarians can schedule research consultations around the number of hours they are expected to work each week, and can avoid mismanagement of time that has librarians terribly overworked with long queues, or standing around with little to do. The traditional reference desk system does not use the reference librarian to the best advantage, and therefore, causes them to be overworked, somewhat invisible as professionals to the public, and sorely lacking in respect, job satisfaction, and time to upgrade their skills.

"A final cost may be to society. If we cannot demonstrate to those who control the funding for our various institutions that our services are crucial, and that we are the most appropriate group to provide primary information services, we will be eliminated…While it's true that librarianship isn't brain surgery, the fact is that in reality, only brain surgery is brain surgery. Librarians have significant skills and experience to offer, skills that are in more demand than ever. With effort, and perhaps funding, we might have even more. We cannot waste what we have to offer" (p. 84).

Sutton, Stuart A. "Future Service Models and the Convergence of Functions: The Reference Librarian as Technician, Author, and Consultant." The Reference Librarian 54 (1996): 125-143.

The current state of information technologies that are presently used in libraries and which will continue to shape the future decades include: powerful computers; the fusion of advanced telecommunication technologies and computing; and new multi and hypermedia information structures. These technologies will forever change society, including the role of libraries and the professionals who work in them. As much as they forgo 'library as place' and enable geographic constraints to dissolve, there will still need to be subject specialist intermediaries to sift and disseminate information.

Typology of Libraries:

  1. Traditional: a place that consists of books, journals, microforms, thesauri, and card catalogues. Users are expected to physically visit the library to access information, with a reference librarian available to act as intermediary. The librarian must possess at least five attributes to be successful in this role: a.) understand the scope of the collection, b.) the ability to elicit the nature of an information need from a user, c.) awareness of the library's meta-information resources, d.) understanding of the library's information subsystems, and e.) the ability to break down a user's request into manageable components and know which reference tool to use to fulfill the information request. The reference librarian acts as intermediary between the user and the information.
  2. Automated: processes such as cataloguing, access to bibliographic networks, serials control, interlibrary loans, and circulation have been computerized in the automated library. All need a mix of machine and human intermediation to function, using a combination of print and digital meta-information sources for access.
  3. The Hybrid Model: primarily digital in relation to meta-information, but has an element of print as well. The hybrid library offers access to cost-efficient digitized information through network gateways and the library's own digital collection. As bandwidths get larger and the price of gigabytes and terabytes falls, the storage of digital information will be cheaper than traditional paper books. "While human intermediation in this context is partially the result of the need to control access to expensive resources, it is equally the result of the complex nature of the interface to the offline systems…This level of human intermediation represents a fundamental shift: away from the simpler resource dispensing model of service…toward a consultative, value-added model where librarians are actively engaged in the processes of direct information access and assessment" (p. 137).
  4. Digital: offers a library without walls in an intermediated system of access to digitized information resources. Although the constraints of 'place' will be removed, and access to the world's digital information sources at the fingertips, the biggest problem will be information overload, lack of collective meaning, and the loss of context and librarian as sifter of information. Who will be there to help navigate cyberspace? Reference librarians will fill the role as pointers to information sources, since collection development for globally-interconnected systems is virtually impossible. Subject librarians can assess, select, and reference information for "the creation of information architecture" (p. 140), instead of units for user groups. Human intermediation will still be required for the digital library because machines are presently incapable of providing the subtle nuances needed for eliciting user need. In addition, many users will still require a librarian to navigate cyberspace for them and use their specialized searching skills to answer informational requests in a digital library environment.

What has all this to do with improving reference service in the future?

No matter what kind of reference service dissemination model that is used in the future, there will be a need to have reference librarians offering a mix of products and services to patrons. Library schools must also realize that as the continuum moves from traditional library to automated to hybrid to digital, unique skills will be needed; they can do their share in providing the basics in a controlled environment. "The teaching and learning universe of the information age assumes that the boundaries of place and geography become less important as the demands of time and access for the individual become more important" (p. 143). The information needs of individual users will be of primary importance in the future, as it should be today. If reference librarians are expected to offer high quality service, isn't it essential that they have the knowledge and skills needed to fulfill this mission? We must prepare now for the future.

Turock, Betty J., and Carol C. Henderson. "A Model for a New Approach to Federal Government Information Access and Dissemination." Journal of Government Information 23, No. 3 (1996): 227-240.

Points to keep in mind:

  1. Historically, Congress provided the revenues needed to distribute government publications from the GPO to the 1400 depository libraries in the United States, but as part of an extensive program to decentralize federal government information dissemination, downsize government, reduce spending, increase revenues, and provide better access, electronic technologies were introduced. "Agency moves toward direct online provision of information also appeared to offer the executive branch a potential way out of its long-standing resistance to the centralization of dissemination activities in a legislative branch - the GPO" (p. 228).
  2. In June 1994, free access to online federal governmental databases via GPO's Access system has been provided to depository libraries and 'gateways'.
  3. In December 1995 user fees were dropped for all users accessing GPO Access.
  4. One of the major problems seems to be the quick jump made into the electronic universe without requiring long-term planning, consideration of effects, or the establishment of a coordinated plan to oversee the transition.
  5. The House cut the budget that pays for the federal depository system in half in 1996, dropping it to 16 million from 32 million. The budget was later increased to 30 million, but only under the stipulation that the GPO devise a plan to bring the FDLP into the 21st Century: by making it an electronically-based system, and thus, save money. Federal agencies were also required to disseminate electronically or pay their own publication costs.

