C&RL Spotlight

Scott Walter

A recent article in Publisher’s Weekly by White Plains Public Library’s Brian Kenney began with an assertion that reference service has “disappeared, like Jimmy Hoffa.”1 Librarians, Kenney continues, have pursued “innovations” in reference service attuned to the changing information environment of the 21st century, but remain wedded to a traditional understanding of what reference service is and where it “fits” in the library’s service program. Kenney is speaking of public libraries, of course, but we have seen many examples over the past decade of academic libraries taking lessons from public libraries, special libraries, school libraries, and other cultural heritage organizations in reshaping their service programs to meet new expectations among their users and to align more effectively with efforts being made by campus and community partners.

C&RL is not the place to debate whether Kenney is right about the state of reference and information services in public libraries, but it is a good place to ask if the changes he noted in the public library sector are meaningful for the academic library sector.

Innovation, as David Lankes and I describe in this month’s C&RL editorial, is a tricky word, and Kenney takes issue with one of the most notable innovations in reference service over the past 20 years, i.e., the rise of digital reference. Digital reference has been explored in a number of studies published in C&RL, including, most recently, Anthony S. Chow and Rebecca A. Croxton’s “A Usability Evaluation of Academic Virtual Reference Services.”2

In my experience, digital reference in various forms has been a valuable tool in maintaining user engagement with academic library reference services, with digital reference transactions growing as a percentage of the overall use of reference services (which, as Kenney notes, have consistently declined). Digital reference services, especially if delivered outside of “siloed” technology platform, can also promote partnerships between the library and other information service providers on campus, including IT help desks, writing centers, career centers, and others. But, in the public library context, Kenney asserts that digital reference “draws little interest from patrons and little enthusiasm from librarians.”3

Our study of the current state of digital reference services in academic libraries continues in this month’s C&RL with Krisellyn Maloney (Rutgers University) and Jan H. Kemp (University of Texas-San Antonio) reporting on a study of changes in the complexity of reference questions asked as part of a digital reference service program following the implementation of a new approach to providing and promoting that service.

This and other articles appearing in this month issue of C&RL include:

