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Reference Research Review: 2012

Reference Research Review, 2012

 Compiled by the RUSA Research and Statistics Committee

An annual bibliography highlighting selected works in the reference literature.  Items were selected and annotated by members of the American Library Association, RUSA/RSS Research & Statistics Committee (2012-2013).


Bishop, B. W. (2012). Can consortial reference partners answer your local users' libraryquestions? Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 12(4), 355-370. doi:10.1353/pla.2012.0036

For libraries considering consortial services, this article can provide perspectives on the weaknesses of virtual reference services regarding location-based questions. Using content analysis and unobtrusive testing, the author analyses the ability of librarians to answer location-based questions effectively, especially when the questions are not specific to their location. The implications of this study can effect and inform libraries’ decision to enter into consortial reference services as a way to continue providing virtual reference service in a staffing shortfall.


Bishop, B.W. (2012).  Analysis of reference transactions to inform library applications (apps).  Library & Information Science Research, 34(4), 265-270. doi:10.1016/j.lisr.2012.06.001

Bishop posits that smartphone apps could be created to assist in answering location-driven questions to supplement in-person assistance as staffing decreases in libraries.  He analyzes 129,572 transactions to discover how many and what kinds of questions were located-based.  The article includes the definitions used for coding the transactions.  He determines that "wayfinding" questions could be answered by apps. App development to assist patrons with common questions is a new area for reference research. 


Bonnet, J. L., & McAlexander, B. (2012). Structural diversity in academic libraries: A study of librarian approachability. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 38(5), 277-286.  doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2012.06.002

The authors studied whether patron perceptions of librarian approachability differed depending on librarian age, gender, or race/ethnicity. Results showed that women were perceived as more approachable than men by all users. They also found that librarians were judged more approachable by people belonging to the same age group.  In terms of race/ethnicity, African-Americans tended to rate whites as less approachable than African-Americans; whites showed no significant difference in rating approachability of whites or African-Americans; Asians rated whites and Asians more approachable than African-Americans.  Authors emphasized that the results show a need for variability in the staffing of our reference desks.  


Del Bosque, D., Leif, S. A., & Skarl, S. (2012). Libraries atwitter: Trends in academic library tweeting. Reference Services Review, 40(2), 199-213. doi:10.1108/00907321211228246

Three researchers used a matrix of 19 categories to examine 296 Twitter accounts of libraries from a random sample of Carnegie degree-granting institutions. They found that 55% of the libraries used Twitter to discuss resources, and the number of tweets since implementation of the feed averaged about 334 with great variance. Private institutional libraries used Twitter more than public institutions. Library accounts tend not to use hash tags and showed little two-way conversation. The findings have implications for reference units seeking data to determine a return of investment in Twitter feeds at academic libraries.


Chow, A. S., & Croxton, R. A. (2012). Information-seeking behavior and reference medium preferences: Differences between faculty, staff, and students. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 51(3), 246-262. doi:10.5860/rusq.51n3

By comparing different user groups, the authors were able to tease out statistically significant differences regarding how information is sought as well as reference medium preferences characteristic of different user groups. The survey instrument is included in the article and the authors share their methodology. The survey has implications to the deployment of reference services in a variety of mediums and can be helpful to libraries seeking to expand the reach of services to their patrons.


Dubnjakovic, A. (2012). Electronic resource expenditure and the decline in reference transaction statistics in academic libraries. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 38(2), 94-100. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2012.01.001

The author investigated whether increases in availability of electronic resources and gateway counts affected the number of reference transactions in a study of academic libraries, using data from the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) with a sample of 3960 academic libraries.  Results showed that an increase in gate counts corresponded with an increase in reference transactions. Results also showed that the higher the expenditures on electronic resources in libraries, the higher the number of reference questions in those same libraries.  These results contradict theories that because libraries spend so much on electronic resources, they have fewer people in the library asking reference questions. 


King, N. (2012). Nice vs. necessary: Reference collections in ARL member libraries. The Reference Librarian, 53(2), 138-155. doi:10.1080/02763877.2011.607415

This article holistically evaluates academic library reference collection management practices. Using an online instrument to collect both qualitative and quantitative data, the author surveyed primarily heads of reference and determined that most academic ARL reference departments are regularly weeding their collection and assessing the use of electronic and print reference materials. These results can help academic ARL reference departments compare their practices against peer institutions.


 LeMaistre, T., Embry, R. L., Van Zandt, L. L., & Bailey, D. E. (2012). Role reinvention, structural defense, or resigned surrender: Institutional approaches to technological change and reference librarianship. The Library Quarterly, 82(3), 241-275. doi:10.1086/665932

The authors explored occupational responses of reference librarians to increased technology in libraries. The qualitative study employed grounded theory to analyze interviews with librarians and observations of reference transactions in ten libraries of varied types, revealing rich understanding of occupational change over recent decades. Institutional openness to technological change encourages librarians to “reinvent” their role with the support of paraprofessionals; others experience “adverse role changes.” Suggestions for the future role of librarians are provided.


Luo, L. (2012). Professional preparation for "text a librarian”: What are the requisite competencies? Reference & User Services Quarterly, 52(1), 44-52. doi:10.5860/rusq.52n1.44

This article explores the professional competencies needed for text message reference service delivery.  The Delphi study materials are not included in the article. For libraries looking to implement text message reference, the professional competencies can help outline avenues for training.  Additionally, for librarians looking to improve text message reference delivery, the identified competencies can provide a starting point for assessment.