Tygett, Mary, V. Lonnie Lawson, and Kathleen Weessies. "Using Undergraduate Marketing Students in an Unobtrusive Reference Evaluation." RQ 36, No. 2 (Winter 1996): 270-276.

  1. This unobtrusive study took place at Central Missouri State University's library using undergraduate marketing students as proxies. They were considered an ideal group for the study because they are aware of the methodologies of such research, and because "marketing is oriented toward subjective data collection, such as user satisfaction" (p. 273). Instead of paying the students for their work as proxies, the exercise was a class project for credit.
  2. Unobtrusive testing was chosen as the method of evaluation because the authors believe it to be the best way of scientifically examining the reference encounter. Other methods of research have the problem of the Hawthorne Effect to deal with, which has proven to change the behavior under examination.
  3. The survey was designed to uncover the proxies' entire library experience, but especially how they interacted with the reference librarians. They were given test questions to use, but were encouraged to ask questions of their own, if so desired. Accuracy of answers was not used as a measurement of the reference encounter; the researchers were primarily interested in measuring "patron satisfaction with the thoroughness and/or accuracy of the answer" (p. 273). Evaluations were anonymous and librarian identity was protected.
  4. The survey was based upon a list of 'staff behavior that helped' developed by Dewdney and Ross in "Flying a Light Aircraft."
  5. Survey results: 1.) Forty out of fifty surveys were returned. 2.) 74% of the proxies were satisfied or better with their encounters. 3.) Questions which the students gave the lowest marks to included: staff explanations of what they were doing and why; and librarian request for them to return for more help if needed. 4.) They found that the proxies received poorer service in the morning hours.
  6. The students were then put into one hour focus groups to discuss their assessments, and gave the researchers some insight into how students see reference service. Many of them would have liked more instruction on reference tools rather than be provided with information. Students did not know if they were dealing with professionals or paraprofessionals.

Walsh, Anthony. "All the World is Data and We But the Ciphers in it … William Shakespeare 1992." The Reference Librarian 38 (1993).

Use quote: "In this age of decisions based on data collection libraries will be expected to gather statistics to describe, evaluate and justify their existence. Whether libraries count people, things, or interactions, even when they use questionnaires, they must understand how assumptions and uncontrolled variables contaminate their work and therefore its implications. Over the past hundred years libraries have been transformed in response to users, politicians, pressure groups and now technologies. How will libraries control and evaluate this resource allocation to preserve mission effectiveness"? (p. 21)

Problems associated with libraries simply counting things to evaluate: 1.) Counting people with a turnstile does not allow the library to differentiate between their user groups and understand their wants and needs. 2.) Counting things has problems because it does not distinguish between quantity and quality. For example, technological assets can be counted, but the data alone could not tell us if it is sufficient to meet user needs or if it is even beneficial for the library to have. Counting interactions is something reference departments do all the time but the data is easily corrupted by librarians adding in directional questions or even intentionally extrapolated to keep numbers up. It also equates all reference inquiries as equal, and does not reveal accuracy rates or quality of service.

Using questionnaires for data collection has the problems of survey design, and the possibility that only patrons who feel very strongly about some aspect of the library will bother to fill one out.

All types of evaluation methods have their pitfalls which can be overcome with diligence and caution. The author also reminds us that no matter which method is used, libraries must expect changes simply due to evaluation taking place. Known as the Hawthorne Effect. People's behavior does change when it is targeted for attention.

Some Interesting Observations Made by the Author:

  1. The way in which libraries deliver service was greatly changed with the transformation from closed stacks to open stacks. Personnel was reallocated from clerical positions to more professional duties involving the public. Librarians were then considered professional and control over both resources and access to resources was lost.
  2. What really transformed libraries and staff and is continuing to do so is the introduction of more and more electronic resources. Scarce funding is being allocated to computers, databases, and electronic service networks, thus, "it also transforms the way in which facilities are evaluated; hence a problem. The measure of a library begins to shift away from human resources and personalized services toward a hardware/software axis; thus libraries are required to allocate more and more of their scarce funds on ever more expensive and sophisticated enhancements. At the same time, libraries find that they must cut back on periodicals, new acquisitions, and staffing levels. Ironically, as libraries progress technologically, they run the risk of regressing on other measures of success." (p. 28). (See note #1) There can be no doubt that as the trend toward electronic resources continues, that staff cuts will continue as will the acquisition of on-site holdings.
  3. For those of the population who are technologically savvy, there is no problem, but what about most library users? They need lots of help, or as the author puts it, "all is a mystery and requires an expenditure of scarce staff time in a trainer-like capacity which is the modern equivalent of the "go and fetch" libraries of old" (p. 28).
  4. What are the implications for libraries? Given that technological prowess is known to be connected to economic standing, and the more money one has, the more access to information is available to them, will we be helping to widen the gap between the haves and have-nots in society? (see note #2)

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. You could use this supposition to answer for the low accuracy levels in Government Documents. Staff reductions, and the lack of training on these new resources makes it almost impossible for librarians to be professional mediators of information. I am sure that products go on the floor that librarians have no idea how to use. It is very difficult to keep up with technology, and that is why my idea for a Federal Depository template will help those librarians who do not have good searching skills on the Internet.
  2. You can really connect this to the dissemination of government information with its transformation into largely an electronic universe, and the fact that librarians often do not have the expertise to access the information themselves online.