  • Madeline Kelly. “Citation Patterns of Engineering, Statistics, and Computer Science Researchers: An Internal and External Citation Analysis across Multiple Engineering Sub-fields.” Abstract: This study takes a multidimensional approach to citation analysis, examining citations in multiple subfields of engineering, from both scholarly journals and doctoral dissertations. The three major goals of the study are to determine whether there are differences between citations drawn from dissertations and those drawn from journal articles; to test a methodology incorporating both internal and external citation sources; and to explore the citation habits of researchers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subfields. The results reveal variations in how STEM subfields conduct research in career and academic settings and are more nuanced than internal or external citation data alone can provide. The results have practical collection development implications.
  • Helen Georgas. “The Case of the Disappearing E-Book: Academic Libraries and Subscription Packages.” Abstract: One of the standard models for e-book licensing in academic libraries is the subscription package. This study is a one-year analysis of “disappeared” titles from ebrary’s Academic Complete collection. During 2013, 3462 titles were deleted. Deleted titles were mainly recent publications (published within the last ten years), with a high number of deletions within the broad subject areas of the social sciences (H), language and literature (P), and history (C, D, E, F). Deleted titles were evenly divided between monographs published by popular presses, and monographs published by scholarly or university presses. It is recommended that deleted titles be closely monitored by subject librarians. Efficient library processes for handling deleted titles must also be implemented. Implications for libraries of changing e-book content are also discussed.
  • Mariana Regalado and Maura A. Smale. “‘I Am More Productive in the Library Because It’s Quiet:’ Commuter Students in the College Library.” Abstract: This article discusses commuter students’ experiences with the academic library, drawn from a qualitative study at the City University of New York. Undergraduates at six community and baccalaureate colleges were interviewed to explore how they fit schoolwork into their days, and the challenges and opportunities they encountered. Students identified physical and environmental features that informed their ability to successfully engage in academic work in the library. They valued the library as a distraction-free place for academic work, in contrast to the constraints they experienced in other places—including in their homes and on the commute.
  • Mandi Goodsett and Andrew Walsh. “Building a Strong Foundation: Mentoring Programs for Novice Tenure-Track Librarians in Academic Libraries.” Abstract: Increasingly, new librarians graduate to face a world of changing technology and new ways of interacting with information. The anxiety of this shifting environment is compounded for tenure-track librarians who must also meet scholarship and instruction requirements that may be unfamiliar to them. One way that librarians can navigate the transition to tenure-track professional positions is to participate in mentoring programs for new academic librarians. This study examines the effectiveness of mentoring programs for novice tenure-track libraries in a variety of library settings, and provides examples of successful academic library mentoring programs already in place with the intent that librarians use the data and findings to construct or improve their own library mentoring programs.
  • Qinqin Zhang, Maren Goodman, and Shiyi Xie. “Integrating Library Instruction into the Course Management System for a First Year Engineering Class: An Evidence-Based Study Measuring the Effectiveness of Blended Learning on Students’ Information Literacy Levels.” Abstract: This research examines students in a first-year engineering course who receive library instruction by using a newly developed online module and attending optional in-person tutorials. It aims to evaluate the outcomes of library information literacy instruction using this module combined with in-person help. Results show a significant improvement in information literacy skills from a pre-test to a post-test. Focus group and survey data indicate that most students preferred the self-paced learning style of the online module and that the content of the module helped them to conduct library research for the course. This study also considers best practices for online library instruction. A blended instruction approach provides students with the flexibility to learn from a variety of formats at their own pace and also reduces library staff workload, especially for a large course.
  • Krisellen Maloney and Jan H. Kemp. “Changes in Reference Question Complexity Following the Implementation of a Proactive Chat System: Implications for Practice.” Abstract: There has been longstanding debate about whether the level of complexity of questions received at reference desks and via online chat services requires a librarian’s expertise. Continued decreases in the number and complexity of reference questions have all but ended the debate; many academic libraries no longer staff service points with professional librarians. However, convenient, proactive online chat services could reverse the trends. This paper provides results of a study of reference question complexity following implementation of a proactive chat service. The study reveals changes in the complexity of chat questions, which may have implications for staffing online reference services.
  • Merinda Kaye Hensley, Sarah L. Shreeves, and Stephanie Davis-Kahl. “A Survey of Campus Coordinators of Undergraduate Research Programs.” Abstract: Interest in supporting undergraduate research programs continues to grow within academic librarian-ship. This article presents how undergraduate research program coordinators perceive and value library support of their programs. Undergraduate research coordinators from a variety of institutions were surveyed on which elements of libraries and library services they valued, and where libraries could improve and develop services for undergraduate researchers and their faculty mentors. This article seeks to present a critical perspective on library support for undergraduate research programs from an important external constituent group of faculty and administrators. The data and recommendations can further conversations and aid collaboration between librarians and their campus colleagues.

C&RL online forum on student success

Did you miss the C&RL Online Forum on “Library Usage and Student Success” on October 28? If so, you can still read the source articles and view the archived session through the C&RL Online Fora page at http://crl.acrl.org/site/misc/fora.xhtml. Since 2013, hundreds of C&RL readers have participated in online fora on topics such as undergraduate research programs, international and area studies programs, library assessment, and mentoring programs for academic librarians.

Is there a recently accepted C&RL pre-print that you would like to see further discussed in an online forum? If so, send your idea to C&RL Social Media Editor Sarah Steiner at E-mail: .

1. Brian, K. , “Where Reference Fits in the Modern Library,”. Publisher’s Weekly 262, no. 37 ( 2015 ), accessed October 11, 2015, www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/68019-for-future-reference.html.
2. Chow, AS.. Croxton, RA.. , “A Usability Evaluation of Academic Virtual Reference Services,”. College & Research Libraries 75, no. 3 ( 2014 ): 309-61 –, doi: [CrossRef]
3. Kenney, . , “Where Reference Fits in the Modern Library.”.
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