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Reference Research Review 2016

Reference Research Review - 2016

An annual bibliography highlighting significant research articles relating to reference services, selected by the RSS Research and Statistics Committee.


Butler, K., & Byrd, J. (2016). Research Consultation Assessment: Perceptions of Students and Librarians. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 42(1), 83–86.


Both students and librarians evaluated a series of face-to-face research consultations. The study used convenience samples to recruit reference librarians, and had both students and librarians complete separate online surveys. The responses were analyzed using SPSS and cross tabulations. The results indicated that reference librarians frequently underestimate the effectiveness of their consultations.


Copenhaver, K., & Koclanes, A. (2016). Impact of web-scale discovery on reference inquiry. Reference Services Review, 44(3), 266–281


The authors assess reference service use before and after the implementation of a discovery service. Statistics including analysis using the Warner scale of question difficulty were compared, and showed a large overall drop in question volume after implementation. Lower difficulty questions declined the most, with the highest Warner scale questions slightly increasing. The study, while implemented at a single small college library, suggests that discovery services may help users answer easier questions themselves.


Dempsey, P. R. (2016). “Are you a computer?”: Opening exchanges in virtual reference shape the potential for teaching. College & Research Libraries, 77(4), 455 – 468.


First impressions are important, and this researcher sought to prove that our initial patron exchange can make or break the virtual reference interview. Four-hundred and twelve chat transcripts were analyzed at two universities for the relationship between chat relational cues and duration and user satisfaction. This methodology can be replicated at the local level to improve virtual reference.


Folk, A. L. (2016). Academic reference and instruction librarians and Dweck’s Theories of Intelligence. College & Research Libraries, 77(3), 302–313.


Perceptions often influence expectations. Dweck’s theory of incremental intelligence poses that intelligence is further developed as one learns. On the other hand, entity theory argues that intelligence is fixed and unchangeable. Folk surveyed 353 librarians across the United States to determine how librarians perceive their users’ intelligence - as incremental or fixed. Folk’s work is an excellent reminder to librarians to check their assumptions and beliefs in reference interactions.


Jackson, R., & Stacy-Bates, K. K. (2016). The Enduring Landscape of Online Subject Research Guides. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 55(3), 219–229.


This article reports the results of two related studies: data collection on characteristics of online subject guides at academic ARL libraries, and a survey of heads of reference at the same group of libraries concerning policies and practices for writing, maintaining, and promoting subject guides. Results are compared to a similar investigation published in 2004. Observation of guides focused on numbers and types of web links included, timeliness and accuracy, and discoverability of guides from each library’s homepage. Survey questions included impact of guide quality on librarians’ evaluations, use of guide templates, and reasons for using or not using a guide management system such as LibGuides.


Jacoby, J., Ward, D., Avery, S., & Marcyk, E. (2016). The Value of Chat Reference Services: A Pilot Study. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 16(1), 109–129.


Using a mixed-method approach, this study examines student, instructor, and librarian perceptions of chat reference interactions. Each group analyzed a chat transcript and participated in a focus group, interview, or survey to convey their observations (focus group and survey questions are included). Findings showed that students valued speed but were open to receiving instruction, while instructors and librarians focused on student learning. This article is of interest to anyone who does chat reference.

Leeder, C. (2016). Student misidentification of online genres. Library & Information Science Research, 38(2), 125–132.


In this study, undergraduate students were presented with 15 online sources, and were asked to identify the genre each one represented (Blog, Book, Book review, Conference proceedings, Database, Encyclopedia, Magazine, Newspaper, Research report, Scholarly journal, Trade journal). Students were given definitions of the genres, and then asked to assign genre categories to a series of online sources. Results revealed that 60% of the identifications were incorrect. Students who had previous library instruction were more accurate in identifying genres. This study has implications for librarians seeking to guide users to resources that meet their needs.

Leeder, C., & Shah, C. (2016). Library research as collaborative information seeking. Library & Information Science Research, 38(3), 202–211.