Weech, Terry L., and Herbert Goldhor. "Obtrusive Versus Unobtrusive Evaluation of Reference Service in Five Illinois Public Libraries: A Pilot Study." Library Quarterly 52 (1982): 305-324.

Unobtrusive evaluation of reference service has its limitations:

  1. There is the ethical question of testing librarians without their knowledge, but most researchers who use the method are not trying to evaluate individual librarians, but rather, the institution as a whole.
  2. Unobtrusive testing can prove to be expensive, with considerable time needed for training proxies

This pilot study was designed to determine if there was any measurable differences between unobtrusive and obtrusive evaluation, when using the same test questions. Five Illinois public libraries participated in the pilot project, and although the directors of the libraries knew there would be unobtrusive testing of the reference departments, they were asked not to inform the librarians of the study.

  1. Thirty questions were developed (two sets of fifteen), and most could be answered by using the ALA's Reference Books for Small and Medium-sized Libraries, considered a standard in reference departments.
  2. The proxies were college students, who were going home for a weekend or for spring break. This is seen as an advantage because they will have local phone numbers if librarians have to call back with an answer; have local credibility; and expenses are kept to a minimum. Library students were exempted from participating in the study because they were likely to know reference staff. All proxies went through an orientation program and training, and were encouraged to ask the questions themselves because delegating the responsibility to family members without the benefit of training is problematic. The study was carried out in February and March of 1981.
  3. After the unobtrusive testing was finished, each of the five libraries was sent a set of the fifteen questions, and were expected to answer them individually, and not as a team. "Libraries that had been asked questions from set A in the unobtrusive part were given set B in the obtrusive evaluation" (p. 310), and vice versa.
  4. In the unobtrusive section of the evaluation, answers were judged as "complete and correct", "incorrect", "no answer", or "referral."
  5. Findings for the unobtrusive study were: 1.) 59% of the walk-in questions were answered completely and correctly, with an overall accuracy rate of 70%. 2.) 87% of the phone questions were correct and complete. 3.) there seems to be a better likelihood that a patron will receive a complete and correct answer if they telephone a reference department instead of going in. 4.) The library which had the lowest rate of accuracy, also spent the most time with the proxies. 5.) The proxies were overwhelmingly satisfied with the service they received, even when the answers they got were incomplete and inaccurate, and therefore, we cannot rely on the results of user satisfaction surveys to evaluate reference. 6.) The questions most likely to be answered incorrectly were those requiring current information. (see note #1)
  6. Findings for the obtrusive study were: 1.) An overall accuracy rate of 85% 2.) The libraries performed better on the obtrusive study than they did on the unobtrusive study.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. This concurs with many of the authors already cited in this review. It also can be tied in with your current events questions, and is one of the reasons why there was a high failure rate for some of the proxy questions. Librarians working in government docs must use the Internet to provide current information.

Weingand, Darlene E. "Competence and the New Paradigm: Continuing Education of the Reference Staff." The Reference Librarian 43 (1994): 173-182.

With the explosion in information, unparalleled in history, librarians are facing obstacles and many challenges. Continual changes in information technology are making it difficult for librarians to stay current, at a time when they must if they want to have a place in the 21st Century. The solution is to undergo 'continuing professional education'. The author breaks down 'continuing professional education' into two categories: 1.) personal career development or continuing education, and 2.) inservice training or staff development. The first focuses on the individual, the second, on the organization; but both are needed for librarians to enjoy a solid career in the profession.

"Continuing professional education is no longer an option; it is vital to professional health, [since]…The quality of information service is based in large part on the competence of personnel. When competence is maintained or improved, the quality of service will be correspondingly affected" (p. 174). Competence must be a prime concern for librarians today.

Four Aspects of Competency:

  1. Occupational Obsolescence: with the rapid changes affecting the information world, outdated expertise is a danger. Acquiring new skills and learning about new technologies is something all librarians must strive for.
  2. Scope: continuing education is something all reference staff should engage in, including support staff.
  3. Professional and Ethical Responsibility: librarians have a responsibility to be professionally competent and follow the ALA's Code of Ethics. "[S]ince competence is vital to high quality performance, continuing education is definitely an ethical consideration" (p. 175).
  4. Assessing Competence: it is the responsibility of employers to assess their staff's competency levels because collectively, they make up a library's qualitative product. Funds should be set aside for the development of competency criteria, training, accreditation, monitoring and review, and certification.

Certification: is the verification that an individual is competent enough to do the job they are being paid to do. This is especially important in the library world because it is a matter of public awareness, as access to libraries is a part of the democratic right to information, information that is accurate and timely. Since some states, with more to follow, have mandated professional certification, it is imperative for librarians to continue their education if they want to stay current and continue working in the field. "…with information access, storage and retrieval becoming increasingly vital to world economy and quality of life, it is likely that some form of regulatory control will continue to be urged and often enacted" (p. 179).

