Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Facets of reference

Inspired by David Weinberger (author of Everything Is Miscellaneous, which should be required reading for all librarians today), who argues for the value of allowing for a variety of classification schemes to blossom, I was thinking about the ways that librarians typically talk about the dichotomy between "digital reference" (which includes chat reference, instant messaging reference, SMS reference, email reference) and traditional reference (which mostly means face-to-face reference at a reference desk). As a thought experiment (at 4 am, unfortunately), I began to think of different ways to slice and dice reference. My expectation is that by conceptualizing as many facets of reference as possible, I might shift my thinking about the future of reference service and also grapple with the question of what is and what isn't reference. For example, if I am in a professor's office in the philosophy department and he asks me for help tracking down an article, isn't that reference? Is a knowledgebase built from actual user inquiries and searchable by users from the library web site a reference service?

By Library Type
  • academic library reference
  • public library reference
  • law library reference
  • corporate library reference
  • medical library reference
  • museum library reference
  • school library reference

Synchronous Reference
  • reference desks
  • reference consultations/reference appointments
  • chat reference
  • instant messaging reference
  • video reference
  • telephone reference (unless the user gets our voice mail!)
  • VoIP reference

Asynchronous Reference
  • email reference
  • SMS reference
  • fax reference (is there any library that gets questions this way?)
  • mail reference
  • reference bulletin board (users post questions and librarians reply)
  • knowledgebases (is a knowledgebase really a reference "service" if there is no personalized assistance from a librarian at the time the user submits a question)

By the Number of Librarians Who Help Compared to Number of Users Helped
(Caleb Tucker-Raymond's post, "reference 2.0 vs library 2.o," on L-net got me thinking about this aspect)
  • many librarians helping one user (e.g., referrals, two librarians a desk helping one patron)
  • one librarian helping one user
  • one librarian heling many users (e.g., group of students at the reference desk or in a reference chat room staffed by the library)
  • many librarians helping many users (reference blog, reference bulletin board or Q&A service)

By Written Communication
  • chat reference
  • IM reference
  • SMS reference
  • bulletin board reference
  • email reference
  • fax reference
  • mail reference

By Spoken Communication
  • face-to-face reference (reference desk, reference appointments, etc.)
  • telephone reference
  • VoIP reference
  • video reference

By Staffing Model
  • librarians only
  • tiered reference (paraprofessional referring to librarian as needed)
  • outsourcing (e.g., a chat service that subscribes to a service that provides librarians to take calls during off hours)
  • collaborative reference (network of libraries whose staff answers each others reference questions)
  • a chatbot (such as Stella at the University of Hamburg Library, who provides an amusing interface as you submit natural language queries to a highly structured and well thought out knowledgebase...you didn't think you were really chatting with a bot, did you?)
By Level of Service Expected or Delivered to the User
  • ready reference
  • directional
  • policy or procedural
  • subject search
  • research
What did I miss?


At 4:02 PM , Blogger jll11 said...

Very provocative. Just a thought, what about libraries that have peer-to-peer research help for students? Is a student helping another student do research using library tools (or not?) in a physical library (or not?) considered reference?

At 5:10 PM , Blogger JoAnn said...

Bravo! Wish more people would engage in some creative thinking like this. I'd give anything if people would stop talking about "desk reference vs. virtual reference". The desk is not the enemy; it's just a vehicle. One of many.

At 5:41 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is the word reference part of the classification problem? It's not very meaningful. There's a larger information exchange process going on that the library-centric term "reference" obscures, though I'm not sure what to call it. Why is something like PennTags not considered reference even though it's all about information retrieval and management?

At 8:17 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe also consider location as a facet: at the very least a dichotomy of librarian spaces/user spaces, but this could go into other directions depending on perspective. For example, a student who works and goes to school would breakdown more like: workplace, campus, home; a professor might be office, home, library (or just office, home). All of these have an effect on library information services.

At 3:04 AM , Blogger ms.kite said...

Nice classification. Seems everything is included, but what about cobrowsing? Think it shoul be put into "written reference" and "syncronous reference".
And there might be, so to say, mixed reference: when a user asks a question by phone and you answer by fax or email; you chat with a user and then send additional info by email; you use VoIP and co-browsing or web-push combined.

At 10:34 PM , Blogger XeonesRiposte said...

How about something like "degree of removal / imposition of query or transaction"? In English that would be the degree to which a reference query or transaction is initiated directly / internally by the user's own needs and motivations as opposed to needs and motivations imposed by others (e.g., to complete a school work assignment, to find info for grandma, etc.). At second glance, that probably wasn't English. Oh well. Nice post!

At 1:44 PM , Blogger Peter Bromberg said...

Hey Stephen,

Apologies for this is off-topic:

This is weird... I'm working on a little talk I'm doing this afternoon on the
debate between Weinberger and Keen that appeared in the WSJ yesterday
. I'm almost done so I take a little lunch break and catch up on twitter. Iris Jastram mentions the Ted Talk by Rives so I watch it. It's all about...4am.

So I enjoy Rives, and my thai chicken salad, and get back to work. I google "Everything is Miscellaneous" just to get a little background for my intro and find the EIM blog, which happens to link to your post, which just so happens to mention...4am. As Rives says, "Coincidence? No, it's creepy!"

What a strange and interesting demonstration of the connectedness and inter-relatedness of things!

At 1:48 PM , Blogger Rebecca Hedreen said...

I think I'd call the last one the type of content needed, or maybe that should be another category: fact/data (ready reference), overviews & other tertiary literature (subject encyclopedias, "layperson's literature"), primary & secondary literature (what's usually meant by "research" in my academic library), entertainment (fiction, reader's/watcher's advisory), etc.


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