In light of the increased emphasis on collaborative work, this study focused on student library research behavior in the context of a communications course writing assignment, in which researchers compared an individual versus collaborative approach. This study used a pre-task questionnaire about search experience, search logs, and writing behavior. Results showed that students working individually showed better results for query effectiveness and relevance of sources, whereas students working collaboratively achieved greater information coverage.  Information from focus groups revealed that participants found library research to be time consuming, inefficient, frustrating, and restrictive. This study provides guidance for productively supporting collaborative work using library resources.

LeMire, S., Rutledge, L., & Brunvand, A. (2016). Taking a Fresh Look: Reviewing and Classifying Reference Statistics for Data-Driven Decision Making. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 55(3), 230–238.


This article describes the results of an extensive review of reference transactions from multiple service points at the University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library. The review enabled librarians to better understand the types of questions asked at service points and resulted in a new set of codes for categorizing reference transactions that focus on recording the kinds of expertise needed to answer each question. A description of  the differences between this model and other scales for collecting reference questions is included. This method for reviewing reference transactions and developing new codes may be useful to other libraries interested in updating how they collect reference statistics.

Lux, V. J., & Rich, L. (2016). Can Student Assistants Effectively Provide Chat Reference Services? Student Transcripts vs. Librarian Transcripts. Internet Reference Services Quarterly, 21(3–4), 115–139.


To determine if undergraduate student information desk assistants were effectively staffing the library’s chat reference service, librarians at Bowling Green State University embarked on a chat transcript analysis project, comparing the performance of librarians to student assistants. Although student desk assistants generally did not perform as well as librarians, it was concluded that with a renewed emphasis on continual oversight and training, students were a very viable option for staffing a chat reference service.

Malik, M. (2016). Assessment of a Professional Development Program on Adult Learning Theory. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 16(1), 47–70.


Librarians at a small college library participated in a professional development opportunity on adult learning theory. The investigators in this study used qualitative research methods, analyzing pre- and post-reflective essays written by the librarians in the program. They discovered that adult learning theory has useful implications not only for reference and instruction of graduate students, but of undergraduates and faculty as well. The findings and research methods make this an especially interesting paper.

Mikkonen, A., & Vakkari, P. (2016). Finding fiction: Search moves and success in two online catalogs. Library & Information Science Research, 38(1), 60–68.


Authors compare user behavior for fiction discovery using two contrasting types of library catalogs, one traditional catalog, and another that contained enhanced adult fiction metadata, cover images, virtual bookshelves, blurbs and book reviews. In both systems, users spent time entering queries, examining results, and looking at book pages when available.  Results indicate that users of both systems were effective, but that the metadata-enriched catalog offered more options for exploring without a specific author or title to use as a starting point, and more opportunities for serendipitous discovery. The authors identified several key techniques useful in finding fiction: known item searching, topical searching, books that are similar to other books, and open-ended browsing.

Nel, M. A., & Fourie, I. (2016). Information Behavior and Expectations of Veterinary Researchers and Their Requirements for Academic Library Services. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 42(1), 44–54.


The information needs and information seeking behavior of Veterinary Science faculty at the University of Pretoria were assessed.  Researchers utilized questionnaires, focus group interviews, and citation analysis.  Descriptive statistics and thematic analysis were utilized.  This study is relevant to any reference librarian serving veterinary researchers.

O’Toole, E., Barham, R., & Monahan, Jo. (2016). The Impact of Physically Embedded Librarianship on Academic Departments. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 16(3), 529–556.


This study examines the effect on reference services of physically embedding subject librarians into academic departments. Using a natural experiment method, the investigators analyzed statistics from before and after this service change. Data showed a significant increase in reference and instructional transactions, in addition to opportunities for new collaborations. This paper proposes a new developmental model for embedded librarianship and offers intriguing information for librarians looking to revive their reference services.

Reiter, Lauren, Huffman, J. P. (2016). Yes Virginia, It Will Scale: Using Data to Personalize High-Volume Reference Interactions. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 42(1), 21–26.