For librarians to remain important players in the world of information dissemination, they will have to accept new challenges, increase the diversity of their skills, and realize that some of the traditional aspects of librarianship are no longer useful in this new paradigm. They must focus more of their energies on service provision for client information needs, and use continuing education to develop competency levels as their vehicle to find their niche and meet the new challenges of information provision in the 21st Century. If not, they will go the way of the dinosaur.

Whitbeck, George W., and Peter Hernon. "The Attitudes of Librarians Toward the Servicing and Use of Government Publications: A Survey of Federal Depositories in Four Midwestern States." Government Publications Review 4, No. 3 (1977): 183-199.

There are many reasons why government documents are used so rarely, including unfamiliar classification systems; a separation of the documents, which may result in many not being put into the library's catalog; their drab appearance; and librarians who are themselves unfamiliar with the government documents. "The question may well be posed as to what extent librarians may function as gate keepers in discouraging use of documents by the public whether through ignorance of governmental structure or publishing, bibliographical tools, and accessing methods. It is hypothesized that librarians unfamiliar with government publications may well shy away from referring users to these sources and from helping users exploit them. It is further hypothesized that library administrators may discriminate against documents; they may be "stacking the deck" against them by isolating them in special collections which are relatively inaccessible to the user" (p. 184). (see note #1)

This study looked at depositories within Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan to survey the attitudes and knowledge of reference librarians and administrators in both public and academic libraries. The study used two questionnaires: one for government documents librarians and chief reference librarians (sixty-five responded), the other for public service librarians (ninety-two responded). 63% of those who took part were working in academic libraries, 37% from public.

Some interesting points: 1.) 72% said that they used reviews to build their government documents collections, while others noted using the "Monthly Checklist", state checklists, or honored patron requests. 2.) 45% of library administrators say they select less than 55% of the federal depository categories available, 11.8% stated they took less than 25% of the items. 3.) The authors assumed that collection organization would greatly affect the use and servicing of government documents, and that separate facilities and unfamiliar classifications would result in lack of use. To find out if their assumption was correct, they asked document and chief librarians a series of questions. 80% said that most of their documents were shelved separately, 7.7% answered that the collection was fully integrated, while another 7.7% stated that government information was totally separate. 90% said that the collections were housed in the same building as the main collections, with 34.4% being on the same floor as general reference. 4.) Of the 59 administrators who were asked if the gov docs were included in the catalog, 25 responded that those classified could be, 6 stated that references could be found to the collection in the library's catalog, and 25 said no. Asked how many professional librarians they had working with government documents, 57 had two or less, four had three or four, one administrator stated they had five or six, another, had more than six, and two were not sure. Of those professional librarians, fifty-three of the sixty-three said that two or fewer worked with the public full time, meaning that they have many more duties to carry out. 5.) Asked whether they had sufficient staff to deal with the public's inquiries, 55% needed more librarians, while 42% said they had adequate staff. Of those stating that additional staff would be beneficial, 75% were from public libraries. Does this mean that academic libraries are supporting their collections of government documents more than public libraries? 6.) Asked if they actively assisted users in finding the needed information, 84.7% responded that they accompanied patrons to the shelves, while 13.4% did not. 7.) 84.1% held a masters degree in library science, and 13.4% did not. 8.) 47.1% had taken a course in government documents, while 41.4% had not. The others did not respond or said the question was not relevant. 56.7% stated that they had no opportunity for any formal education in government documents, and 23.6% said they had. 64.3% felt they needed more education, 31.8% said they did not. 9.) Having been asked how they promoted the use of their collections, 56 libraries indicated they did so through regular reference; 38 included the collection on library tours; 33 through library lectures; 17 used brochures; 16 special seminars; and 17 through other means, including cassettes. 10.) Trying to ascertain librarian attitudes of government documents, the respondents were asked if they agreed or disagreed that government documents were under-utilized resources: 46.5% strongly agreed, 42.7% agreed, 7.6% disagreed or strongly disagreed, while 1.9% had no opinion. Asked about how confident they felt servicing the collection, 52.2% said they were confident, 30.6% felt they needed further training, 4.5% said they always referred a question to another staff member, while 7% were fully confident in their ability.


1. The majority of libraries used unfamiliar classification schemes and housed their collections in a separate area, both of which could have an effect on use, but no substantiation was uncovered.

2. The need for more staff was indicated, especially clerical personnel.

3. Although the researchers had hypothesized that librarian attitude played a role in lack of use, the survey found an overwhelming positive attitude toward the collections, as well as a desire for more education to increase their ability to do their jobs better.

4. More research is needed to generalize the findings.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

1. I always thought that a separate collection model was beneficial because it enabled specialized service from qualified staff, who had the all the documents in one place. I guess if the staff is not interested or qualified, then the documents are better to be mainstreamed. I must remember to talk to the doctor about this.

Whitlatch, Jo Bell. "Unobtrusive Studies and the Quality of Academic Library Reference Services." College & Research Libraries 50 (March 1989): 181-194.

Although unobtrusive testing methodologies have come to be valuable tools for researchers interested in evaluating reference service in libraries, library managers and administrators have not used the findings to improve reference service. They were developed as an alternative to user satisfaction surveys, which have done little for improving reference services for the public.