Murphy, S. A., & Cerqua, J. (2012). Implementing the customer contact center: An opportunityto create a valid measurement system for assessing and improving a library's telephone    services. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 12(3), 299-314. doi:10.1353/pla.2012.0031

This article suggests the use of a contact center to improve reference service and increase patron satisfaction, in particular regarding phone services. Among the tools being used, the Attribute Gage R&R tool is not included in the article but the authors do describe the process of assessment and a detailed overview of the contact center service. For libraries looking to more effectively deploy reference librarians as well as to converge services to a single point, this article provides insight into a possible solution. The data collection services of a contact center are also extremely helpful to continuous improvement and assessment.


Nolen, D. S., Powers, A. C., Zhang, L., Xu, Y., Cannady, R. E., & Li, J. (2012). Moving beyond assumptions: The use of virtual reference data in an academic library. Portal: Libraries and the Academy, 12(1), 23-40. doi:10.1353/pla.2012.0006

It is important to analyze patron types in order to continue improving services and to direct outreach efforts. MSU used patron data from their virtual reference services to test assumptions regarding the make-up of their primary user groups. The variety of methodologies being used by other virtual services emphasizes the importance of local data to decision-making. The methodology described can be helpful for other institutions seeking to re-create a similar study, particularly for parsing data. (Data can then be used to test assumptions of patrons as well as to deploy marketing).


Pellegrino, C. (2012). Does telling them to ask for help work?: Investigating library help-seeking behaviors in college undergraduates. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 51(3), 272-277. doi:10.5860/rusq

In many one-shot sessions, instructor librarians encourage students to ask librarians. This article seeks to determine whether in-class encouragement to refer to librarians influences student behavior. The survey instrument is included in the article. Although the results come from a small academic library, the implication that professor encouragement increases the likelihood of students referring to librarians can be helpful for librarians seeking to increase student engagement via faculty engagement.


Reinsfelder, T. L. (2012).  Citation analysis as a tool to measure the impact of individual research consultations. College & Research Libraries, 73(3), 263-277. Retrieved from http://crl.acrl.org/content/73/3/263.abstract

Reinsfelder's study seeks to measure the degree to which research consultations with a librarian impact undergraduate work. Librarians evaluated the quality of sources used in preliminary papers, met with students, and reviewed the quality of final paper sources. A four-factor rating scale (included in article) was used to evaluate citations, and nonparametric statistical tests compared quality of draft and final paper sources. The article provides some evidence to support the positive impact of individual research consultations.


Rod-Welch, L. J. (2012). Incorporation and visibility of reference and social networking tools on ARL member libraries’ websites. Reference Services Review, 40(1), 138-171. doi:10.1108/00907321211203694

To determine whether members of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) incorporate reference and social networking tools on their websites, and, specifically, on the homepage, the investigator analyzed 125 websites representing ARL. From anywhere on the website,  Email/Ask-a-Librarian dominated as the most available tool (89%) with access to Suggestions, RSS, Live Chat, Facebook, and Twitter available on about half the sites (58%-46%). Availability from the homepage was always less. These results provide baseline data for future studies on positioning access points to electronic reference tools on the website.


Ruppel, M., & Vecchione, A. (2012). “It’s research made easier!” SMS and chat referenceperceptions. Reference Services Review, 40(3), 423-448. doi:10.1108/00907321211254689

This is a follow-up dual survey study to the research conducted previously by Ruppel and Fagan (2002). The first survey asked students in an elective library research course (fall 2010) to respond to questions on the library’s chat service; the second survey asked students in the same course (spring 2011) to respond to questions on the SMS service. The respondents valued high-quality, quick, convenient, easy-to use, personalized reference service regardless of format and the “robust communication” received in face-to-face reference services. Results imply that point-of-need plays an important role in a student’s decision of whether to use virtual or in-person reference services.


Stagg, A., & Kimmins, L. (2012). Research skills development through collaborative virtual learning environments. Reference Services Review, 40(1), 61-74.       doi:10.1108/00907321211203630

The Faculty Librarian at University of Southern Queensland teamed with faculty of the Business and Law program and members from the Learning and Teaching center to create videos referred to as “referencing tutorials” (based on queries often answered by reference librarians) that were embedded into course sites for business distance students. Usage data collected over two years was significant (24,348 visits by 4749 students), and comments elicited from students and faculty indicated they valued the support provided by the tutorials.  The research provides both impetus and guidelines for those librarians considering curriculum-centered, virtual reference delivery.


Ward, D., & Phetteplace, E. (2012). Staffing by design: A methodology for staffing reference. Public Services Quarterly, 8(3), 193-207. doi:10.1080/15228959.2011.621856

This study sought to determine if a methodology for in-person and virtual reference desk staffing could be easily and quickly developed using reference management data. Library staff tracked the mode of communication, duration, university affiliation, question type, and “an open-ended description to provide additional information on the nature of the interaction.” Using that information, the researchers analyzed questions by hour and patron affiliation by hour of day. The researchers found that IM reference represented the bulk of reference transactions, however, multiple staffing models were still needed.