This article investigates the scalability of individual reference consultations in large classes. Students in a Management class were given the option to meet with a librarian for an individual consultation before completing a project and participation rates were tracked.  This study will be of interest to any librarian considering providing consultations to large classes.

Shachaf, O., Aharony, N., & Baruchson, S. (2016). The effects of information overload on reference librarians. Library & Information Science Research, 38(4), 301–307.


In an attempt to explore how librarians experience information overload, this study involved semi-structured interviews with fifteen academic reference librarians. The following coping strategies were identified: filtering, avoiding, satisficing, and selecting items from the top of the list. Though the sample was small, findings may be of interest to those who are training reference staff.

VanScoy, A. (2016). Making sense of professional work: Metaphors for reference and information service. Library & Information Science Research, 38(3), 243–249.


This study examined the metaphors used by library professionals to talk about their work. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 participants from multiple library environments. The researcher examined the data and identified and categorized the metaphors used to describe the reference and information service portion of their work. Common metaphors involved digging or hunting but others were also used: Navigation; Puzzle and mystery; Combat, competition, and heroic deeds; Talent and skill; Creation; Nurturing; Refuge or sanctuary; Machinery; Something spiritual and magical; and Addiction. The author suggests that reflecting on the attributes of these metaphors, professionals can increase their understanding of their practice.

 VanScoy, A., & Fontana, C. (2016). How reference and information service is studied: Research approaches and methods. Library & Information Science Research, 38(2), 94–100.


In an effort to gain an overall picture of the types of research being done in the area of reference (RIS) work, the authors performed a content analysis of scholarly peer reviewed journal articles with headings of ‘Reference Services’ or ‘Reference Work,’ published in English language journals, from 2000-2009. After identifying the research studies, they were coded as qualitative, quantitative, or mix-method, and further assigned subcategories within each methodology.  Results were compared with library science (LIS) research overall. Results showed fewer empirical research studies relative to other LIS fields. Most RIS research is quantitative rather than qualitative. The authors note that survey questionnaires were most commonly used, and urge researchers in this area to consider broadening to other approaches and perspectives.

Wood, E., De Pasquale, D., Mueller, J. L., Archer, K., Zivcakova, L., Walkey, K., & Willoughby, T. (2016). Exploration of the Relative Contributions of Domain Knowledge and Search Expertise for Conducting Internet Searches. The Reference Librarian, 57(3), 182–204.


Domain knowledge and search expertise were studied to examine their impact on quality and type of search results. Participants were divided into four groups based on their combinations of these two skills and given search tasks. Findings noted that expert searchers with high domain knowledge performed best. High expertise was associated with more accurate sites, while high domain knowledge yielded more thorough sites. Implications include designing reference services to accommodate both sets of skills.

Yoo-Lee, E., Rhodes, T., & Peterson, G. M. (2016). Hispanics and public libraries: Assessing their health information seeking behaviors in the e-health environment. Reference Services Review, 44(2), 85–99.


This study examines health information seeking behaviors of Hispanics, with a focus on potential future roles for public libraries. A survey queried 26 Hispanics, as part of a convenience sample. Findings reported low use of public libraries, with medical information providers (e.g. doctors), websites, and resources like YouTube among the primary tools utilized. Suggested roles for public libraries include increasing outreach, providing information in Spanish, and focusing on patrons with lower income and/or education.

Zhang, T., Stonebraker, I., & Promann, M. (2016). Understanding library users’ preferences and expectations of online help. Reference Services Review, 44(3), 362–374.


Researchers studied preferences for receiving research help across a variety of formats. A survey was administered querying participants about past information-seeking behaviors and overall preferences for point-of-need help. Responses were mixed, with strong predilections for both synchronous services (e.g. chat) and self-paced guides (e.g. directions or guides). Conclusions suggest the need for a strong cross-channel reference presence to deliver online help to the broadest constituency.