  1. Unobtrusive studies typically use 'correct fill rate' to measure librarian effectiveness, most commonly use factual questions, as well as requests for bibliographic citations.
  2. Hernon and McClure's study of government documents reference service reported that the most common reasons for incorrect answers were that librarians gave 'wrong data'(64.4%) of the time; said they did not know the answer (20.1%), with no referral; or incorrectly claimed that the library did not own the source which was needed to answer the question (15.4%).

The obtrusive study carried out by Whitlatch was done in five Northern Californian academic libraries. Librarians were told to ask every fifth patron to fill out a questionnaire, while they filled out a companion one for each of them. Librarians were guaranteed confidentiality, and were made aware of the importance of providing unbiased information for the surveys. Three measures were used to evaluate reference performance, and they were: 1.) librarian judgment of service. 2.) user judgment of service. 3.) how successful users were in finding the information they wanted. Questions were classified into the following three categories: Factual, Bibliographical, and other questions.

Finding of the obtrusive testing were: 1.) for factual questions the user found what they wanted 78.6% of the time, 10.7% found some of what they wanted, and 10.7% found none of what they wanted. 2.) for bibliographic type questions users found what they wanted 70.5% of the time, some of what they wanted 13.6% of the time, and none of what they wanted 15.9%. 3.) for subject/instructional inquiries, users found what they wanted 62.6% of the time, some of what they wanted 33.3% of the time, and none of what they wanted 4.1%. Through picking every fifth question to become part of the study, they did have a random sample of reference questions, and of the 256 questions selected only 29 (11.3%) were factual, while 46 (18%) were bibliographic in nature, and 181 (70.7%) were subject/instructional. This concurs with Childers' rough estimate that about one-eighth of questions asked in reference departments are factual, and therefore, the results of unobtrusive studies should not be taken as a window into all reference services, even if results hover around 55%. And as the author points out, "[w]ith such a relatively small percentage of factual queries, librarians get little opportunity to develop on-the-job expertise using a broad range of tools to answer requests for specific factual information" (p. 184). (see note #1)

"Thus, the correct answer fill rate appears to be a useful, but extremely limited, measure of reference performance" (p. 185).

Other interesting points:

  1. Librarians consider factual questions as less routine because they must use sources that they do not ordinarily employ , and are less like other questions. They also admit to having less subject knowledge when they are asked factual type questions. (see note #2)
  2. If one of the reasons why reference service is so difficult to evaluate is because reference interactions are private one-on-one encounters between two people, we must also consider the dynamics between the two as well. For instance, Hernon and McClure's proxies were told not to suggest sources, encourage referrals, nor to push the librarian for an answer, then in reality, unobtrusive methods of testing make the librarians, not the users, the ones responsible for finding and verifying the user's information request. "But in reality, user behavior may significantly affect reference performance" (p. 188). Therefore, the instructions given to proxies may affect the outcome, and cause a lower success rate in reference interactions, and thus, unobtrusive studies may not reflect reality. This could be especially true in academic libraries, where the librarians see themselves as empowering the information-seeking abilities of their patrons, and instruct, rather than provide.
  3. Librarians can help themselves by conferring with colleagues more often, remember that they are not subject experts in every field, and use follow-up questions to find out if informational needs have been met.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. This could be very true of government documents, especially when reference librarians, with no subject specialty or extra training in government documents are helping patrons with their inquiries.

Whitlatch, Jo Bell. "Reference Services: Research Methodologies for Assessment and Accountability." The Reference Librarian 38 (1992): 9-19.

Whitlatch has broken her article into sections which include "preconditions for successful assessment of effectiveness . . characteristics of good measurement… and an introduction to strengths and weaknesses of various data gathering strategies" (p. 9-10).

  1. Whitlach makes the point that there is not just one way to gauge reference effectiveness because they "depend upon values and are essentially subjective" (p.10). She also stresses that before choosing a data collection method, a library should choose what standards will be used in the process. Standards such as 1.) productivity assessments, based on economics, such as how many questions come to the reference desk during a specified period of time, or the approximate length of time it takes a reference librarian to answer a question. These can be measured by using quantitative methodologies. 2.) The assessment of the service process, such as how satisfied a user was when leaving the library, or the number of sources the librarian provided the user with to answer the question. These types of inquiries may be measured using such tools as exit surveys. 3.) Ability of the library to acquire items such as new CD-ROM products which patrons are particularly interested in using. 4.) Assessments of Quality, such as accuracy of answers. (see note #1 below) In this case, qualitative methods of evaluation such as unobtrusive testing are the most useful to uncover deficiencies. Whitlatch points out that since patrons have problems with the perception of quality service, they often judge service on assessment of process which includes librarian interest level and friendliness. Studies have shown that users come away satisfied if they have been treated with courtesy even when they do not find what they came for.
  2. Measures must be reliable, useful, practical to employ, and valid. For instance, designers of unobtrusive studies must be certain to use questions that reflect those which librarians are typically asked. All study methods should also have an aspect of ease of data collection . (See note #2)
  3. Data Collection Strategies: Strengths and Weaknesses 1.) Quantitative Strategies: the strengths are that there is a high degree of control, while the weaknesses include the aspect of oversimplication of the process. For example, can we simply count reference questions, and presume we are giving good service? There is no indication of the complexities that enter into real life settings. 2.) Surveys are qualitative evaluations, as are case studies, observation, and structured and unstructured interviews. Their strengths are the insight into details, complexities of processes, while the weaknesses can be seen in the need for small sample sizes, whose findings are then parlayed onto the profession in general. There could also be a problem associated with inherent bias of evaluators, which cannot always be controlled. Survey questionnaires can be used to study simple phenomena such as if users think there are enough computer terminals, but are not very good to elicit information about behavior, nor are they designed to provide information of user perspective. 3.) Observation: this can include self-observation, and the still controversial unobtrusive testing techniques, which "eliminates possible bias because the effect of being tested cannot influence the normal behavior of the librarian" (p.15). However, an article by Kenneth Crews called "The Accuracy of Reference Service" (1988) provides information on eight obtrusive studies, wherein the librarians knew they were being tested, and managed to have accuracy rates only slightly higher than those garnered from unobtrusive studies.

