Component 1: Statement of Competency
Disclaimer: The terms librarians and information professionals are used interchangeably in this statement of competency. I use them to mean of persons working in the librarianship profession Also, the terms patrons and users are used interchangeable in this statement of competency. I use them to mean of persons who use services of the library.
Service is at the core of our profession; “We provide the highest level of service to all library users through appropriate and usefully organized resources; equitable service policies; equitable access; and accurate, unbiased, and courteous responses to all requests” (ALA, 2008). This value, service, has been the primary responsibility of librarians since the beginning of the profession. Reference services exist in all aspect of librarianship, whether you are a librarian in reference services, systems & technology, special collections or access services; we are the means of connecting users with the information they are wanting.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks library defines reference services as “disseminat[ing] the information the library has acquired” (UAF). How this information is disseminated is up to us, the information professionals. The Ryerson University Library & Archives states the general goal of their reference services is “to meet the information/research needs of library users (faculty, students, staff and other patrons) accurately, efficiently, and pleasantly” (RULA, 2001). Reference services take place through a handful of methods including answering reference questions, information literacy or reference instruction or reader’s advisory services. The difference in each of these methods is the form of interaction you have with the patron and how you present the information to them. With the growth of remote users and technology these reference transactions can take place in person, by telephone, instant messaging, email, or social media posts like Twitter or Facebook. Reference services continues to be a highly valued service by library users.
The success of our reference service is dependent on the quality of the reference interview. A reference interview; “The reference interview is more an art than a science, an ever-changing practice that requires responsiveness to context rather than just the application of a predetermined set of skills” (Cassell & Hiremath, 2009, p15). The reference interview is key to making sure we connect with our patrons and understand what they are asking. Cassell and Hiremath (2009) explain that there are several parts to a reference interview and these parts include:
- Establishing rapport with the user
- Negotiating the question
- Developing a strategy for a successful search and communicating it to the user
- Locating the information and evaluating it
- Ensuring that the question is fully answered – the follow-up
- Closing the interview
It is important to remember that although there are elements to a reference interview that how the interview is conducted will be a case by case situation. Reference questions can vary from just wanting circulation policies or library hours to needing primary resources for a research paper they are writing on a topic they know nothing about.
When conducting in person interviews it is easier to tell if a patron is satisfied with the amount of information you have provided or if you are on the right track for what they are looking for; we can see this in their body language and hear it in their tone. However, as I have mentioned the increase in remote access and virtual reference services it is important that we, the information professionals, ask the right types of questions. It is suggested that asking neutral or open ended questions are most successful in reference interviews. These types of questions allow the user to provide information that will help us understand the true nature of the question. However, closed questions, questions that usually have a yes or no or one worded answer, help narrow the search and eliminate unnecessary ‘bantering’.
Beyond asking the right questions the primary responsibility, in my opinion, is that the librarian is approachable; this is of same importance whether the services are provided in person or virtually. If a user does not feel like they can approach the librarian to ask a question no matter the simplicity or the complexity the mission of the library is lost. Ways to make oneself approachable in person is being aware of your body language while you are available to patrons; this is often referred to as non-verbal signals.
Whatever the circumstances, the user must feel that the librarian is interested in his or her question. The librarian can accomplish this by facing the user and maintaining eye contact with him or her. The librarian signals his or her understanding of the user’s questions by responding verbally or by nodding. (Cassell & Hiremath, 2009, p18).
In a virtual setting, librarians can maintain the approachability through verbal assurance. How they word their response to the users will impact how comfortable the user is; “a well-written response not only answers a question eloquently but it also tells the user about the importance that the library places on the question” (Straw; 2000, p379).
Component 2: Justification of Evidence and Evidence:
For my first piece of evidence I have included an [Exercise1] that was assigned in Libr210. The exercise includes a set of reference questions both simple and complex. The point of the exercise was to answer these questions as I would if they were asked to me and includes an explanation of the process I took in finding the answers and providing the information to the user. This piece of evidence demonstrates my understanding of reference services and my ability to use the resources and knowledge I have and present them to a user to satisfy their need.
The second piece of evidence I have included is a course resource guide [HIS 328redo] I created for an assignment in Libr210. I have chosen to include this piece of evidence to show that reference services take place in many forms including resource guides such as the one I created. This resource guide answers the reference questions about where to find resources on a specific topic. The assignment required selecting a college level course and developing a resource guide tailored specifically to the topic the course was on. The requirement was to provide a sample selection of resources in a variety of formats including sample subject headings. The piece of evidence shows my mastery of connecting users with information they are seeking.
My final piece of evidence I have included is a discussion I wrote for Libr210 on using the [internet as a reference tool]. The discussion addresses using live digital reference services (Chat or IM) and whether they are worth setting up and using in a library. I expressed that I felt they are worth the hassle to set up and discuss my experience with using these services as a student and the benefit they have. I close the assignment by saying that these forms of reference services should not replace in person reference services but should be an added form. I find it important to mention that I took this course in the Fall of 2012; we can see today that Chat and IM as reference services are very common in libraries today and that have indeed been added a supplement to traditional reference services.
Whether in person or virtually, reference services are the core to our profession. We are the keepers of information; we are also the teachers and advocates of learning. It is our duty to disseminate the information we have meticulously acquired. This is done through reference services. It was a concern as the digital age bloomed that traditional reference services would be replaced with computer and virtual help. Instead of replacing these services, virtual reference services has allowed libraries to collaborate and work together to provide a better service to patrons. One example of this is the Ask a Librarian 24/7 chat. Most libraries are not open 24/7 however with virtual reference and time zone differences reference services have become more readily available than ever before.
American Library Association, (2008). Code of Ethics of the American Library Association. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/proethics/codeofethics/codeethics.cfm
Cassell, K. A. and Hiremath, U. (2009) Reference and Information Services in the 21st Century: an introduction. Second Edition revised. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.
RULA (June, 2001). Reference Service Policy. Information Retrieved from: https://library.ryerson.ca/info/policies/refpolpublic/#goal
UAF Libraries. Reference Services and Sources. Information Retrieved from: http://library.uaf.edu/ls101-reference-services