To conclude, Whitlatch points out that since libraries are so entrenched in the philosophy of using surveys to evaluate reference success, qualitative methods are rarely used, and thus, as Jarvelin and Vakkari (see note #3) have found, what is emphasized is the libraries point-of-view, rather than the users. We can ask, what good is that?

Whitlatch believes that a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods will bring about the best assessment of reference evaluation.

Ideas, Thoughts, and Notes

  1. Qualitative measures can also be helpful in measuring such things as librarian demeanor.
  2. So that consistent and continuous evaluation of reference service can be undertaken, and used for library decision-making.
  3. Kalervo, Jarvelin, and Pertti Vakkari. "Content Analysis of Research Articles in Library and Information Science." Library and Information Science Research 12 (1990): 395-421.

Whitson, William L. "Differentiated Service: A New Reference Model." The Journal of Academic Librarianship (March 1995): 103-110.

Three trends have forced libraries to restructure and to develop new models for their reference departments: 1.) Budgetary Restrictions: have forced many libraries to reduce the hours of their reference service, to hire fewer professional librarians, and to hire paraprofessionals, especially for handling the myriad of directional questions, 2.) A Call for Accountability: library administrators are being faced with the pressure of being more accountable for the allocation of budget funds. For example, is it cost-efficient to have higher paid professional librarians answering simple directional questions, such as, "where is the photocopier?" Many libraries have decided to institute a tiered service system that has patrons directed to an information desk, staffed with paraprofessionals, who decide if the patron should be referred to a professional librarian, 3.) The Rapid Increase in What a Librarian Needs to Know to Competently Work in Reference: as computer technologies and electronic information systems increase, and access to an explosion of information resources pervade libraries, there is an increased need for professional specialization in the field, even in reference work.

The traditional, undifferentiated service model for libraries assumed that qualified reference librarians would be available to answer a multitude of questions, within a short period of time. There were advantages to this system, including the convenience it offered to patrons; an element of efficiency; and by using qualified staff and a reference interview, there was a minimization of misunderstandings at the desk. However, there were disadvantages as well, including:

  1. The high cost of having professional staff answering all questions, some of which could be handled by support staff.
  2. Lack of control, in the sense that no matter how busy the desk got, librarians were expected to answer all inquiries with accuracy and in a timely manner, which caused great stress.
  3. Inflexibility in utilization of staff, meaning that by using less qualified staff members, the quality of service will be negatively affected.
  4. Lack of accountability: "There is no mechanism for varying the level of priority by type of question, or clientele, except by issuing guidelines to reference staff and relying on them to implement the guidelines as best they can. There is no way to allocate more or less staffing support to a particular kind of service - to budget resources in a precise way" (p. 104).
  5. Reinforces unrealistic expectations on the part of the patron, as patrons tend to believe that no matter the inquiry, the person at the desk will be able to answer it very quickly. If they cannot, which is often the case with questions requiring in-depth research, the patron considers the staff member deficient.
  6. Duplication of services: this often occurs when a library has more than one information desk, with overlapping missions.
  7. Conveys wrong image of librarians because many patrons do not see professional librarians as anything more than service clerks behind a desk, much as they see circulation staff.

Alternative Model: Differentiated Service Provision:

This new model eliminates the notion of reference as a single activity and replaces it with a composite of many. Five Major Service Areas may be defined:

  1. Directions and General Information
  2. Technical Assistance
  3. 'Information Look-up' for Clients
  4. Research Consultation
  5. Library Instruction

Advantages of a Differentiated Model:

  1. More accountability and control
  2. More credibility
  3. Flexibility in utilization of staff
  4. Improved effectiveness in each service
  5. Decreased pressure on staff
  6. Services are clearer to clients
  7. Librarian and staff roles are clarified for users


  1. Increased need for referral to appropriate personnel.
  2. Less efficient in some situations, since such individual kiosks will likely be staffed by only a single employee at a time and if one is very busy, patrons will have to wait longer than usual.
  3. Staff may not always be optimally utilized as some patrons will be referred to the most appropriate desk, even when their inquiry could be answered on the spot. However, for this type of model to work over the long term, staff must rigidly respect the guidelines.
  4. Staffing patterns will obviously be more complex.

Trade-offs are apparent in any choice, and are especially obvious when a library is considering a multi-tiered differentiated model for reference service, however, libraries must become more cost-efficient and take control of the services they are willing to offer. "One of the main advantages of "compartmentalizing" services in the differentiated services approach is that it allows easier ongoing evaluation and adjustment of services…[and] attempts to optimize both the delivery of services and the utilization of staff" (p. 109).

Wilkinson, Patrick J. "Beyond the Federal Depository Library Program: Providing Access to Information from a Reinvented Government." Journal of Government Information 23, No. 4 (1996): 411-417.

The American democratic process has the open dissemination of government information as one of its most basic distinguishable traits, and has used the services of the FDLP to provide information to the people. In an effort to correct some of the early problems with distribution of government information, the Printing Act of 1895, designated the office of the Superintendent of Documents within the GPO, and began distributing free documents to select libraries called depositories; created indexes to its publications; and started selling public information. In general, it had the provision of government information to libraries and the public as its mandate.

Current Crises:

Public dissatisfaction with the American government and rising fiscal debt have Republicans calling for the dissolution of 'big government', and Democrats urging for a reinventing of the current system. There is a move towards a more responsive, downscaled vision of government that uses a sophisticated electronic infrastructure to govern. Based on writings by Heidi and Alvin Toffler ("Creating a New Civilization: The Politics if the Third Wave"), Newt Gingrich ("To Renew America"), and Al Gore ("Third Report of the National Performance Review"), seven possible directions for government reform relevant to the depository system are examined: 1.) Moving beyond government's nineteenth-century organization and structures: the four authors agree that change is needed in government to make it more efficient and to move it beyond the 19th Century. 2.) Less centralized, smaller, and less monopolistic government: government needs to be smaller and much more responsive to the needs of the people. "In the Information Age, big organizations will not be able to perform as well as small ones. Small organizations will rely on speed, knowledge, and computers, while large organizations that rely on central planning and control will become increasingly paralyzed. Any organizational structure that relies on a "factory model" stressing standardization, centralization, concentration, and bureaucratization will not be able to survive the Third Wave" (p. 413). And all agree that monopolies are counterproductive, unhealthy, and tend to be more interested in serving their own interests instead of the common good. 3.) Information as a basic resource: Gingrich and the Tofflers see information as the defining key to this era, with its creation and distribution as the power that turns the wheel. Gore and Clinton have both established themselves as proponents of the Information Age. 4.) Information technology and improved citizen services: all of the authors understand the importance that technolog y plays in the empowerment of the people, especially how the Internet and the government kiosks in post offices across the nation will help to deliver much needed government information to the people. 5.) Demise of bureaucratic organizations: as information technology increases, and organizations decrease in size and scope, it will be virtual organizations that are important to society, organizations such as the Library of Congress's Thomas, which disseminates information about legislation, and congressional and committee reports to the public, and available twenty-four hours a day. 6.) Empowerment: the provision of government information that concentrates on the people, rather than focusing on what is good for government agencies. If the public wants access from their homes and offices and do not want to be forced to go to specific locations for the information they need, the government will have to provide the infrastructure to enable this transition. 7.) Balanced budget necessity: meaning that America now needs a government that is less expensive and more effective.

Challenges for the FDLP and libraries: two fundamental challenges.

1. In this current era, one must ask if the depository system is still needed? Designed for the 19th Century, and based on geographics, is it still the best system to provide information to the public when one considers government homepages, gophers, and GPO Access. If the public can access the information themselves off the Internet, where does that leave FDLP? Can it move from a traditional model of dissemination, based on the printed word, into the 21st Century?

2. Beyond FDLP, with libraries offering the public access to commercial sources such as Lexis/Nexis, it is obvious that many have already moved beyond using only FDLP for government information, especially when Congress is trying to move the GPO beyond the FDLP. In "The Electronic Federal Depository Library Program: Transition Plan FY 1996-FY 1998", an outline for a new FDLP is outlined. Here are some of the highlights: 1.) the program will primarily disseminate electronic government information, 2.) the Superintendent of Documents will have the responsibility for continuing long-term access to the information instead of the 1400 libraries making up the program, 3.) the FDLP is expected to provide both the public and depository libraries with free access to GPO Access.

In the near future, depository libraries will be more concerned with computer equipment, training for staff, and browser software than they will the size of their collections. They will become gateways to electronically disseminated information and be less concerned with traditional formats of government information. "Documents librarians and support staff will become more involved in user instruction and the designing of guides to information and less involved in managing collections. Consequently, library users will become less dependent on depository collections and more dependent upon the knowledge of library staff with specialized training in government information" (p. 416). As well, sophisticated non-depository libraries can now have their day to shine in the sun by providing access to the multitude of government websites. The traditional depository library program has seen its finest days, and they are over: the principles will be alive and well, but not the methods.

Yerxa, Shawn W., and Marita Moll. "Commodification, Communication, and Culture: Democracy's Dead End on the Infobahn." Government Information in Canada/ Information gouvernementale au Canada 1, No. 3.2 (1995).

Communication and Democracy: "Perhaps the quintessential question of political philosophy, "who should rule?" has, from our earliest record, been synonymous with questions of knowledge, information, and communication…Various constitutions articulate the central premises differently, but throughout much of the world the answers to "who should rule?" and "how' are closely related to the principles of free speech and equality, two fundamental democratic principles which are found in conflict with the relations imposed by capitalist production" (p. 2). With the rise of transnational corporations and a market mentality, information is increasingly seen as an exploitable resource, while there has been a commodification of culture, which affects communication, and "communication is facilitated subject to market restraints" (p. 2). All seem to be moving us away from the model of the Athenian agora, and towards one that circumscribes an individual citizen's right to communicate.

The federal government, in conjunction with its Information Advisory Council, wants to recreate the country's communication infrastructure by: 1.) using innovation and investment to create jobs for Canadians, 2.) develop a stronger Canadian cultural identity and sovereignty, 3.) provide universal access (at a reasonable expenditure) through the creation of: 1.) interconnected networks, 2.) collaborative partnerships between private-sector and public organizations, 3.) using competition, while ensuring network security and protection of privacy.

The problem is that there are many inherent contradictions in this plan. For instance, "[w]hile universal access is a necessary precondition of democratic communication, the inclusion of an ambiguous cost qualification indicates the economic determinism of the getting prices right philosophy which is rapidly eroding the very cultural distinctiveness that the second objective alludes to, cultural sovereignty" (p. 3). Secondly, if the government foresees job creation through information technology, it must realize that it is technology that has precipitated the trends of downsizing, decentralization, and a reduction in wages. "This economy…is facilitated by the very technologies that the government seeks to Promote" (p. 3). Thirdly, the mandate to have the telecommunications and cable infrastructures interconnected will concentrate ownership of media communications systems, which does nothing for an expansion of democracy, free speech, or equality, especially when the control is held by the private-sector.

Other important points:

  1. Government information will also be slated for commodification, with only the more ordinary information remaining free for public consumption, while the value-added information and more useful governments materials will fetch high prices in the open market.
  2. The problems are exacerbated by government's move towards electronic dissemination of its information, and its parallel decision to discontinue much of its print-based publications.
  3. "If the only communications traveling our society's infobahn are those which can be commodified and traded, free speech and equality fall prey to market discipline. The concept of a public good is, in part, based on the realization that the market will not provide all that society needs to function. Even today, mail to the House of Commons requires no postage in recognition of the fact that citizens must not be prohibited by cost from communicating with their elected representatives. Government publications are made available without charge to public libraries designated as depository libraries, where they can be freely consulted by citizens. How will services so vital to a democracy be duplicated in the electronic delivery mode when the routes are controlled by private ownership, geared to competition, and in effect, have a significant user fee in place?" (p. 5).
  4. A public model for communication should be adopted because it would safeguard individual's rights to communication and information, in particular, government information.
  5. The provision of universal access should be a top priority for government in a democratic society since socio-economic status or geographic location should not hinder a citizen's right to information. A national strategy needs to be developed to facilitate training, and provide access to computer workstations at an affordable rate, especially when public funding will help pay for the information infrastructure. Who gave the government the right to develop policies that will make the control of information technology and communications media fall outside government's retention of power? For who controls the sending and receiving of information, truly rules society.

Younger, Jennifer. "Total Quality Management: Can We Move Beyond the Jargon?" ALCTS Newsletter 2, No. 8 (1991): 81-83.

Forty years ago, W. Edwards Deming helped rebuild the Japanese economy by introducing the country to his fourteen point system called, "Total Quality Management" (TQM), a system that introduces quality into every step of a process. TQM can be used in any kind of organization, including libraries, to improve quality of products and service. "Organizationally, the starting place is at the top where first the directors declare their intent to address the problems of tomorrow as well as those of today. This means primarily that the organization intends to stay in business and while this may seem to be an unusual starting point for a commitment to quality, Deming sees a direct connection between these two concepts. Staying in business means staying one step ahead of customers, meeting present needs but also planning for future needs" (p. 81). With customer expectations on the rise, libraries must be prepared to improve the quality of their services if they want to carve out a niche for themselves in the 21st Century. That means a commitment to user needs.

To begin, a library should define the level of quality it desires to offer its patrons, then develop a process to reach the goal. All too often, reference librarians are blamed for the low accuracy levels uncovered in unobtrusive studies, however, Dr. Deming believed "that 94% of the problems are caused by the production and these are under the responsibility and control of the management" (p. 82). As a result, blame is not put upon individuals working in a TQM organization, but primarily on management and other special problems.

In the Deming system, 'Total' means everyone is expected to help create and maintain high quality service and products. 'Quality' stands for the customer's perception of the quality offered, because realistically what the customer believes is the only important constant. Everyone in the organization must work towards providing quality to meet the needs of customers, and 'Management' emphasizes the continuous commitment necessary to improve quality in an organization. To reach this goal, the process requires the ongoing management of innovative teams, employee involvement, and creative thinking. Libraries can benefit from exploring the concepts found in Deming's TQM.

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Government Documents Reference Service in Canada: A Nationwide Unobtrusive Study of Public and Academic Depository Libraries
What Patrons Say About Library Staff When Asking Government Documents Reference Questions at Depository Libraries

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